It seems that individuals who suffer from major depression are more likely to suffer from other chronic diseases. Individuals who develop metabolic diseases such as Type II Diabetes and Obesity are more likely to develop anxiety and depression. It is also true that depression occurs in up to one-quarter of individuals with cardiovascular disease. The most concerning fact, is that depressed individuals have poorer medical outcomes, including increased likelihood of death.
Thomas Jefferson once said that “A strong body makes the mind strong” and as far back as 1910, US families relied on the People’s Home Medical Book for their guidance, which clearly stated that insanity is caused by “imperfect nutrition”. 21st century research is now proving these theories correct, with the growing evidence of the links between physical and mental health and the role of nutrition.
The gut-brain connection
There is a great deal of evidence which points to damage in the lining of the gut wall as one of the keys causes for the development of chronic inflammation. The leaky gut, chronic inflammation and link with mental disorders is still a developing medical theory, however it seems that individuals with irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) have a greater likelihood of developing psychiatric disorders then those with strong digestive function.
The role of the microbiome
One possible player in the gut-brain connection could just be the microbes in our gut. An almost unbelievable fact is that within the human body only 10% of the cells are actually human (really!), the remaining 90% of the cells are the microbial cells (mainly bacterial) that constitute our microflora or microbiome. The majority of this colony reside within the gut, they provide vital assistance by protecting the intestinal barrier, helping to digest foods, extract nutrients and provide us with important vitamins.
Whereas we can understand that maintaining a healthy microbial balance is important to digestive health, it is surprising that recent animal research has found that disturbing the delicate balance between beneficial and disease-causing bacteria can alter the animals’ brain chemistry, leading them to become more aggressive or anxious. This is leading to interesting research into the possibility of improving mood through probiotic supplementation, referred to as psychobiotics.
The premise for research into nutritional immunology is that inflammation is a contributing factor in chronic illness, and inflammation may be managed through improved nutrition and lifestyle changes. It now appears that inflammation also underpins mental health, and the role of nutrition in mental disorders is becoming more accepted in psychiatry.
New research has discovered that the immune system, specifically the inflammatory response, underpins and can even induce symptoms of depression. Chronic long-term neuroinflammation (brain inflammation) can lead to the damage or destruction of tissue. This tissue damage can lead to mood disorders and age related neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's and Parkinson's disease.
One perfect example for the role of diet in mental health - when a group of depressed individuals swapped to a Mediterranean-style diet for ten days their mood and cardiovascular function improved.
This is proof positive that in just a short period it is possible to see health improvements when making the right dietary choices!
“If we could give every individual the right amount of nourishment and exercise, not too little and not too much, we would have found the safest way to health”