A holistic nutrition checklist towards emotional health

Emotional health in its essence is an umbrella term, it covers everything from clinical depression to our everyday feelings. Its serious stuff this emotional health business, children as young as 2 years of age are being prescribed anti-depressants and suicide is becoming scarily common. I can’t help but wonder in a country such as Australia where we have the freedom to do whatever we please and all the resources at our feet to do it, we are facing these sorts of issues?

While I don’t have the answer to this deep and meaningful question, I sure can provide some insight on a nutritional and holistic level, which I believe once going through the check list, majority of your common issues such as anxiety and depression could be alleviated.

Here are some of the factors I as a nutritionist consider when presented with emotional health concerns and silently tick off in my head as possible underlying causes.  

·Protein intake and absorption - The biochemistry in our brains that stimulate thoughts, feelings and moods are literally made from amino acids. Amino acids come from the protein we eat, which when properly digested and absorbed form our neurochemicals such as GABA, serotonin, dopamine etc etc. If there are insufficient levels of protein in the diet, then it only makes sense that the production of these all important brain communicators is compromised – just think, how can you build a bridge with no materials? It’s the same deal. Now, if you feel you do eat enough protein for your own individual needs and you are still prone to feelings of angst and despair, the next thing to investigate is your absorption of protein. In order for protein to be broken down into amino acids, the building blocks of brain molecules we need to have sufficient levels of stomach acid. And so begins investigation into this critical part of digestion

Blood sugar irregularities - It’s funny, anxiety and depression are often over looked as blood sugar issues but if you have a look at the classical signs of a diabetic low blood sugar episode, you’ll see it reflects what you might see in someone with anxiety/depression. Why does this happen? If we don’t fuel ourselves adequately with wholefood goodness our blood sugar levels can be all over the shop. On a basic how the body functions level, as soon as the body experiences this its releases adrenaline and/or cortisol to help regulate the important need for the body to get energy. Adrenaline and cortisol are commonly known as the ‘stress’ hormones, they trigger a lot of anxious type symptoms such as a racing mind and inability to make decisions.

 Gut health - There is significant research into the connection of gut health and the brain AKA the ‘gut brain axis’. The bacteria that reside in us out number our cells so much so that essentially we are more bug than human (crazy, isn’t it!). Considering this on a basic level, it’s easy to appreciate why poor gut health can have some seriously damaging effects to how we feel and function. But please if you would like to appreciate it on a whole other level, read the research papers yourself (links at the bottom) its seriously exciting stuff!

Inflammation – Essentially if you have inflammation inside the body just think a big red, puffy mosquito bite you’ve itched too much lining the cells that make up your organs. When things are in this state, and specifically the brain, firing of communication molecules is severely compromised. How do we get to this inflamed way? Through poor diet and poor gut health. Two other major factors to consider in emotional health, as discussed.

Learning to deal with our emotions – this is not nutritional in the slightest way, but because my approach to health and well-being is holistic I cannot disregard its significance here. I worry about the stigma around mental health (I don’t even like to use this term). Can we not just accept, even embrace that the human experience comes with a broad spectrum of emotions and look at it like they are communicators to our higher self rather than worthless feelings that have no place? I believe it’s so important, if not more than nutrition to have an excellent sense of self and learn how to appropriately accept and navigate through our emotions so that not only can we learn from what we feel but also know that this too shall pass. It is hard to find research on this topic but have made a self-realisation, if you read the research on food and emotional health you will see they notice some contrasting results and in my humble opinion I believe it’s because they don’t factor in the practical side of learning how to deal with emotions… just saying. 

So, before labelling people as having a few screws loose or thinking that medication is the only answer to worrying thoughts, I hope this blog has provided insight into the powerful effects nutrition and holistic practices can have. If you would like further support where we can run through our own checklist of the above and create individualised strategies to support you through. Give the team at Embrace Life a call on 3491 6533 to make an appointment for a nutritional consultation.

Further reading/research

Food and emotional health

O’Neil, A., Quirk, S. E., Housden, S., Brennan, S. L., Williams, L. J., Pasco, J. A., … Jacka, F. N. (2014). Relationship Between Diet and Mental Health in Children and Adolescents: A Systematic Review. American Journal of Public Health, 104(10), e31–e42. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4167107/

Gut brain axis

Evrensel, A., & Ceylan, M. E. (2015). The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression. Clinical Psychopharmacology and Neuroscience, 13(3), 239–244. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4662178/

Huang, R., Wang, K., & Hu, J. (2016). Effect of Probiotics on Depression: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Nutrients, 8(8), 483. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4997396/

Inflammation

Berk, M., Williams, L. J., Jacka, F. N., O’Neil, A., Pasco, J. A., Moylan, S., … Maes, M. (2013). So depression is an inflammatory disease, but where does the inflammation come from? BMC Medicine, 11, 200. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3846682/