“I caught a glimpse of you, and your face looked like something Death brought with him in his suitcase.” - Warren Zevon
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), a good chunk of people around the globe struggle with depression. As of 2015, 322 million people live with this mental illness, and it’s considered just as crippling as physical disorders.
In fact, the WHO even calls it one of the leading contributors of disability on the planet.
Paul, a 52-year-old social worker, has struggled with this most of his life. Since he was in high school, he’s dealt with bad days where he couldn’t function.
To combat depression, he turned to sports and medication. Aside from playing basketball, Paul’s doctor used to prescribe him antidepressants to balance his moods.
While he experienced some improvement, Paul always felt it didn’t quite do the trick.
Nevertheless, he pushed himself to get out of bed and face the day like everyone else.
However, Paul has found it more and more difficult to manage his condition as he got older. He's less active now, and his medication doesn’t seem to be helping him anymore.
“I knew things were getting out of hand when my bad days started to outnumber the good ones,” Paul shared.
He felt like he was living in a black and white movie. Nothing seemed appealing, and he no longer found joy in his work or hobbies.
Even the food tasted bland.
The mere thought of doing anything remotely productive was painful. Paul felt like he was moving in slow motion while the rest of the world happily left him behind.
He started to doubt whether his family, friends and colleagues respected him.
“I had no energy, I started taking more and more sick days, and the most I could do during that time was wrench myself out of bed to browse the internet until I was tired enough to go back to bed. In fact, I was living a silent hell that no one could understand.”
Finally, Paul’s sisters, along with his nieces and nephews, came over to stage an intervention.
“I blew off their calls and emails, so they were at my door, threatening to break it down. That was a wake-up call for me. Turns out people did care, but I was too wrapped up in my depression to see the truth.”
So after a heartfelt conversation with his family, Paul agreed to see a therapist.
“Talking about how I felt was extremely helpful. But what really turned it around was when my therapist referred me to her friend who was a nutritionist,” Paul said.
With his dietitian’s help, Paul started making changes to an area of his life he didn’t think was ever related to mental health.
Two and a half months later, Paul gradually made a radical breakthrough in his life. Thanks to his new nutritional plan, he became his old, cheerful self again.
Paul said, “I still have my bad days, but they’re the exception rather than the rule. Those low moments go by quickly, and I’m in the right headspace to deal with it now.”
Over the decades, more and more research has surfaced on the connection between the gut and the brain. Many experts believe that what goes on in the digestive system can have a profound effect on a person’s mental health.
For instance, a 2005 study from the University of Pittsburgh looked at the relationship between nutrition and depression in childbearing-aged women. According to the researchers, this group is “particularly vulnerable to the adverse effects of poor nutrition on mood because pregnancy and lactation are major nutritional stressors to the body.”
But why is there such a strong connection between your gut and brain? And what does nutrition have to do specifically with your emotional well-being?
To answer that, we need to take a closer look at the gut.
As you know, this part of the body is responsible for breaking down the food that we eat and absorbing nutrients from it. Made up of the stomach, small intestine and large intestine, our gut doesn’t just play a role in processing food.
It does, in fact, act like an independent, secondary brain.
Heribert Watzke, a world-renowned food scientist, has studied the intricate network of nerves in the gut which is connected to the upper brain. He pointed out that the “little brain” (as he calls it), is actually made up of 500 million nerve cells and 100 million neurons.
And this is the reason why the gut is considered as complex as a cat’s brain. It’s in charge of incredibly complicated digestive functions like releasing enzymes and selecting which nutrients are absorbed or flushed out.
This little brain also controls the majority of our immune system (which is found in the gut), as well as telling you when you’re hungry or full.
In other words, your gut communicates with your upper brain about a lot of crucial biological functions.
And that includes managing your happiness levels.
You see, there are billions of live bacteria living in the gut which help produce those feel-good chemicals (called neurotransmitters). These exert a great influence on your mood.
For instance, almost all of serotonin (one of the brain chemicals linked to happiness) comes from the gut. Your digestive system also produces about half of dopamine, another neurotransmitter critical to your mental health.
Here's another important fact: your brain uses up a LOT of energy to function correctly.
For such a small organ compared to the rest of your body, it needs a lot of fuel – up to 25% of your total energy.
One important function that your brain does is create those neurotransmitters we talked about, which is dependent on the quality of food you eat.
Doctors and scientists are bringing more pieces of the gut-brain puzzle to the table. Slowly but surely, they're uncovering the intimate connection between them.
What they do know so far is that a nutrient deficiency is a HUGE contributing factor to depression. Some studies even point out that you’re 60% more likely to fall into depression with a poor diet.
One of the other implications of poor nutrition is that it also contributes to inflammation. This is a primary function of your immune system, but inflammation should only last for short periods of time.
This opens the door to diseases like cardiovascular disease and cancer - and of course, mental health issues like Alzheimer’s and dementia.
Some experts speculate that inflammation affects the protein makeup of the brain, which leads to mental health problems.
As such, your gut isn’t just a food storage compartment. The little brain in your gut safeguards your bloodstream from foreign invaders like bacteria and other harmful particles.
Aside from that, it helps transport the necessary nutrients across your body – especially your grey matter.
That’s why you need to keep your gut happy with the right food so that the bacteria that lives there are happy too. And in turn, your little brain can steer your big brain away from crippling depression.
Here’s one more point to keep in mind: your brain needs several dozens of liters of blood delivered to it every 60 minutes. This circulation is crucial because it helps flush out toxins from your brain while receiving energy and nutrition from food.
Any breakdown in this essential function is going to mess with your brain chemistry. Most people don't understand why they're gloomy and pessimistic, and malnutrition is often a BIG culprit.
When it comes to a brain-friendly eating plan, your general rule of thumb is to stick to whole, unprocessed foods as much as possible.
I understand that in this day and age, it's hard to find time to prepare healthy meals. But making an effort now and putting a good system in place will be worth it in the long run.
You could change the way you get food by having fresh, whole foods delivered to you either through a grocery store or meal service.
The internet and food-based smartphone apps have made it easier than ever to skip the typical pizza or fast food delivery route. Do a little research, and you’ll be amazed at what you’ll find.
If that’s not an option for you, you could have family or friends lend a hand with the food prep once or twice a week. As they say, if there's a will, there's a way!
According to a study from JSS Medical College in India, there are common food patterns present in depressed people. This includes “poor appetite, skipping meals, and a dominant desire for sweet foods.”
Thus, the study also points out that “nutrition can play a key role in the onset as well as severity and duration of depression.”
Their research lists some vital macronutrients and nutrients that can help someone deal with this condition:
These are a chain of amino acids which are present in meat, dairy, eggs, and even plant-based sources. This is important because amino acids like tyrosine and tryptophan help create dopamine and serotonin (the neurotransmitters we talked about earlier).
Did you know that the brain is mostly made up of fats called lipids? Up to half of your grey matter is made up of polyunsaturated fats – and about a third of those are of omega-3 variety. This is why it’s considered an effective antidepressant which helps with stress hormone production such as cortisol. Foods like walnuts, fresh salmon, flaxseeds and avocado are good sources.
Vitamins such as B1, B2 and B6 are linked to improving the mood of many participants in their study. Look to broccoli and other dark green vegetables like spinach and kale for your B-complex needs. You can also try milk, poultry, beef liver and pork.
Research shows that depressed patients are deficient in folate. Low amounts of this nutrient also make it harder to respond to antidepressant treatments. As such, it’s a good idea to eat more asparagus, beets, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, and bananas to make sure you’re topped up on folate.
This is another essential nutrient that can significantly impact your mood. Foods such as mushrooms, sunflower seeds, oatmeal, brown rice, fish and ham are a good place to start.
Not only does zinc deficiency increase the risk of depression, but also hair loss and digestive problems. That’s why it’s good to eat foods rich in zinc, such as shrimp, spinach, pumpkin seeds, watermelon seeds, garlic, salmon and lobster.
This is only a tiny fraction of what the right food can do for you.
Since the dawn of agriculture and the rise of modern food production, humans as a species have moved away from how we’re supposed to eat.
We’ve slowly replaced whole foods with highly refined, processed options that are designed to be addictive.
One of the “great” discoveries of the 20th century is learning how to replicate basic flavors in nature and crank them up to an unnatural scale.
As a result, our stores are flooded with all sorts of super-stimulating food products that don’t offer much nutrition-wise.
Instead, they destroy gut health, promote inflammation and kick open the floodgates to diabetes, brain disease and cancer.
It’s time you learned the truth about these “Frankenstein Foods” – and how food companies are pulling every trick in the book to keep you HOOKED.
Learn more in this new, groundbreaking documentary series: