The Health Index
Mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. This umbrella term covers a vast range of diseases and disorders such as depression and anxiety, addictions and eating disorders, as well as psychiatric conditions like schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
It might seem unlikely that food could affect mood and prevent such serious conditions. However, you must not underestimate the importance of nutrition for a healthy mind. Everything that happens in the body is – at the cellular level – chemistry. Hormones and neurotransmitters, energy and structural compounds (fats, cholesterol, proteins) are chemistry, and the body relies on us to supply those that it cannot make itself via the food we eat. Although proper nutrition may not solve every mental health problem, a healthy brain and good mental strength cannot be achieved without it.
What are the causes?
Mental illness cannot be directly attributed to a single cause. Biological factors (e.g. genetic stress, metabolic changes in the brain, malnutrition, home life (e.g. growing up/living with a depressed parent) and stressful life experiences (e.g. divorce, loss of a loved one) can contribute to the development of mental illness.
A combination of risk factors affects a person’s susceptibility. For some people, normal everyday demands can already be too much to bear, while others get into mental crises only when they are under extreme stress or experience trauma.
What are the symptoms?
People with mental stress experience different symptoms which vary in severity. These symptoms can have a greater or lesser impact on the everyday life and functioning of those affected. Common reactions to stress are feelings of sadness, anxiety, or inner tension, which may be very strong. These symptoms usually disappear after a certain amount of time. However, if they persist for a longer period of time, or if they are accompanied by others symptoms such as panic attacks, suicidal thoughts, self-injury or delusions, leading to more and more problems in everyday life, those affected and their relatives should seek professional help.
How can a nutrition practitioner help?
To function properly, the nervous system relies on nutrients supplied by the diet. Nutrients are the raw materials the body requires to fuel nerves and other cells, and to build structures (e.g. nerve cells), hormones, neurotransmitters, and a healthy nervous system. Certain nutrient deficiencies are in themselves capable of triggering depression and anxiety. Your nutrition practitioner will be part of your healthcare team and support the work of your GP, counsellor and psychiatrist.
They may recommend functional testing to assess your nutrition status and make sure that your brain and nervous system are getting all the nutrients they need. A nutrition practitioner will ask questions about your overall health and health history, diet, lifestyle and exercise habits. They will look at your food diary to see where there may be room for improvement. Your nutrition practitioner will then develop a customised diet, supplement and lifestyle plan for you.