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Food Choices and Mental Health

What do our food choices have to do with what our mental health is like? A lot it seems! We can do a lot to improve our mental health by focusing on food and lifestyle to make seemingly complex neurotransmitter pathways work in balance. As boring as it may sound, mood instability can be rebalanced with the assistance of our lifestyle and food choices. After all, 'Food is our Medicine'. It may mean you never have to resort to medication.

The complex pathways in the diagram below shows how our body works in obtaining nutrients from food to make our neurotransmitters work optimally. Our neurotransmitters are known as our chemical conveyors of messages. There is a delicate balancing act of our moods, based on how our neurotransmitters are working, which relates back to how well the pathways are working from the nutrition we provide it.

Neurotransmitter pathway chart showing where key nutrients enable optimal brain function and mental health
Pathway chart showing how neurotransmitters are formed and key nutrients required as co-factors.

What are the neurotransmitters?

What are they? What are they known for? What are common signs associated with irregularities?

The neurotransmitters in the diagram above are shown by the coloured-in circles. The pathways shown highlight what is needed to enable the creation, and importantly the 'balance' of the neurotransmitters. The pathways move and work efficiently when we get satisfactory levels of nutrients. Like everything in the body, the pathways must be kept in balance.

  1. Serotonin - the happy hormone. Do you frequently cry for little or no reason?

  2. Melatonin - the sleep hormone. Do you have consistent poor sleep?

  3. Dopamine - the 'motivated to follow pleasure' hormone. Do you have addictive tendencies, have frequent anxiety?

  4. Norepinephrine or Noradrenalin - for concentration. Do you have poor concentration and poor long term memory?

  5. Epinephrine or Adrenalin - the 'fight or flight' response. Do you have panic disorders, frequent agitation?

  6. Glutamate - for a lot of brain function. It's a very excitatory neurotransmitter and is a component of MSG (Monosodium Glutamate). Do you have aggressive tendencies, panic attacks? Does eating food containing MSG agitate you?

  7. GABA - for feelings of calm. It's likened to 'Nature's Valium'. Do you have consistent panic attacks, dwell over stressful situations, have PMS (Premenstrual Syndrome) or PMDD (Premenstrual Dysphoric Disorder), have cold hands?

  8. Histamine - as well as its association with allergies, it is a neurotransmitter that improves resistance to stress. Are you agitated, with an overactive mind, have social phobia?

  9. Acetylcholine - for learning and attention. Do you have poor short term memory and are highly reactive to stress?

  10. Phenylethylamine - for alertness and mental activity. Do you have poor motivation?

  11. Endogenous Opioids - endorphins for pain relief. Do you have low pain tolerance?

Food choices balance our neurotransmitters and mental health

Foods directly impact our neurotransmitters. Steps to help them include:

  • Recognise that nutrition is important (see graphic below showing direct impacts on our feel good neurotransmitters (Dopamine, Serotonin, GABA)

  • Eat Protein - all our neurotransmitters originate from protein. A low protein diet will impact negatively.

  • Ensure we are getting our vitamins - we need all the B vitamins (including B2, B3, folate, B12, vitamin B6), vitamin D, vitamin C

  • Ensure we are getting our minerals - magnesium, zinc, iron, calcium, selenium

  • Ensure we get good exposure to sunlight - to help balance circadian rhythm and to get exposure to Vitamin D

  • Ensure we do gentle exercise - for its balancing and calming effects

  • Ensure we stimulate our digestive enzymes and stomach acid - eat slowly, don't drink with our meals, chew food, prepare our own foods to stimulate our senses

  • Keep our glucose regulation under control - eat complex carbohydrates (vegetables, grains) in preference over simple sugars which will throw the balance of the neurotransmitters out

  • Keep inflammation down, restrict alcohol, keep weight under control - these measures help ensure our reproductive hormones are kept in balance which work in partnership with neurotransmitters

  • Move toxins out of our body - drinking 2L water per day will greatly assist as it will open our detoxification pathways

  • Limit stress - to ensure we keep our neurotransmitters protected from extreme events

Showing key nutritional vitamins and minerals interaction with neurotransmitters and improving mental health
Key nutritional vitamins and minerals interaction with neurotransmitters to improving mental health.

Nutrient Activity of Neurotransmitter Receptor Sites in the Brain, Bioconecpts

Neurotransmitter Testing

  • Neurotransmitter testing is available and I can help with ordering and interpretation.

  • Reproductive hormonal testing (our sex hormones) is also available and can often be a helpful adjunct, as hormones and neurotransmitters work closely together, which explains why changing hormonal circumstances in life can often cause changes in our moods. I can help with interpretation.

  • As always, everything stems from the gut. A lot of issues can simply be a matter of correcting what's going on there. Stool (poop) testing is available with an incredible amount of enlightening information, and I can help you interpret the information.

If you would like to discuss your personal circumstances with me with the aim to rebalance your neurotransmitters to help balance your mood, please feel free to book an appointment.

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