Mental health issues are at an all time high. Whether it’s due to a raised awareness in mental health or people are more open to discussing their mental health issues, the fact still remains that something needs to be done to correct this rising epidemic. With processed, junk foods becoming more prevalent in people’s diet over healthy, organic foods, one might pose the question of ‘Is there a direct link between junk food and mental health?’
Recent studies suggest that there is a direct correlation between nutrition and mental health. Which really should come as no surprise as the foods you consume end up being your source of energy and power and becomes a part of your soul and being… (not really but kind of) You literally ‘are what you eat’. If the foods you consume can affect your physical state, is it fair to say that it also affects your mental state? Of course!
Diets high in sugar have been linked to depression. The euphoric sugar highs and crashing sugar lows mimic the affects of depression and can also cause mood swings. Sugar restricts brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which is responsible for neuron maintenance and growth. A hormone that is found to be abnormally low in depression sufferers. The lack of BDNF has also been linked to memory loss due to the inability to maintain neurons in the brain. Although, furiously debated, addiction has also been linked to diets high in sugar and its affects has been compared to cocaine users due to the similarity in disturbance to dopamine levels – hormone responsible for reward/pleasure response.
Diets high in saturated fat is detrimental to brain function. Saturated fats cause inflammation in the brain leading to cognitive dysfunction. A study conducted on rats by J. Alzheimers from the Unites States National Library of Medicine, discovered that in a group of rats injected with higher doses of saturated fat and cholesterol, found it harder to navigate their way through a maze which they had previously completed with ease.
High fat diets have also been linked to depression but have not been directly linked to the cause. Sharma and Fulton says, “Diet-induced obesity promotes depressive-like behaviour that is associated with neural adaptations in brain reward circuitry” – From the International Journal of Obesity, 2012. Other factors leading to depression also need to be accounted for, such as, socioeconomic status, family history, comorbid (more than one) disorders which can also attribute to depression.
Although bad fats are detrimental to brain function, good fats improve cognitive ability. Good fats such as omega 3’s improve neural function and synaptic signals. The brain’s ability to process thoughts and actions.
For optimum mental and physical health a well balanced diet and regular exercise is best. That’s not to say that you can’t enjoy your junk food every once in a while but enjoy those types of foods in moderation. Ingest foods, high in omega 3 and limit foods that are high in refined sugar and saturated fats.
- Sack, David M.D: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/where-science-meets-the-steps/201309/4-ways-sugar-could-be-harming-your-mental-health
- Alzheimers, J. Dis: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2670571/