Happy Meals = Sad Brains

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Eating to be fit, eating to be physically healthy, eating to prevent disease…how about eating to be happy?  Research examining the link between what we eat and our mental health is in its infancy stage, but the results so far are very consistent and very powerful.  A new study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry makes a strong case that processed junk food can trigger or contribute to depression, while eating whole and healthy food seems protective.  Researchers are confident that have found a true cause and effect relationship.

With the rise in diabetes, heart disease and obesity in our country there has also been an equally dramatic rise in depression.  If you watch even a small amount of television you are inundated with advertisements prompting you to ask your doctor for the latest and greatest mood-improving medication.  It is time to start looking at what might be the cause of the imbalance in our brains rather than taking drugs that only make the symptoms go away.  There are countless stories of patients changing their diets to deal with gastrointestinal issues and being pleasantly surprised at the marked improvement or even complete disappearance of their depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or other mental illness.

Like any other muscle, bone, organ or tissue, the brain needs to have nutrients to function correctly and repair itself.  Too many people live on processed, fast, prepared food devoid of those nutrients and full of chemicals.  We aren’t feeding our brains, yet we expect our brains to be happy.  How happy would you be if you weren’t being fed?  To make matters worse, we are disrupting the brain’s messengers, called neurotransmitters, with the chemicals we are ingesting when we choose to eat processed junk.  It only makes sense that an underfed, chemically-stressed brain is not going to function well.  And what do most depressed people do?  They eat nutritionally-deficient, highly-processed “comfort foods” to make themselves feel better, not realizing they are creating a vicious circle.  Bad food leads to depression which leads to more bad food which leads to more depression…you get the picture.  It is literally and figuratively a sad one.

I am certainly not suggesting that ALL mental illness is caused ONLY by poor diet.  What I am saying is that food absolutely does have SOME level of effect on our mental health.  The exact impact will vary from person to person.  It would be interesting to see what would happen if every person suffering from some sort of mental illness eliminated all processed foods and started eating whole, real foods.  It stands to reason that we as a nation would be both healthier and happier.

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