As human beings, we cannot survive without food, which provides the source of energy our bodies need to function. Nutrition is made up of micronutrients (vitamins and minerals) and macronutrients (protein, fat, and carbohydrates) and is necessary for our bodies to remain in homeostasis. For optimal health we need to make sure that we are getting adequate supply of both. When we discuss physical and mental health, it is imperative that we speak about the importance of nutrition to both.
Many nutrients affect brain function. When our bodies are deficient in vitamins B, C, D, and E, depressive symptoms can worsen, memory falters, and cognition becomes impaired. Transition metals like iron and zinc are important for myelination and neurotransmitter metabolism and function. Selenium is important for optimal thyroid function which helps the body remain in balance and help prevent signs and symptoms common to mental illness.
Omega-3 fatty acids help decrease inflammation and improve neuron function. Fats, especially monounsaturated and polyunsaturated ones, protein, and carbohydrates are important for neurogenesis, cognition, memory, and behavioral and psychomotor functioning. Deficiency in any of these nutrients inhibits our bodies from remaining in homeostasis, creates a poorly nourished brain, and increases the risk of worsening mood or weaker response to medication or psychotherapy.
When discussing nutrition with our patients, it is important to understand what they are eating to get an idea if vitamin and mineral supplementation is necessary. What are their nutritional deficiencies based on lab values? More research is needed to understand the correct dosing and frequency of supplementation. In addition, it is important to understand patients’ genetics when understanding how vitamins and minerals are metabolized, absorbed, and used by individuals.
While nutrition can be good for the body, it can also cause problems. Recently, a lot of research has been coming out about the effects of inflammation on physical and mental health. How does nutrition cause inflammation? Inflammation-causing foods, food allergies, and food sensitivities can increase and promote a pro-inflammatory environment within the body.
Inflammatory foods include fried and processed foods, sugars and refined carbohydrates, and advanced glycation end products which occur when meat is heated, grilled, or fried. Food allergies can be caused by a variety of foods and are specific to each individual. Often, food sensitivities can be harder to identify due to the absence of any signs or symptoms of intolerances.
However, various food sensitivities can increase inflammation in the body. Conversely, whole foods, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, lean meats, and some dairy have been shown to be anti-inflammatory and are a good supply of many micro and macronutrients.