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How nutrition affects our psyche

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Sure, our psyche helps determine whether we’re in the mood for fries, burgers, or cake, or opt for something light like a salad. But this is not a one-way street – nutrition and psyche influence each other. So what food we eat also affects our mental well-being. In this article, you’ll learn how our food choices can contribute to good or bad moods and how you can strengthen your psyche with the right foods.

Intestine and brain communicate with each other

It has been known for some time that the intestine and the brain are in mutual exchange. Although the exact mechanisms have not yet been fully researched, scientists are currently discussing the following three pathways in particular. On the one hand, there are about 100 million nerve tracts in the intestine that lead to the brain. Here, for example, the vagus nerve also plays an important role. Second, the two organs communicate via hormones. The intestinal flora is involved in the formation of neurotransmitters. For example, serotonin, known as the happiness hormone, is formed by the microbiome in the digestive tract to over 90%. Serotonin and other neurotransmitters influence signal processing in the brain and have effects on our mood as well as well-being. 

In order for our thinking organ to function properly and maintain its health, it needs certain nutrients. Researchers have identified twelve of these that are particularly important, including iron, magnesium, omega-3 fatty acid, selenium, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C and zinc. You can read about which foods support your brain optimally in this article about brain food.

Sugar & psyche: a high is followed by a low

Our diet can therefore promote brain activity and bring protective effects or lead to undesirable phenomena such as impaired concentration, fatigue or mood swings. This effect can be easily observed in the case of sugar: If you consume simple sugar molecules such as table sugar, sweets or even white flour products, your blood sugar quickly shoots up. To counteract this blood sugar spike, the pancreas releases insulin so that blood sugar drops again. This sharp fluctuation between highs and lows affects our mental state and performance; we become restless, unfocused or sluggish. Complex carbohydrates, such as those found in potatoes or whole-grain products, are better because they cause the blood sugar to rise only slowly and provide us with longer and more constant energy.

Can the wrong diet promote mental impairment?

The western diet contains a lot of animal fats, meat and sugar. These are not only risk factors for a number of physical diseases such as coronary heart disease, diabetes or colorectal cancer, but are also suspected to increase the risk for psychological impairments such as poor brain function or increased anxiety. These findings come from related correlation studies and thus may have initial evidence of the effect of such foods. However, it is important to emphasize that so far only associations, but no causality (cause-effect relationship) has been proven here.

It has not yet been finally clarified whether the diet leads to these psychological phenomena, or whether people with, for example, elevated anxiety levels tend to eat such a diet. Although there are strong indications from science that nutrition influences the psyche in this way, further studies are needed to make binding statements.

Can you eat away depression?

Research has progressed further with regard to depression: Here it can be stated that the risk of depression as well as existing symptomatology can actually be reduced by a diet rich in vitamins as well as nutrients such as fruits, vegetables, legumes and nuts. This protective effect has been proven. People with depression lack certain intestinal bacteria, as they are just already present in non-ill people. Therefore it can be preventive or therapy-supporting to adapt the nutrition accordingly. This is above all an interesting as well as helpful approach, since approx. 30% of the persons with a depression do not react to the conventional treatment possibilities.

 

For mentally healthy people, there is no causal evidence yet regarding diet and increased well-being or elevated mood. However, initial indications from correlation studies exist here as well. A healthy and balanced diet is indispensable for health and may even lead to greater satisfaction and serenity.

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