New study links diet and mood
I’m sure you’ve heard the old saying “you are what you eat,” but a new study indicates it might be more accurate to say, “your mood is determined by what you eat,” according to a team of researchers from Binghamton University. We now know that the connection between the brain and the gut is extremely important because 90% of serotonin receptors are in the gut. The relatively new field of nutritional psychiatry focuses on understanding how gut health and diet can positively or negatively affect moods. Researchers now believe you can optimize your mental health through diet and lifestyle changes. “There is increasing evidence that diet plays a major role in improving mental health, but everyone is talking about a healthy diet,” according to Lina Begdache, assistant professor of health and wellness studies and co-author of the study. Begdache goes on to say that there is no single healthy diet that works for everyone. There’s a whole range of lifestyle and dietary changes that must consider age and gender, among other things. For example, men and women have different brain structures, and the brain changes as it matures, especially between 18 and 29 and those over 30.
Different people need different diets
During the five-year study, researchers examined the diets, exercise routines and lifestyles of some 2,600 people. The participants filled in questionnaires at different times of the year that revealed critical dietary and lifestyle changes they made during periods of anxiety and depression. The study found that if you’re a young woman and eat breakfast daily, exercise moderately and frequently and keep your fast food and caffeine consumption at a minimum, your mental health will improve. The same was valid for mature women except that they were advised to a lot of fruits daily. Where young men were concerned, the study found that daily exercise, dairy and meat consumption and a low intake of food and caffeine improved mental health. The same applied to mature men with an additional intake of nuts daily.
According to Begdache, “young adults are still forming new connections between brain cells as well as building structures; therefore, they need more energy and nutrients to do that.” Based on these findings, the study authors say that young adults experience mental distress if they have nutritional deficiencies and poor diets. Additionally, caffeine causes mental distress in younger adults. Why is that, you might wonder? According to Begdache, “caffeine is metabolized by the same enzyme that metabolizes the sex hormones testosterone and estrogen, and young adults have high levels of these hormones. When young men and women consume high levels of caffeine, it stays in their system for a long time and keeps stimulating the nervous system, which increases stress and eventually leads to anxiety.”
Tailor-made diets for men and women
One of the reasons the researchers divided the groups by age and gender is because they believe that mental health is influenced by the “wiring” of the brain. They knew from previous studies that male brains are capable of easier perception and coordination and that female brains are capable of supporting analysis as well as intuition.“I’ve found it in my multiple studies so far that men are less likely to be affected by diet than women are. As long as they eat a slightly healthy diet, they will have good mental well-being. It’s only when they consume mostly fast food that we start seeing mental distress,” according to Begdache.
“Women, on the other hand, really need to be consuming a whole spectrum of healthy food and doing exercise to have positive mental well-being. These two things are important for mental well-being in women across age groups.”The problem is that diet recommendations today are only based on a person’s physical health, not their mental health. Begdache hopes to see more research on customized diets based on gender and age to create dietary recommendations for good brain health. If you’d like to read more about this study, you can find it in the journal Nutrients.