Mental health encompasses prior knowledge of mental illnesses, for instance, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety. Mental disorders pose as retarding factor resulting from a global disability that heavily burdens health, economic, and social progress. For instance, psychotherapy and antidepressants have been the core treatment options for averting this burden, thereby creating a lucrative area to develop further treatment options. There is consistent interventional, mechanistic, and observational data to imply the quality of diet may be a modifiable risk factor for cognitive disorders. The discussion includes the biological pathways of mental disorders. Consequently, dietary components such as vitamin B and D supplements, folate, folinic acids, fatty acids, amino acids, and magnesium provide key clinical benefits in managing, preventing, and treating mental health among schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and anxiety patients.
Rehm & Shield (2019), mental illness accounts for 19 percent of years dwelled with a disability and 7 percent of all worldwide disease burden as tabulated in DALYS. The treatment cornerstones include psychotherapy, for instance, cognitive behavioral therapy, and pharmacotherapy, like antidepressants. Despite being the primary treatment options, they only prevent less than half of the burden of the disease, thereby indicating the need for supplemental therapeutic and preventative measures for mental illnesses. Mental illnesses are mainly the result of dysfunctional communication between the brain cells called neurons, also known as neurotransmission (Rehm & Shield, 2019). Therefore, factors that affect brain functioning, including diet, are key factors in understanding mental illnesses. This paper discusses diet quality as a modifiable risk element by the emerging field of nutritional psychiatry for cognitive disorders due to its impact on neurotransmission.
Nutritional psychiatry refers to utilizing food supplements and food as alternative therapies for mental health ailments. Oddy et al. (2018) infer that recent systematic evaluations addressing the relationship between common cognitive disorders have revealed that the risk of depression or likelihood is adversely correlated with healthy eating habits. Such a diet a characterized by the increased intake of limited processed foods, fish, vegetables, seeds, fruits, nuts, and whole grains. On the other hand, unhealthy diets rich in high-sugar, processed, and high-fat foods in adulthood and adolescence have been positively linked to common psychiatric disorders, anxiety, and depression (Oddy et al., 2018). Corresponding evidence subsists in early childhood, whereby poor early-life diet and maternal nutritional status are correlated to childhood behavioral and emotional dysregulation.
Survey on potential biological processes involved in the relationship between mental health and diet mainly related to neuroplasticity, oxidative stress, and inflammation. As by Slyepchenko et al. (2017), the microbiome, the intestinal tract, is the central mediator for each of the above processes. The comprehension of the latter pathways has spurred research into the different use of nutritional supplements (nutraceutical) and dietary interventions that impact the pathways as mentioned above for severe and common psychiatric disorders. For example, NAC (N-acetyl cysteine) in schizophrenia and n-3 fatty acids in the case of depression.
Healthy Diet and the Functioning of the Brain
The most complex organ of the human body is the brain because it watches our day-to-day activities and operations and communicates with other organs to coordinate their functions throughout our lives. Neurons, or brain cells, communicate with one another and with other organs, like the muscles (Jacka et al., 2017). For instance, when you want to shake your hand, the brain instructs the muscles of the hand to contract. Glial cells, which support the neurons in the brain, communicate with neurons as well. Glial cells are classified into two groups:astrocytes and microglia (Jacka et al., 2017). The primary immune cells of the brain called microglia, aid in the prevention of infections. Neurons get the nutrients they need to stay healthy from astrocytes.
As can be seen, the primary function of the brain is communication, both with other brain cells and with the body as a whole. We are able to move around and perform other physical and cognitive tasks with the assistance of brain messages. Thinking, remembering, learning, planning, memorizing, imagining, concentrating, and organizing are all examples of cognitive tasks. As a result, a brain-related issue can alter our thinking, feelings, or actions. While a poor diet can have a negative impact on our cognitive functions, the proper nutrition found in a healthy diet can improve many brain functions. Ultimately, a well-functioning and happy brain is built on a healthy diet.
Having a healthy brain is directly related to the foods we eat. In several ways, a healthy, well-balanced diet can be beneficial for the brain in terms of its functioning. Neurogenesis, the process of making new neurons, can be boosted by a healthy diet. The synaptic plasticity of the brain can also be influenced by what we eat. Simply put, synaptic plasticity is the number of connected neurons. We are better able to learn, think, memorize information, think, and learn when there are more connections between neurons (Jacka et al., 2017). One of the most significant structures of the brain is the hippocampus which regulates neurogenesis and memory.
Numerous molecules are made and used by neurons, including those in the hippocampus, to send and receive messages. One such molecule is called the BDNF (brain-derived neurotrophic factor). Our cognitive abilities can be enhanced, neurogenesis can be increased, and neurons can live longer thanks to BDNF (Jacka et al., 2017). The neurogenesis of the hippocampus can be enhanced and BDNF levels can rise with a healthy diet. Our attention, mental health, learning, memory, mood, and neurogenesis in the hippocampus may all benefit from this increased neurogenesis.
Brain inflammation brought on by a diet high in fats affects the hippocampus and hypothalamus the most. The hippocampus is in charge of memory and neurogenesis. The control of one’s weight is one of the functions that the hypothalamus is in charge of. On the other hand, the gut or the digestive system and the brain are always connected. Neurons that send and receive messages between these two body organs connect them. The neurons in the gut sense what we eat and send signals to the brain to alert us. The gut-brain axis is the name given to this connection and the communication that comes from it (Jacka et al., 2017). It should not come as a surprise that an unhealthy diet can interfere with cognitive functions like remembering, thinking, or learning due to the gut-brain axis.
A type of stress hormone that has the potential to activate the microglia and astrocytes in the brain is released in excess by an unhealthy diet. In fact, stress hormones cause microglia and astrocytes to become active when they should not. Inflammation in the hippocampus and other brain regions may result from this activation (Jacka et al., 2017). It can be difficult to remember things, focus, or plan when there is inflammation in the hippocampus, which can have a negative impact on our cognitive abilities. Even depression episodes noticeable in individuals can result from this inflammation.
Specific Individual Nutrients and Dietary Patterns
Our brains can benefit from certain foods that we eat. It has been demonstrated that certain food components, like omega-3 fatty acids, improve the functioning of the brain. The brain may become inflamed, resulting in negative cognitive effects if we do not consume enough omega-3 fatty acids (Ferriani et al., 2022). Because the body cannot produce omega-3 fatty acids, we must consume them because they are an essential nutrient. A type of omega-3 fatty acid known as -linolenic acid can be found in edible seeds like flax seeds and plants like walnuts. Fish oils contain eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). A diet high in fish oil and omega-3 fatty acids has been shown to lower the risk of certain mental illnesses like depression and Alzheimer’s disease.
A healthful diet is typically characterized as a rich intake of whole grains, fruits, fish, and vegetables. On the other hand, a western diet is described as consuming items rich in beverages, sugary and salty snacks, processed foods, refined grains, and processed meats. Even so, there is still a great deal of variation in how a healthy diet is defined because many distinct cultures have distinct but still healthy eating habits. According to Ferriani et al. (2022), a healthy diet plays a critical role in maintaining mental health. Great emphasis is thus sensitized on a traditional or healthy diet and a Mediterranean diet. A Mediterranean diet emphasizes the intake of meals rich in legumes, moderated intake of dairy and meat products, and olive oil as the core source of fats. It should be noted that the weight of the person is not an underlying factor as far as mental health is concerned.
The relationship between mental health and nutrition is affirmed by the broad exhibition of nutraceutical interventions targeting pathways implicated in mental disorders. The pathways range from neurotransmitter pathways, inflammation, mitochondrial dysfunction, oxidative stress, hippocampal-associated cognitive decline prevention, and methylation cycle modulation. Specific herbal preparations and nutrients have been examined in clinical trials for their effects on mental disorders due to their action on the pathways mentioned above (Ferriani et al., 2022). The outcomes from the clinical trials indicate that n-3 PUFA formulations, whereby the EPA to DHA ratio is high in place of antidepressants, have aided depression patients in unimaginable ways. Other nutrients acting as adjunctive interventions for depression include vitamin D, methyl folate, and s-adenosylmethionine.
Foods rich in a combination of amino acids, folinic acid, and creatine have been optimally successful in establishing that a healthy diet dramatically impacts mental health. However, from the tests conducted, there has been no direct correlation between depression and vitamin D and vitamin B12 supplementation and folate (Ferriani et al., 2022). In addition, branched-chain amino acids, I-tryptophan, folic acid, and magnesium, can effectively be utilized in the treatment of bipolar disorder (Zheng et al., 2020. Moreover, chelated vitamin and mineral formulas may be effectively used in the improvement of bipolar ailment-related mania and depression (Firth et al., 2017). Vitamin B supplementation (B12 and B6) and folate can be successfully utilized in the management of schizophrenia.
Conclusively, the food consumed by individuals affects their brains or minds, and bodies. Moreover, nutritional psychiatry emerges as a rapidly growing medical field that can provide significant interventions in the control of mental health, prevention, and treatment of mental disorders. Biological pathways, for instance, inflammation will provide the appropriate action mechanisms. By understanding the right foods that facilitate healthy functioning of the hypothalamus and hippocampus, cognitive problems such as depression and anxiety shall be curbed. In general, foods that are healthy have the right amount of proteins, carbohydrates, calcium, minerals, fiber, and vitamins while foods that are unhealthy have a lot of fats and sugar.
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