Mental health issues are finally getting the attention they rightly deserve.
And it seems women are more affected than men.
According to large scale population studies, women are 1.5 to 3 times more likely to suffer from major depressive disorders than are men.
And women are almost twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety disorders.
Issues can obviously be triggered by circumstances – bereavement, relationships, trauma, financial worries, ill health, lack of purpose – among others.
But there are proven links between mental health issues and other imbalances in the body, such as hormones and the gut.
The hormone connection
There is a strong relationship between hormones and the brain. Signals from the brain determine which hormones are produced, and hormones in the body also influence brain activity and mental health.
- Cortisol – Stress today is unrelenting, switching on your fight or flight response, resulting in high or low levels of cortisol which can interfere with your brain neurotransmitters, notably serotonin (your ‘happy’ hormone), dopamine (the ‘feel good’ hormone) and GABA (your ‘calming’ hormone).
- Thyroid – with low levels of thyroid hormone, brain function can slow down and this can result in depression, anxiety, brain fog and memory loss.
- Oestrogen – for women, oestrogen levels can fluctuate wildly, during your monthly cycle, and especially during peri-menopause. Too much oestrogen can cause irritabiity and anxiety. Too little can make you depressed, foggy and over-emotional.
- Progesterone – has a calming effect on the brain, it stimulates the brain’s GABA receptors, the feel-good, calming neurotransmitters, and it declines sharply after the age of 35.
- Testosterone – not just a male hormone, women need it too. It can rapidly deplete as we get older, and can result in low mood, motivation and increased anxiety.
- Insulin – a diet high in refined carbs and sugar can create too much insulin, which can lead to inflammation in the brain, altering your mood.
- Vitamin D – is actually a hormone with a large number of receptors in the brain. As many of us live in areas with little sunshine for large parts of the year, deficiency is common. Low vitamin D is linked with mood disorders and depression.
The Gut Connection
According to scientists, your gut is your second brain. Your gut is talking to your brain constantly. So if you have any gut imbalances (symptoms might include IBS, constipation, diarrhoea, gas, bloating, pain, indigestion, food sensitivities), then it might be affecting the way your brain is working and your mental health.
Food for the Brain
As well as eating a diet high in sugar and refined carbs, which can increase our insulin levels, there are also several nutrient deficiencies that have been linked to low mood and other mental health issues;
- B vitamins (especially B6, folate and B12) – needed for neurotransmitter function
- Tryptophan – an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin
- Omega fats – EPA, DHA and GLA – your brain is made up of 60% fat !
- Zinc – helps to create new brain cells
- Magnesium – thought to help improve brain plasticity
- Vitamin D – helps to reduce inflammation and regulate nerve cell function
Tips to improve your mental health
- Get some tests done – hormones, gut, Vitamin D, B12 and folate
- Balance your blood sugar by eating protein and healthy fats at each meal with plenty of vegetables and fibr. Limit sugar, alcohol, caffeine and refined carbs.
- Get some sunshine for your Vitamin D, or take a supplement (seek professional advice first)
- Reduce your stress levels – try deep breathing, meditation, relaxation, yoga – whatever works for you but do it regularly
- Put some Espom Salts in your bath – the magnesium helps with relaxation as well as brain health
- Get out in to nature –walking and time outside has been shown to help lift mood and reduce stress
- Supplements can help – a good B complex (with active methylated forms), EPA DHA fish oil, Magnesium and Vitamin D, along with a good multi mineral formula.
Mood boosting foods
Try including some of these in your diet to boost your mood and feed your brain;
- Eggs – choline, protein, B vits, magnesium, zinc
- Oats, brown rice, quinoa – B vits, fibre
- Turkey – tryptophan, B vits, zinc, protein
- Dark chocolate – magnesium and antioxidants
- Seeds – esp chia & walnut (omega 3’s), almonds (magnesium), brazil nuts (selenium)
- Seafood – iodine, zinc, B vitamins
- Oily fish – EPA/DHA omega 3 fats
- Dark green leafy veg (esp broccoli and watercress) – iron, magnesium, zinc, folate, sulphur
If you'd like help with any symptoms involving brain function or mood, please CONTACT us for a free Discovery Call to see if we can help.