Happy September everyone and welcome to fall! I love this time of year; the days are still warm and the mornings have that nice crisp smell. As we head into the shorter days and rainy season for those of us here in the PNW, the doldrums can inch their way into our life. For some of us it is a slower time of year where hibernation allows us to rejuvenate after a busy summer. For others, it can increase the risk of depression or S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder). So I wanted to finish out the year with a little series on nutrition and the connection to mental health in hopes we can start off the winter with a proactive effort to feel good.
So often, we talk about food and supplements in terms of being "healthy" but what does healthy mean. Does the word diet automatically shift your mind to body weight and body image. If it does, you're not alone. For most of my patients, the first time we have the nutrition talk, they immediately give me a response about body weight, almost 90% of the time. What's interesting, is nothing in my words about body weight ever leaves my lips, but we are so programmed to link diet to weight. I'm here today to start changing the mindset about diet from being "good" or "bad" foods to:
1. How do I feel after eating this?
2. Can supplementation support my body in a way that will improve my health and create a change in the way my body works internally?
This month we are going to talk about question #1. When I ask, how do I feel after eating this, I'm not talking about the endorphine rush that comes from grabbing a quick meal when you are starving or eating that craving food you gotta have at the 2 o'clock crash. I'm talking about throughout the day and later into the next week. Many of the foods that "feel good" only feel good for a short period, and leave us lacking energy and cranky and lethargic later. We all know what I'm talking about, but what if we go deeper into how the food makes you feel.
There are a lot of people who think non-allergy related food intolerances are bunk/fads/trendy, but let me be the first to tell you that no one avoids a slice of pizza just because they are being trendy. Pizza is amazing! No person wants to eliminate that slice of heaven from their life; they are doing it out of necessity. There are a lot of gastrointestinal symptoms that come with food intolerances, but what we often don't hear about is the mental health connection. For decades (like honestly since the 1960's) researchers have been studying the trend of mental health disorders and gluten. There have been positive links between gluten consumption in sensitive individuals to depression, anxiety, mental clarity, and even schizophrenia. There are so many reasons why this link could occur, researchers still haven't been able to isolate a single reason; and it is most likely multifactorial. Some suggestions have been of the gluten protein itself, FODMAPs, allergies, gut biome changes, alteration in intestinal linings, natural opioid release from the food itself, and genetics. But what we do know is that the connection is there and statistically people do have improved mental health by avoiding gluten if they are sensitive.
There are so many studies on this topic that it was hard to narrow down which one to pick, but I found a systematic review (basically the highest level of research which reviews multiple high quality studies and summarizes them) that was good. The study from the journal Nutrients published in 2018 (see link below) highlights the connection specifically between depression and gluten. It's a long one, so get ready for a big review if you want to read the entire article, just warning you ;-)
Take home message: If you are suffering from symptoms of mental health illness, trialing a gluten free diet might be something to try.