Many people in the UK are facing challenges with their mental health at the moment and it’s not difficult to understand why. Just turning on the news can be enough to ruin your mood nowadays and it seems impossible to look anywhere without being reminded of the current cost of living crisis. It is crucial then for the well-being of the nation that we take steps to protect our mental health during these hard times. This is easier said than done as there are so many factors affecting an individual’s mental health. However, there is one factor in particular that tends to be overlooked and that is nutrition. 

Our brain needs fuel to function just like any organ in the body, in fact it needs more energy than any other organ in the body. Why then do people seem unwilling to make the connection between what we eat and how it makes us feel? 

If you’re suffering from long- or short-term pain in the neck, back, shoulders or from unexplained headaches, this will have a negative impact on your mental health. An experienced chiropractor can help you recover physically, so you can feel better mentally.

The nutritional needs of the brain vs the rest of the body

It is not easy to isolate the nutritional needs of our brains. There are the recommended daily allowances (RDAs) that you can find online easily, but many of these were created to help soldiers in World War 2 to maintain good physical health for fighting. There is no list of recommended daily allowances for brain health.

There is however evidence to suggest that certain diets are better for your brain than others. For example, recent studies have found that following the “Mediterranean diet” decreases the chances of experiencing strokes, cognitive impairment and depression. Other studies have found the “green” foods of the mediterranean diet (foods high in polyphenols e.g the antioxidants found in things like green tea) can reduce brain atrophy associated with ageing. Unfortunately this field is understudied and we will not have a complete picture of how the food we eat affects our brains until we start taking nutritional science seriously.

The emerging link between inadequate nutrition and poor mental health

As I mentioned earlier, there are just so many factors affecting mental health. For this reason, it is very easy for people who are suffering from poor mental health to look for other causes and cures for their specific issues. Most people are unwilling to make a difficult lifestyle change even for the benefit of their own health and I don’t blame them. Today it is far too easy to find a one size fits all, magic pill-type treatment for mental health. However these are often ineffective in the long-term and this leads people into the trap of thinking they are “incurable”.

 Now I don’t want to belittle anyone’s mental health struggles, but let’s just consider this for a moment. Mental health is getting worse and so is nutrition. In fact, only 10% of adults in America consume their recommended daily serving of vegetables. Now if we consider the fact that the brain accounts for about 2% of a body’s mass and uses 20% of its metabolic energy, is it really that much of a reach to conclude that we do need to be concerned with the relationship between our guts and our brains? 

 Studies in animals show that a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids (from walnuts, for example), flavonoids (consumed mainly via tea and wine), antioxidants (found in berries) and resveratrol (found in red grapes), promotes neuron growth and inflammatory processes are reduced. This is essentially the opposite of many modern diets that include a lot of ultra-processed, fried and sugary foods, which increases inflammation in the brain and also the risk of developing depression.

The supplement industry – a crutch for poor nutrition

If you can fill all the gaps in your nutrition with a few convenient pills then why wouldn’t you? It’s “healthy” right? And it’s easier than educating yourself on which foods contain which vitamins and how much of them you should be eating. This is a very common viewpoint nowadays and it is reflected in the statistics. In 2018, 54% of North Americans and 43% of Asians were taking a nutritional supplement. The most common types are multivitamins, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. America spends the most on dietary supplements, followed by western Europe and Japan. One estimate put the global market at $152bn in 2021, with 9% annual growth expected until 2030. The problem is that there is very little regulation in these supplement markets.

This means it’s almost impossible to be 100% sure what you’re getting. Ted Dinan, a professor of psychiatry at University College, Cork describes the supplement industry as the “Wild West”. Without regulation, supplement brands are free to include more or less of whatever they claim is in their supplement.

 This leads to potential complications, for example a pregnant woman ingesting too much vitamin A whilst being unaware that this can be harmful during pregnancy. In short, high doses of any one nutrient can interfere with the absorption of others.

So where do we go from here?

Nutritional science is understudied, so it seems like the most obvious solution would be to just study it more. The problem is that big companies have invested a lot of money and continue to make a lot of money selling people supplements and easy fixes for their health issues. You can’t copyright Vitamin A, anyone could make a supplement with it and you wouldn’t be able to stop them. You also can’t copyright general good health advice and nutritional information because it isn’t a product that was invented by anyone.

I think the only thing we can do is educate our loved ones to the best of our abilities. If we start talking about and focusing on the link between our guts, our microbiomes and our mental health, eventually the big corporations will catch on. Ultimately though, it is up to us to make the assertion that our brain is fuelled by food just like the rest of our body and that it is in our best interest to fuel it well, for the benefit of our own mental health.

How a chiropractor can help improve your mental health & nutrition

When you have a consultation with an experienced chiropractor, they will ask you lots of questions about your history. They will be interested in things like general health, diet and sleeping patterns. They will also give you a health check at the start of appointments and using all this information, they will be able to recommend supplements to improve your nutrition and in turn, your mental health. A trusted chiropractor can help you with nutrition deficiencies that may be exacerbating things like back pain, weight fluctuation and old nagging injuries that are still giving you grief.

Do you have neck, shoulder and back pain that is more of a pressing issue for you right now than nutrition? Totally understandable, because pain affects mental health too! Find out how a trusted chiropractor can improve your mental health with honest and realistic advice.