The influence of diet and nutrition on mental health is complex, and it is not yet well understood. Due to this, scientists are conducting more research to better understand this. Also, the scriptures in oriental medicines mention the influence of various types of food on behavior. Health care experts opine that following plant-based diet plans by eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and fortified foods supports mental wellbeing. You must know that certain phytonutrients have neuroprotective effects, and they positively stimulate neurological functioning. Read on to know how eating plant-based food boosts mental health.
The Connection Between The Gut And The Brain
Mounting evidence from research shows the link between gut bacteria and their influence on depression. According to the results of a study published in 2019, gut bacteria influence the production of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. This is because of the connection between the digestive tract and the brain via the vagus nerve, immune system, and other biological pathways.
You must know that the gut microbiome is a colony of microorganisms. Some of them are safe, some are harmful, and some are neutral. The type of food you eat affects which type of microorganisms dominate the microbiome. For instance, those who eat more plant-based food have a higher percentage of good bacteria compared to those who eat more meat-based food products.
The Functions Of Gut Microbiome
The gut bacteria affect your body from your infancy and their functions are listed below:
- Digesting Breast Milk: The bacteria Bifidobacterium is found in the intestines of babies, and it helps to digest sugars in breast milk.
- Digesting Fiber: Some of the fiber in plant-based food is digested by bacteria to produce short-chain fatty acids.
- Helps To Maintain Brain Health: New research shows that when you eat more plant-based food, the gut microbe positively affects the central nervous system.
- Controls The Immune System: The gut microbiome regulates the immune system. You must know that when your gut health is poor, you are more prone to get sick.
The Reason Animal-Based Food Negatively Affects Mental Health
Arachidonic acid is a fatty acid that is only found in animals, and it acts as a precursor to inflammatory chemicals in our body. Foods like eggs, chicken, and other animal-based products have high amounts of arachidonic acid, and consuming too much of them will initiate a cascade of chemical reactions. This, in turn, increases the levels of inflammatory mediators in the bloodstream, which results in general inflammation or an overactive immune response. Due to this, there will be inflammation in the brain, which causes depression, anxiety, stress, and hopelessness.
The Mechanism Of Action Of Plant-Based Food
The protective effects of plant-based food and the harmful effects of animal-based food affects mood and behavior. Research has shown the link between depression, inflammation in the brain, and neurotransmitter imbalances. A plant-based diet reduces inflammation and repairs damage to brain cells. This is because they have high amounts of antioxidants and phytochemicals.
The enzyme monoamine oxidase (MAO) breaks down neurotransmitters that help to regulate mood, i.e., serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine. The level of MAO is high in those who are suffering from depression. Due to this, they have lower levels of mood-regulating neurotransmitters. That said, the phytochemical quercetin, which is only found in plant-based food, inhibits the action of MAO and thereby increases the levels of neurotransmitters broken down by it. Due to this, it acts like antidepressants. Food like apples, grapes, berries, kale, onion, and green tea has high levels of quercetin.
Nutrients In Plant-Based Food That Helps To Improve Mental Health
Omega-3 Fatty Acids:
According to healthcare experts, consuming adequate amounts of omega-3 fatty acids improves mental health. This is especially useful for those who are suffering from depression. The positive effect of this nutrient on mental health is due to its anti-inflammatory effect. Most plant-based foods contain the omega-3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), which is converted by the body into eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA). It is found in high amounts in food like chia seeds, flax seeds, walnuts, hemp seeds, and leafy green vegetables.
Tryptophan is an amino acid used by the body to produce serotonin, which is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in homeostasis. It is found in plant-based food like sunflower seeds, soybean, peas, broccoli, pumpkin seeds, leafy greens, watercress, and mushrooms.
Although tryptophan is also found in animal-based food, it is difficult for the body to convert it into serotonin due to competing amino acids. Due to this, lower amounts of this amino acid enter the brain, which reduces the production of serotonin. So, remember that a high protein diet, rich in meat or other animal-based food products adversely affects serotonin levels in the brain. This can be overcome by following a diet that is rich in plant proteins combined with adequate amounts of carbohydrates like those found in fruits, vegetables, legumes, and whole grains.
These are the important points that you must know about the influence of plant-based food on mental health.