The Connection Between Diet and Emotional Health

diet and emotional health

The more doctors study the gut-brain connection, the more we learn about the link between diet and emotional health. Studies have shown that boosting beneficial gut bacteria can help improve your ability to handle stressful situations and deal with fear, reduce anxiety and depression, and improve your mood. That is why functional medicine doctors, such as Dr. Minni Malhotra, MD, FAARM, ABAARM, include dietary and nutritional assessments as part of their diagnostic tools. 

Understanding the Link Between Diet and Emotional Health

While many people understand the link between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness, most are unaware of the link between poor diet and poor mental and emotional health. A recent study of teenagers in the U.S. found that teens who ate the lowest-quality diet (high in sugar and processed foods) had an 80% increased risk of depression compared to those who ate a higher-quality, whole-foods diet. Diet is extremely important to emotional health, because what we eat affects how our immune systems work and how our bodies respond to stress.

Nearly 70% of the immune system is located in the gut and when our gut microbiome becomes unbalanced, it can cause inflammation and health problems throughout the body. It can also cause mood and mental imbalances, such as anxiety and depression. That is why maintaining a healthy gut microbiome is important for both physical and emotional health.

How Diet Affects Serotonin Levels

Often referred to as the brain’s “happiness chemical,” serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods, and inhibit pain. Imbalances in serotonin levels are believed to be associated with depression, which is why many doctors prescribe SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) antidepressants to patients with depression. Most people assume serotonin is produced in the brain, but roughly 95% of the body’s serotonin is actually produced in the gastrointestinal tract.

The GI tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells (neurons) and their function, as well as the production of neurotransmitters, is dependant on good gut bacteria. Studies have shown that patients who took probiotics to strengthen their gut microbiome saw improvements in their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook. Other studies have compared “traditional” diets – typically high in vegetables, fruit, unprocessed grains and fish, with moderate amounts of lean meat and dairy – to the typical “Western” diet, which is high in processed foods and sugars. It was found that the risk of depression was 25%-35% lower in those who ate a “traditional” diet.

Nutritional Counseling at Anchor Wellness Center

If you want to learn more about how diet affects emotional health, call us today at (832) 246-8437 to schedule a consultation with Dr. Malhotra. As a Board-Certified physician in both Family Medicine and the American Board of Anti-Aging and Regenerative Medicine, Dr. Malhotra can help you improve your emotional health through dietary and lifestyle changes. Our patient-centered, personalized approach helps to identify the various barriers that individuals encounter when making these changes, and we personalize each plan so that you can achieve a sustainable, healthy lifestyle. We even offer IV therapy to help give your body a boost and bring you back to optimal health.

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Check out Dr. Minni's interview on Channel 2's Houston Life Program!Watch Video