Cultivating Calm: Essential Nutrients for Sound Mental HealthNov 30, 2021 09:31AM ● By Alora Frederick
A strong emphasis has been placed on immune health education the past two years. However, what often goes under the radar, but is just as imperative to a healthy community, is stable mental health. Conveniently, the information on immune support can also be applied to mental health. Essential nutrients, gut health, downregulated inflammation and increased antioxidant intake are just a few components that encompass robust immunity and sound mental health.
Vitamin D is required for a normal functioning immune system as well as being necessary for cognitive function. Specifically, a vitamin D deficiency is associated with depression and supplementation can have a therapeutic effect on depression. Aside from supplementation, food sources of vitamin D include oily fish (salmon, sardines, anchovies, etc.), shiitake mushrooms, egg yolks and liver. Supplemental forms need to be taken with food to ensure absorption. Vitamin D is not routinely checked at doctor’s appointments, so a requested lab value may be necessary.
The gut can be referred to as the second brain. Impaired gut health (poor digestion and imbalanced bacteria) takes a toll on immunity and mental health. These impairments may lead to lower production of calming neurotransmitters (GABA, serotonin) and poor absorption of nutrients critical for mental health. Gut health is highly individualized and working with a functional practitioner may be necessary. However, there are pillars of good gut health that everyone can start right now: slowing down while eating, chewing food thoroughly, focusing on fiber-rich foods and decreasing alcohol and processed food intake.
Inflammation in the brain may dictate an individual’s mood and behavior. Turmeric and fish oil both have strong anti-inflammatory properties that have been shown to help with both anxiety and depression. The simple incorporation of turmeric into a stir fry and at least eight ounces of fish per week will service both the immune system and mental health.
Antioxidants protect the body from cellular damage benefiting both the immune system and mental health. Both anxiety and depression are correlated with lower levels of antioxidants in the body. An increase in overall antioxidant intake may lessen feelings of anxiety and depression. Individuals can utilize the various food sources of antioxidants available this holiday season. These seasonal antioxidants include pumpkin, pomegranate, ginger, dark chocolate, pecans, Brussels sprouts and apples, just to name a few.
Beyond individual action, connection in the community also plays a vital role in mental well-being. Human connection is just as relevant to mental well-being and immune function as nutrition fundamentals. The Blue Zones are geographic areas where people live the longest, have low rates of chronic disease and maintain physical and mental well-being. Some key takeaways from the Blue Zones for better mental health include connection to loved ones and proximity to the “right tribe”. Whether it is working with a therapist, walking with friends or taking the time to talk to a loved one, individuals should not skimp on this aspect of mental health.
Mental health awareness is particularly important during the holiday season. The “holiday blues” affect many individuals, especially those already living with mental illness. Thankfully, there is a myriad of actionable steps to fortify both immunity and mental health this holiday season and beyond.
Alora Frederick, RDN, LDN, is an integrative and functional dietitian in Waltham, MA. She is currently accepting new patients at Johnson Compounding and Wellness for virtual nutrition appointments. Schedule a free, 15-minute introductory call at NaturalCompounder.com/Alora.