I’ve always known ‘We are What We EAT’ but in reality many people just don’t view it this way. This includes our main stream medical professionals unfortunately. I’m not outing anyone but I do feel this is a topic that needs continued thought, study and practice. An article was brought to my attention by a good friend that I will post verbatim in this Blog. Her work is fabulous and needs more attention. Read the Article and lets start a conversation.
It was originally printed by © 2019 Guardian News & Media Limited or its affiliated companies. All rights reserved. The article is as follows:
-Diet can have a significant effect on mood, say researchers.
Jacka’s work showing that junk food shrinks the brain was motivated by personal
experience. Growing up in Melbourne, Australia, Jacka struggled with anxiety
and panic disorders; by the time she enrolled at art school, she was accustomed
to regular bouts of depression, too, leaving her “devoid of happy feelings and
unable to experience pleasure”.
in her late 20s Jacka managed to recover and stay well by focusing on her diet,
exercise and sleep. The effect was so marked that it inspired her to put her
life as an artist on hold in order to dedicate herself to studying the effects
of diet on mental health.
is now head of the Food and Mood Centre at Deakin University in Australia, and
president of the International Society for Nutritional Psychiatry – a
relatively new field of research, applying a rare scientific rigour to the link
between diet and mental health. For her PhD study in 2010, Jacka found that
women whose diets were higher in vegetables, fruit, fish and wholegrains, with
moderate amounts of red meat, were less likely to have depression or anxiety
disorders than those who consumed a typical western diet of processed foods,
pizza, chips, burgers, white bread and sweet drinks.
study made the cover of the American Journal of Psychiatry; shortly afterwards,
studies in Spain and the UK identified similar trends. Today Jacka is at the
forefront of nutritional psychiatry, studying large samples of populations for
indications of the impact of entire diets (not individual ingredients) on
mental health. Correlations cannot prove causality outright, but by replicating
results repeatedly, risk factors can be identified and studied further. Her new
book, Brain Changer, is a straight-talking, evidence-based antidote (complete
with recipe ideas for good mental health) to the bloggers and self-styled
dietary experts who, she says, have “brought nutrition research into
I first started, people were terribly sceptical – they thought it was just
rubbish,” says Jacka. “In psychiatry, people are trained to think about
particular molecules in the brain that can be targeted by certain drugs and
they’ve lost sight of the bigger picture – the body as a whole complex system.”
than 150 peer-reviewed scientific papers later, Jacka has amassed evidence from
all over the world showing that “what we stick in our mouths matters to our
her so-called Smiles trial, published in 2017, Jacka recruited 67 moderate to
severely depressed people with unhealthy diets. Half received seven sessions
with a clinical dietician while the others received “social support”, involving
friendly conversation. After 12 weeks, one-third of those who had received
nutritional support were in remission, compared with 8% of those who had had
the social support. Scientifically speaking, says Jacka, “it was a pretty big
is keen to snuff out fanciful ideas about quick fixes, and food trends dressed
up as panaceas – the success resulted not from “clean eating” or coconut oil,
but from following standard advice for a healthy, balanced diet. As an added
bonus, the participants spent a little less on food than they did on their
original diets – and probably ended up with bigger brains, too. In a 2015 study
of 250 older Australians, Jacka found that the less healthy their diets, the
smaller their left hippocampuses (the brain region linked with emotional
regulation and mental health); the finding was more recently replicated in the
Netherlands with 4,000 older adults.
Jacka has found that simply following a healthier diet – without other
lifestyle modifications such as exercise, but taking into account things such
as education, income, bodyweight and other health behaviours – results in a 30%
reduced risk of depression.
healthier diet may vary from country to country, but research has shown that,
regardless of where you live, eating closer to a traditional, pre-industrial
diet rich in plant foods, fish, unrefined grains and fermented foods, with less
meat and highly palatable processed and snack foods, reduces your risk of
depression. It could be the Mediterranean diet or Japanese cuisine rich in
fish, seaweed, green tea and tofu, Jacka writes: “There’s not just one healthy
way to eat.”
unexpected finding of her PhD study, for example, was that cutting out red meat
led to poorer mental health among the 1,000 participants. “We saw in our data a
very clear pattern around too little or too much being problematic,” she says.
“A tiny amount – three or four palm-sized servings [65-100g] a week – was
associated with about half the probability of having a depressive or anxiety disorder.
I suspect there’s probably individual variation in how much people need.” The
need is probably greater in young women who are menstruating, adds Jacka (who
does not eat red meat “for ethical reasons”).
beef (common in the US) is also less healthy than grass-fed beef, which is
higher in the fatty acids that have been linked to improved mental health.
for fish, eating it about three times a week is a component of many healthy
diets – but there are unlikely to be extra benefits from eating more, Jacka
writes. Fish-oil supplements can be helpful for some people with severe
clinical depression, “but it’s definitely not a panacea for the wider
population,” she says. “Have sardines on your toast, or some mackerel, mussels,
or – if you can afford it – oysters.”
is the first to admit that we may never understand how individual ingredients
of our diet combine to influence the brain: “The complexity of the human body
is mind-boggling.” And because even the most beige western diet comprises
countless individual chemicals invisibly interacting with each other, “we can’t
even begin to measure all their effects”.
cheese, for example, is often trotted out as a mood-boosting food because it is
rich in tryptophan, which is essential for creating serotonin, the “happy
hormone”. If only nutrition were that simple. Scientists have failed to find
any evidence that eating foods (or supplements) rich in tryptophan affects
mental health, with other amino acids in foods restricting its journey from
stomach to brain.
is the trillions of micro-organisms such as bacteria and yeasts that live in
our guts that help convert tryptophan into serotonin, and they can be
encouraged by consuming fermented foods such as sauerkraut, kimchi and kefir,
and fibre from many different plant sources. But, crucially, it is not enough
just to eat well: you need to consume all the nutrients and fibre your body
needs – and avoid significant consumption of refined and heavily processed
foods. “People are eating all this stuff that’s toxic and detrimental to their
brain health,” says Jacka. One reason to avoid high-sugar diets, for example,
is that they lead to an increase in the same inflammation markers that are
raised in people with depression.
gut microbiome is also key to regulating inflammation. Recent animal studies
have shown that depression can be transmitted through fecal microbial
transplants (“It’s poo in a pill, or ‘crapsules’”); Jacka is currently
investigating whether good mental health can be transmitted the same way.
it might be achieved, she is convinced of the need to address what she sees as
the current mental health “disaster”. Unlike most risk factors for depression
(including genes, poverty, trauma and abuse), diet is something we can modify –
yet only about 10% of the population eat an adequately healthy diet, says
Jacka. “The fact that we’ve got something under our nose that could potentially
address a good proportion of the burden of depression is really important.”
elephant in the room is the global food industry. “Big Food has completely
altered the food environment so that unhealthy foods are the cheapest, most
ubiquitous, heavily marketed, [most] difficult to resist and socially
acceptable – as a result, the [world’s] health has gone down the toilet.”
lack of political will to address this reflects the size of the corporations
involved. “It’s just so powerful and influential, bigger than the tobacco
industry,” she says.
Jacka gearing up to be the Erin Brockovich figure who takes them on? “That
would be my life’s dream.”
half of all mental-health disorders setting in by age 14, the importance of
diet is especially relevant to young people – but as in the UK and US,
Australian teenagers are eating multiple servings of junk foods every day, says
Jacka: “This is not an occasional biccie with your tea.”
about obesity and health problems in a distant, abstract future do not seem to
be influencing people’s eating behaviours, but they might act on the knowledge
that these same foods could be making them unhappy, says Jacka. “It’s much more
in your face: ‘It’s going to affect me now.’”
Changer: The Good Mental Health Diet by Professor Felice Jacka is published by
Pan Macmillan, Australia