Mental Health and Digestion
Like so many other bodily functions, mental wellness begins with digestion. There are many micronutrients needed by the brain and body for good neurological function, and these “mental health tools” come from foods. Minerals, amino acids, and fatty acids are all essential but must be properly liberated from foods consumed to be useful, and then properly assimilated in the body.
If stomach acid secretion is too low, as it is in the vast majority of Americans, the body will struggle to break proteins down into their component amino acids. Amino acids are the building blocks of neurotransmitters. Deficiencies in certain amino acids, such as tyrosine, phenylalanine, and tryptophan have been linked to depression. Adequate stomach acid is needed for these amino acids to be available, but first, the diet must contain high-quality protein sources. Animal sources are preferred because they provide the full spectrum of amino acids.
Low stomach pH is also needed for mineral availability. Zinc, magnesium, potassium, and manganese are all needed, both in the diet and in the body, for good mental health.
Next down the digestive line, liver and gall bladder function must be adequate for proper fat digestion. With good liver and gallbladder function, larger blobs of fats are broken down into their molecular components, known as fatty acids. Hyperactivity, learning disorders, and even schizophrenia have been seen in cases of fatty acid deficiency. Additionally, brain health and development depend on a good supply of DHA and EPA, such as those found in a good quality fish oil. Fatty acids are also required for prostaglandin production which modulates the inflammatory/antiinflammatory cycles in the body. Liver and gall bladder function play an additional role in toxin elimination, which also contributes to mental health.
Further down the digestive tract, the small intestines also play a role. If the health of the small intestine is compromised, then micronutrient absorption will be inadequate. Reduced absorption often results in nutritional deficiencies. Situations such as Celiac disease or other food allergies or sensitivities can prevent the small intestine from performing that essential function of nutrient absorption. In children with hyperactivity disorders, food sensitivities, and nutrient deficiencies are frequently seen. Additionally, the intestines are the site of the greatest serotonin production in the body, which is an important neurotransmitter. Small intestinal health and integrity can be supported by supplementing with L-glutamine.
Finally, large intestinal health is also important, particularly the health of the gut microbiota. This is the location of vitamin B-12 production in the body. B vitamins are needed for dealing with stress, and vitamin B-12 deficiencies have been associated with depression and psychosis. Problems with gut dysbiosis and an unhealthy gut biome have been implicated in such conditions as autism. Replacing processed and chemically laden foods with whole, fresh foods, and adding in a good probiotic, can vastly improve the health of the large intestine.
While mainstream medicine views mental health disorders as a result of a malfunctioning brain in need of medication, alternative therapies can get the same and better results by improving the diet and the body’s ability to use the important micronutrients contained within. This process allows individuals to regain their mental health, and overall health, naturally and permanently, and within their body’s own unique chemical balance.
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