Yesterday I was invited to speak at an event titled ‘Love Yourself Masterclass’ for veterinarian and vet nurses here in Brisbane, because quite tragically, these practitioners have the highest suicide rate in the country.
Yes that was not a typo.
These incredible human beings that do an AMAZING job at taking care of our beloved pets are struggling. Struggling to take care of themselves as a result of a highly stressful and emotionally challenging work environment, that is affecting them physically, mentally and emotionally – right to the core.
This gut wrenching suicide statistic is 4 times higher than the average Australian, and twice as high as other medical professions.
So what can be done to support our mental health in the workplace?
Well there are many things, one of which is critically important, is sufficient quality sleep. Something that I spoke about in detail at this event yesterday because it actually trumps nutrition.
But I’ll save that for a separate post, because it deserves it’s very own.
In today’s post I want to talk about the importance of feeding our bodies with the right foods and nutrients, because this simple practice can make a DRAMATIC difference to our mental health.
The thing is, most people are aware and understand the connection between nutritional deficiencies and physical illness, but very few understand the connection between nutrition and our mental health.
However, this correlation, or association is VERY SIGNIFICANT.
So let’s share some of the reasons why eating the right foods (and their nutrients) can support your mental health:
- Nutrients supply the cells with the right ingredients to run all of the many biochemical pathways in our body, including those which influence our mood and mental health. There’s even an area of science that is dedicated to it called Nutritional Neuroscience.
- When we look closely at the diets of people struggling with depression, their nutrition is usually far from adequate. They are usually high in processed foods, and lacking in fruits and vegetables which overtime, can lead to mineral and vitamin deficiencies.
In fact, they often have poor food choices and select foods that can even contribute to depression. For example, foods high in omega-6 fatty acids, which are known to contribute to inflammation in the body.
- According to the American Psychiatric Association diagnostic and statistic manual of mental disorders, patients suffering from mental disorders often have diets that are quite deficient in certain nutrients especially B-vitamins, minerals, omega-3 fatty acids and amino acids that are precursors to neurotransmitters.
Diets containing amino acids (derived from protein), are needed to convert into neurotransmitters such as serotonin, dopamine, noradrenaline and GABA, all of which help to alleviate depression and other mental health problems.
- A diet high in processed foods is often low in dietary fibre which leads to a lowered diversity of microscopic bugs in our gut. I know the thought of having lots of “bugs in our gut” doesn’t exactly sound appealing, but it’s actually a good thing! A really good thing.
This is because these gut bugs (made up of a combination of bacteria, fungi and viruses) actually send messages to the brain via the vagus nerve. A nerve that runs from the colon to the brain stem, which can influence your state of mind.
So if you’re living on a lot of takeaway foods, or having more of a highly refined and processed diet, it can lead to a drop in the population and diversity of your gut microbiota, negatively impacting on your mental wellbeing.
So what you eat is absolutely crucial for having a positive (or negative) effect on your mental health.
By simply switching your diet around so that it includes a lot of plant-based foods such as fresh fruit, vegetables, beans, lentils, nuts, along with whole grains and healthy fats such as olive, macadamia or avocado oil; the occasional fish, chicken, red meat, eggs and dairy; and reducing consumption of sweets, cakes and biscuits, it will make a massive difference to your mental health.
Whilst it does require some forward thinking and planning in advance to make sure that you have healthy foods available to eat, the impact that it can have on your mood and mental health is definitely worth the effort – especially when working in a workplace that already challenges you both physically and mentally. AKA shift work.
American Psychiatric Association 2000, Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 4th ed, Washington DC.
Evrensel, A & Ceylan, M 2015, ‘The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression’, Clinical Physchopharmacology & Neuroscience, vol. 13, no. 3, pp. 239-244.
Lakhan, S & Viera, K 2008, ‘Nutritional therapies for mental disorders’, Nutrition Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, pp. 1-8.
Lassale, C, Batty, G, Baghdadli, A, Jacka, F, Sanchez-Villegas, A, Kivimaki, M & Akbaraly, T 2018, ‘Healthy dietary indices and risk of depressive outcomes: a systematic review and meta-analysis of observational studies’, Molecular Psychiatry, vol. 24, pp. 965-986.
Lucas, M, Chocano-Bedoya, P, Shulze, M, Mirzaei, F, O’Reilly, E, Okereke, O, Hu, F, Willett, W & Ascherio, A 2014, ‘Inflammatory dietary pattern and risk of depression among women’, Brain, Behaviour & Immunity, vol. 36, pp. 46-53.
Sathyanarayana Rao, T, Asha, M, Ramesh, B & Jagannatha Rao K 2008, ‘Understanding nutrition, depression and mental illnesses’, Indian Journal of Psychiatry, vol. 50, no. 2, pp. 77-82.