Did you know that the choices you make to do with your diet can have a major impact on your mental health, how your brain develops and is maintained and, studies have shown, the likelihood of you developing certain diseases when you are older? Whilst it’s important to watch what you eat for the effects it has on your body, the same can be said for your mind.
Nutrition is one of the most obvious factors in the development of mental health issues, yet it is still under-recognised by both research and people. Every day mothers and fathers of young children worry about what they are giving their children, increasing their levels of fish intake so the omega-3 contained within the product helps the child’s brain develop or trying to get them to eat their greens so their body becomes ‘big and strong’. Many people forget that the same foods can help them too – we all need omega-3 for brain function for example despite our brains being fully developed. Sometimes brain-enhancing fodder is from an obvious source; sometimes it’s found in the most unlikely of places.
It is widely known that fish oil contains omega-3 and this is beneficial to our body and mind, especially for children. After a large public push a few years ago a number of fish products have since adorned our supermarket shelves with ‘Contains omega-3!’ brandished cross the packaging. However it’s not just ADHD, arthritis and asthma that omega-3 can help with.
Studies have shown that cognitive function is increased with and when the intake of omega-3 supplements or a seafood based diet is present. In addition to this depression rates were found to be lower and whilst the research is still in the early stages some scientists are claiming that there may also be a slower decline in sufferers of Alzheimer's disease when levels of omega-3 are high. Contrast that though with recent claims that too much omega-3 may increase the risk of prostate cancer. Well, everything in moderation as they say.
A Mediterranean diet is very good for the body as it contains a high intake of fruit, veg and nuts, combined with a low intake of red meat. These foods are high in antioxidants which are very good for the brain too and studies have indicated that this kind of diet can help reduce the risk of age-related diseases such as dementia or Alzheimer’s.
A number of these studies have been compiled in recent years but this year saw the first systematic review of the research, carried out by a team from the University of Exeter Medical School. The review saw the analysis of 12 pieces of research, 11 observational studies and one randomised control trail and a high number of the research did indicate correlation between a long term Mediterranean diet and low dementia risk.
The review has confirmed that this is the case and we can enjoy our Mediterranean potato salad safe in the knowledge that we are reducing the risk of health problems in the future.
Wine and other alcoholic drinks
Did you know that moderate drinking of wine, and indeed other alcoholic beverages may help keep some health problems at bay? A recent Spanish study conducted by the department of preventive medicine and public health at the University of Navarra, in Pamplona has found that a glass of wine, or other alcohol drunk in moderation, can help prevent depression. The study monitored over 5500 light-to-moderate drinking participants for seven years. The individuals within the study had no record of mental health issues or alcohol related problems beforehand and it was found that wine was the most popular drink within the group. Those participants who drank two to seven glasses a week were the least likely to suffer from depression compared to non-drinkers, however it is to be noted that severe drinking can be an indication of depression and it is always best to keep it to a moderate amount.
Whilst it is known that drinking a moderate amount of wine can help against heart disease and even those who have suffered heart attacks, this is the first study into the effect alcohol can have on the mind and the lead researcher, Dr Miguel Martinez-Gonzalez claimed that he believes the two effects are caused by the same mechanisms.
So next time there has been a tough day in the office you want just one glass of wine with your evening meal, you may be doing yourself a favour; so long as you keep the drinking to a moderate level.
Healthy eating can sometimes be very hard, especially as the majority of low cost food comes in the form of high sugar treats, but when thinking about your mental health and your future you have to consider that the cost will be worth it. Just taking small steps to maintaining a healthier diet could decrease your risk of dementia or hold back an outbreak of depression.
by Kath Webb
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