The gut-mind connection is becoming an increasingly prominent part of the conversation surrounding mental health. While it might be an overstatement to contend that certain diets are more effective than anti-psychotic medications, a growing number of doctors and experts are cementing the connection between the belly and the brain.
A study recently published in Brain, Behavior, and Immunity included a survey of more than 800 participants when they were 14 years old and then again three years later. The participants were initially given a single questionnaire asking about their food and nutrition habits, and three years later, they completed a mental-health survey. The researchers compared the survey results with the data taken on the 17-year-old participants’ BMI and inflammation levels.
Based on the questionnaire responses, researchers classified each participant’s diet in one of two ways: Western (i.e., unhealthy)—high red-meat consumption, eating out frequently, and many sweet snacks—or Healthy—lots of fruit, vegetables, lean protein, and whole grains.
“While scientific work on the relationship between mental-health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy…this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships.” —Lead study author Wendy Oddy, PhD
The study found that the former diet indicated higher chances of increased BMI and inflammation, while the latter pointed to the opposite. Those who followed the Western diet also saw increased occurrences of mental-health disorders such as depression, though the opposite was true for those following the Healthy diet, suggesting that eating well “protects against depression,” according to the study.
Although there are limitations to the study—diverse diets don’t fall neatly into one of two categories, and the participants were asked to self-reflect on their mental state in lieu of an official diagnosis—Wendy Oddy, PhD, a professor at the University of Western Australia and lead author of the study, said, “While scientific work on the relationship between mental-health problems and inflammation is still in its infancy…this study makes an important contribution to mapping out how what you eat impacts on these relationships.”
As the researchers continue investigating relationships between foods, moods, and brain processes, here’s to hoping they find more good news (like that chocolate boosts memory) than bad (apparently sugar might lead to dementia).