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Mental Health, Nutrition & Exercise

May 29, 2019 4 min read

Mental Health, Nutrition & Exercise

Mental health is a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well being. It affects how an individual thinks, feels and acts. Does proper nutrition and exercise play a role in mental health?

The need for adequate nutrition is needed for immeasurable aspects of brain functioning. Poor quality of diet is a modifiable risk factor for depression. The brain will function best when it receives premium fuel. This means eating high quality foods that contain substantial amounts of minerals, vitamins and antioxidants – which nourish the brain and protects it against oxidative stress. The brain can be damaged if proper nutrition isn’t followed out.

There are three main mechanisms by which nutrition can be effective in improving mental health.

  1. Modifying dietary intake or supplementing diets with single or multiple vitamins and minerals may correct existing nutrient deficiencies that contribute to poor mental health.
  2. Pharmacologic doses of one or more dietary supplements may improve mental health amongst patients who have a metabolic abnormality that dramatically raises nutrient requirements, such as individuals with alterations in nutrient absorption, transport and storage. These persons may not be deficient in one or more nutrients as defined by traditional standards, but they may have considerably higher nutrients needs that can only be met with pharmacologic doses of dietary supplements.
  3. Improving the brains nutritional milieu may augment the effectiveness of antidepressant medication. Antidepressant medication is known to have varying degrees of effectiveness among depressed individuals with the extreme begin resistance to treatment, which occurs in up to 30-40% of patients. Thus because nutritional deficiencies are common among individuals with depression and nutrients are essential substrates for brain function, an individuals nutritional status may partially determine treatment effectiveness. Medication may be unable to overcome these nutritional deficiencies in a poorly nourished brain therefore would be rendered unproductive.

Nutritional status plays and important role in mental health and poor nutrition may contribute to this.

So how does the foods we eat affect how we feel?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps regulate sleep and appetite, mediate moods and inhibit pain. Roughly around 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The gastrointestinal tract is lined with a hundred million nerve cells (known as neurons) thus it only makes sense that the inner workings of the digestive system don’t just help with the digestion of food but also guide emotions. The function of these neurons is highly influenced by the billions of “good” bacteria that are made up of the intestinal micobiome. These “good” bacteria play an essential role in health and ensure they protect the lining of the intestines and provide a barrier against “bad” bacteria, they limit inflammation, they absorb nutrients from food and they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.

Diets high in refined sugars are harmful to the brain. In addition to deterioration of the body’s regulation of insulin it also promotes inflammation and oxidative stress thus resulting in brain impairment.

Thus all research suggests that nutrition plays an important role in mental health. A deficiency of any single nutrient can alter brain function and lead to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders, especially deficiencies of vitamin B12, folic acid, other B vitamins and omega 3 fatty acids.

So how does exercise affect how we feel?

Physical exercise is increasingly being advocated as a means to maintain and enhance good mental health. Research findings indicate that exercise is associated with improvements in mental health including mood state and self-esteem. Research on acute exercise indicates that 20 to 40 minutes of aerobic activity results in improvements in state anxiety and mood that persist for several hours. Exercise may function as a means of treatment. However it is important to note that exercise may result in detrimental changes in mental health, as some individuals can become overly dependant on physical activity and exercise to an excessive degree. This abuse of exercise can result in disturbances in mood and worsen physical health.

The mental health benefits of exercise are:

  • Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin that improve mood
  • Help reduce any feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Reduce stress
  • Improves sleep
  • Increases blood flow to the brain
  • Increases the connections between the nerve cells in the brain
  • Increases the size of hippocampus – improve memory

Combing exercise and a healthy balanced nutritious diet will boost energy and moral.

If you have any mental health concerns please speak with your health care professional.

Or book in with me for a health nutritional screening.


Bodnar, Lisa M. and Katherine L. Wisner. “Nutrition And Depression: Implications For Improving Mental Health Among Childbearing-Aged Women”. Biological Psychiatry 58.9 (2005): 679-685. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Hechtman, Leah. Clinical Naturopathic Medicine. 1st ed. Sydney, Australia: Churchill Livingstone/Elsevier Australia, 2011. Print.

Lai, J. S. et al. “A Systematic Review And Meta-Analysis Of Dietary Patterns And Depression In Community-Dwelling Adults”. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition 99.1 (2013): 181-197. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

O’Neil, Adrienne et al. “Relationship Between Diet And Mental Health In Children And Adolescents: A Systematic Review”. American Journal of Public Health 104.10 (2014): e31-e42. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

Pizzorno, Joseph E and Lara Pizzorno. The Encyclopaedia Of Healing Foods. 1st ed. London: TimeWarner Books, 2005. Print.

Raglin, John S. “Exercise And Mental Health”. Sports Medicine 9.6 (1990): 323-329. Web. 16 Jan. 2017.

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