The link between the immune system and the worsening of certain mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, has been shown, though not fully understood. The link between the mind, the gut and your immune system has been long established. This is due to the presence of serotonin—the chemical found in the brain, decreased levels of which can lead to depression—in the gut helping to move your digested food through the alimentary canal.
Although eating foods with fewer inflammatory properties, unlike those found in the standard American diet, may not cure mental disorders, eating a diet rich in lean meats, fish, and fruits and vegetables may be protective against the worsening of certain disorders. The Mediterranean diet—one full of beans, fish, poultry, olive oil and whole grains and low in fried foods, processed meats, sweets and saturated fats—may not only help stave off Alzheimer’s dementia but also may help to improve your mood and help with depression.
If switching up your diet sounds like a task you’d rather not commit to right now, committing to a “Meatless Monday” once a week or adding a large salad to two meals daily can help keep your gut, immune system and mind happy. Another option that’s even more simple to incorporate is to add to your diet fermented foods, many of which you’re used to eating. Pickles, yogurt and sauerkraut are common in most of our diets, and more exotic options, such as kombucha, a fermented Chinese tea full of antioxidants and good gut bacteria, can be bought at most health-food stores; or you can brew your own at home.
If you’re already well-versed in fermented foods, you’re probably aware of apple cider vinegar’s health benefits for your body and hair. Instead of purchasing it from your local store, making your own apple cider vinegar is really as simple as buying or making some organic, unpasteurized apple cider, placing this in a jar and swirling daily for one month or less until your vinegar is fully brewed.
If you’re ready to fully commit to changing your standard American diet for one that will do your mind and body good, be sure to check with your family physician, especially if you’re taking any prescribed medications. To be honest, incorporating more plant-based meals has been shown to substantially improve overall health and even reverse certain diseases that require medications to treat, such as adult-onset diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol.
Commit to expanding your palate by changing your diet and improving your gut’s health, and your mind will thank you in return.
Dr. Imani J. Walker is a physician trained in general adult and forensic psychiatry. She resides in Los Angeles.