There has perhaps never been a better time to talk about mental health than during a pandemic. Although many factors affect mental health, there is increasingly more research showing that good nutrition plays a significant role in how we think and function. What we eat and drink affects many things in our bodies. Better nutrition can lead to reduced inflammation, brain fog and cravings; improved mood, sleep, and digestion; and better stress response, recovery, and repair.
To learn more about what we should eat (and probably avoid) to achieve better mental health, Insights contacted Dr. Anthony Lyssy (of Dr. Lyssy Wellness, here in Dallas).
Insights: What do you think has made the most impact as far as the shift to this idea that nutrition and mental health are linked?
Dr. Lyssy: Our culture has seen a shift to convenience with respect to nutrition, whether it be fast foods, packaged on the go foods, or high sugar meal replacements. The desire to eat to live rather than live to eat has deemphasized the importance of holding mealtime sacred and enjoying whole, nutrient dense, and anti-inflammatory foods.
It’s well documented that our country is one of the sickest in the world and the rate of decline has been staggering since the introduction of highly processed foods. The science behind creating addicting foods is real and it has become a multi-billion-dollar industry. Many understand the connection between poor physical health and poor nutrition, however mental health is often overlooked.
Unfortunately, the damage that these foods do to our body and brains aren’t discussed in a healthcare setting because the traditional medical training for physicians is largely devoid of nutritional training. Doctors also don’t have the time to spend with patients when they have to see 30-50 patients a day, so it’s much easier to just prescribe a medication than to work on the upstream cause which is improper nutrition. With the dramatic failures of the current medical system from a prevention standpoint, now more than ever, more patients are interested in finding providers (both medical and non-medical) that take a different approach to nutritional interventions for optimal health.
Insights: If someone has a genetic predisposition to a certain mental condition (for example, depression runs in the family), how much of a difference can nutrition actually make?
Dr. Lyssy: When the concept of genetics is discussed, it’s important to create a proper distinction between genetics and epigenetics. Genetic material is passed down from our parents. These genes encode for protein synthesis that makes up every cell of our bodies. Genes are also like light switches in that they can be turned on and off. Epigenetics is the concept that states that what we do on a day to day basis determines if those “light switches,” our genes, are turned on or off. For example, we know that proper Vitamin D levels and optimal Omega 3 levels can flip certain anti-inflammatory genes on in our body. In addition, we know that processed foods, high glycemic carbs, and processed sugars can activate genes that encode for early cell damage, rapid aging, and chronic disease. Just because we have these genes doesn’t mean they have to be activated.
Poor nutrition can also affect hormone balance in the body which can worsen a predisposition to a specific mental illness. These individuals typically require more medications and therapy as opposed to those who have optimal hormone and inflammation levels in the body. Nutrition also greatly affects our microbiome, the delicate ecosystem inside our digestive tract. We know the processed high sugar foods feed the “bad bugs” and high nutrient dense fibrous foods can feed the “good bugs.” Our digestive microbial balance can greatly affect how we feel physically but also mentally. It’s always rewarding to see how much better people begin to feel when we work to optimize their nutrition first before prescribing multiple medications!
Insights: How do you talk to your patients about nutrition? Any suggestions or resources for the person who doesn’t yet know much about it?
Dr. Lyssy: This is absolutely one of the cornerstones of my medical practice. I place a high level of importance on this, as optimal nutrition is the single biggest factor that leads to my patients’ health and wellness. We can make dramatic improvements with nutrition, proper restorative sleep, and optimal activity levels. I would like to share some of my fantastic colleagues in the medical wellness world who have written phenomenal books on the nutritional basis behind health and wellness. A few are listed below (all available on amazon.com):
Dr. Mark Hyman – Food: What the Heck Should I Eat?
Dr. Mark Hyman – Eat Fat, Get Thin: Why the Fat We Eat Is the Key to Sustained Weight Loss and Vibrant Health
Dr. Stephen Gundry – The Plant Paradox: The Hidden Dangers in “Healthy” Foods That Cause Disease and Weight Gain
Dr. Stephen Gundry – The Longevity Paradox: How to Die Young at a Ripe Old Age (The Plant Paradox)
Dr. Jason Fung – The Cancer Code: A Revolutionary New Understanding of a Medical Mystery (The Wellness Code)
Dr. Jason Fung – The Obesity Code: Unlocking the Secrets of Weight Loss (The Wellness Code, Book 1)
Dr. Jason Fung – The Diabetes Code: Prevent and Reverse Type 2 Diabetes Naturally (The Wellness Code Book Two)
Dr. David Sinclair, Matthew D. LaPlante, et al. – Lifespan: Why We Age and Why We Don’t Have To
Max Lugavere – Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life (Genius Living)
Dr. David Perlmutter – Grain Brain: The Surprising Truth about Wheat, Carbs, and Sugar–Your Brain’s Silent Killers
Insights is appreciative of Dr. Lyssy’s time and expertise and hopes that these tips will guide you in your own journey toward better nutrition. For additional information on the types of foods that support reduced inflammation and optimal mental health, visit https://connect.bcbstx.com//health-and-wellness/b/weblog/posts/link-nutrition-mental-health.
Wishing everyone a Happy, Safe, and Healthy Thanksgiving from Insights!