The Daily Edition: Mental Health Hijackers... could they be lurking in your food?

What is currently going on in our world with anxiety, depression and mental health?

Mental Health is silent, scary, and has many causes. Mood disorders, anxiety, and depression are affecting our relationships, work environment, self-esteem, productivity and our ability to enjoy life. All the causes of these health disorders are not known but we do know that genetics, viruses, environmental toxins, abuse, grief, and more many of which we cannot control. But nutrition, how we feed ourselves every day, can be controlled and we know now with evidence-based research that “dietary improvement may provide efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this highly prevalent mental disorder”*

These results indicate that dietary improvement may provide an efficacious and accessible treatment strategy for the management of this highly prevalent mental disorder:

  • 1 in 6 women in Australia will experience depression
  • 1 in 3 women will experience anxiety during their lifetime.
  • 1 in 5 men will experience depression and anxiety at some stage of their lives.

Michele Chevalley Hedge is a qualified nutritionist and author, she has been nominated three years in a row by her peers, educators, and industry body as a finalist in the Mental Health Awards Australia. She is such a keen advocate for mental health research and its connection to food that she donates a percentage of the proceeds of her newly released book Eat Drink and Still Shrink to Deakin University to research.

Michele joins us today and wants us to get curious about anxiety depression and mood disorders and wants us to consider if what we are eating is manifesting in what looks like mental health disorder but perhaps are an insufficiency or excess of something that we are eating. Perhaps we haven’t look into what else could be causing symptoms that look like mental health but are actually something else.

Michele tell us about yourself and why you interested in this space?

"I run a clinical practice, speak to 100s of people of the week. Speak to schools once a week. I was frightened of how much anxiety depression and mood disorder I was seeing physical, mental and emotional distress. Health concerns low energy levels, poor sleep, brain fog, low self-confidence, apathy or tense, wound up, edgy, anxious, sleepless or a combination of the two categories.

 Many clients would come to us with a diagnosis of a mental health disorder. I became curious and studying and researching more and more in this area and here is what is found and there still needs to be more intervention studies implementing dietary changes."


What can be common hijackers in our foods?

1. Low B12 and iron
Vegans and vegetarians most at risk and those on heartburn meds or gastro issues due to not absorbing nutrients.

Why? B12 helps to maintain the myelin sheath surrounding nerve cells, which makes it possible for cells to communicate. if levels are low, this communication becomes compromised, which can lead to neurological changes. B12 is also involved in the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters that regulate mood, so low levels could cause changes in the nervous system.


2. Iron helps your red blood cells carry oxygen to your tissues, so when you have low levels of iron, less oxygen gets to your cells, resulting in fatigue and weakness. Women require more than double the amount of iron than men (and more during pregnancy), yet
Across the globe, approximately one out of three non-pregnant women of reproductive age are anemic. Research has shown that the average ferritin level (a marker of stored iron) was significantly lower in depressed people. Both first appear to be exhausted, too tired to exercise or connect, poor sleep, this leads to low self-esteem. Doesn’t this sound like other signs and symptoms for mood, anxiety and depression disorders?

Foods to consider: 

  • Iron - red meat, dark green leafy veg, spinach, legumes especially lentils
  • B12 - yogurt, cheese, eggs, nutritional yeast, mushrooms, food first but might be a case for supplements.


3. Thyroid dysfunction

Our thyroid gets out of whack (from things like stress, diet, and foods particularly those rich in selenium and iodine ), your thyroid can overproduce or underproduce these hormones, leading to a range of physical and mental symptoms. People with thyroid feel like they are swimming through mud during the day- life is hard - even those who sleep 8 hours per night are suffering.

In a large study of people diagnosed with thyroid conditions, researchers linked an overactive thyroid (hyperthyroidism) to anxiety, while an underactive thyroid (hypothyroidism) was associated with depression. Another study found that 60 percent of patients with hypothyroidism reported symptoms of depression, while 63 percent reported symptoms of anxiety.

Foods to consider:

  • Fish for iodine
  • Seeds and nuts for selenium
  • Low gluten
  • Real whole food full of supporting antioxidants


4. Vitamin D
Sitting at a desk most of the day? good chance you will be part of the 45 % of Australians who have Vitamin D deficiency. Most people associate low vitamin D with wintertime and seasonal depression, but it can hit at any time of year

Consider this:

  • Body when sunlight hits the skin and is found in fatty fishes like salmon and tuna, eggs, and mushrooms.


5. Sugar, Sugar, Sugar
You don’t have to be diabetic to have a blood sugar problem. A typical breakfast of ‘healthy cereal and chia tea’ can be loaded with 18 teaspoons and spike your blood sugar. as returns to normal, you crash feeling tired. then hungry again only to reach of another round of grab and go… the cycle is daily, weekly, monthly and you think you have something wrong with you. Another thing sugar does increase your high sensitivity c reactive protein. a marker for inflammation a key predator in depression.

Consider this:

  • Eats meals in a combination of protein, fat and smart carbs to avoid roller coastering.


6. Too Little Fats
Can you believe it we are not having enough fat? Oh, we are having plenty of trans fat in processed goods - baked goods and pastries which causes inflammation in the brain and inhibits the body production of omega 3 which we need more of for the brain. We want more omega 3 and DHA fatty acids. Two omega-3 fatty acids are thought to have the most potential to benefit people with mood disorders according to Harvard.

Different mechanisms of action have been proposed. For example, omega-3s can easily travel through the brain cell membrane and interact with mood-related molecules inside the brain. They also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help relieve depression.

Consider this:

  • Salmon, herring, oysters, sardine, prawns trout seaweed, nori, chia seeds, flaxseeds or quality supplement.



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