Feed Your Brain for a Healthy Mind
Published: Mar 1st, 2016
My name is Jeanann and I’m a deaf nutritionist living in London. In this article, I will share my nutrition tips for dealing with low moods, depression and anxiety – all of which can be common among those living with hearing difficulties.
My Experience With Anxiety & Deafness
It took quite a long time for me to realise that my anxiety is related to my deafness. For me personally, growing up wearing hearing aids was no different to someone who has to wear glasses. I didn’t want people to feel sorry for me and I am quite independent by nature. I always like to challenge myself in the ‘hearing world’ rather than avoiding situations where I know I will run into barriers with communication such as noisy restaurants or bars on nights out. Looking back I remember vividly those feelings of anxiety and panic attacks.
Most of the time it’s due to too many hearing barriers happening all at once which leaves me in my own bubble feeling fuzzy minded. Sounds are blurring, my heart races and I find it difficult to speak up. It’s almost like I physically lose the ability to use my voice to ask for help. I used to hide those emotions as I recognised them as signs of weakness and thought to myself I need to get over it and get on with things!
Looking back, thanks to support around me at work, at home and among friends, I now look after my own mental health. I learned that by building good coping strategies over time, eating a balanced diet, exercising and having ‘me-time’ allows me to lead a much less stressful life as a deaf person.
How Deafness Impacts Mental Health
It is estimated that deaf children and young people are 60% more likely to experience mental health issues such as anxiety and depression, compared to other children. This is not due to having a hearing loss; it’s largely because they struggle to cope in the hearing world and with the communication barriers they face.
Furthermore, 1 in 4 adults in the UK have a mental health condition, whereas this is 2 in 5 for deaf adults. Other reasons for this is due to a lack of information such as health education and limited access to mental health services. It is therefore vital that more support is made available to promote confidence and healthy minds among deaf children, young adults and older adults. One key role in supporting healthier minds is nutrition and diet.
Most of us are aware that a diet poor in nutrition can lead to physical illness such as Type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, kidney disease and certain cancers. However, did you know that nutrition can play a key role in the onset, as well as severity and duration, of mental health issues such as depression? Nutritional neuroscience is an exciting new area in research and there is significant evidence now that suggests certain nutrients can have an effect on cognition, behaviour and emotions.
Why Good Nutrition is Essential For Our Brain
The brain has millions of chemical messengers called nerve cells which require particular nutrients to keep a healthy mind. In depression, the nerve cells that are most commonly deficient are dopamine, serotonin, noradrenaline and y-aminobutyric acid (GABA). The nutrients which help make neurotransmitters are: Omega 3 fatty acids, b vitamins, minerals and amino acids are all involved in the synthesis of nerve cells.
So how can we use this knowledge to look after our mental health through diet?
Eat Regular Meals
The brain relies on glucose for energy in order for us to focus and concentrate every day. Glucose mainly comes from carbohydrates such as fruit, vegetables, pasta, rice, potatoes and lactose in milk. If you have regular meals and snacks containing carbohydrates throughout the day you will have a steady supply of glucose.
Interestingly, whilst carbohydrate is broken down in the body it triggers the release of insulin. This is what helps us absorb glucose. At the same time this takes place, brain chemicals called tryptophan and serotonin (happy hormones) are released to give us the feeling of good well-being.
It’s also important to remember to eat slow-releasing carbohydrates – also referred to as low GI (Glycemic Index) foods – such as whole-grains, vegetables and legumes. These have a moderate but lasting effect on brain chemistry, unlike fast-releasing carbohydrates (High GI), such as white pasta, potatoes, sweets and white bread, which give immediate, but temporary relief.
Carbohydrates are also an important supply of B vitamins and calcium. If we have diets low in carbohydrates we can feel weak, tired and have poor concentration. This is a particular risk for those with diabetes or athletics.
Essential Fatty Acids (Our favourite Omega 3s)
The brain is made up of 40% fat therefore it’s essential to provide a steady supply of unsaturated fats from our diet (rapeseed oil, olive oil, nuts, seeds and oily fish). These help complete the synthesis of fat structures in our brain. Low levels of Omega-3 fatty acids (from oily fish and other sources) in most populations is linked to an increasing trend in depression.
Daily intakes of just 1.5-2g have been shown to stimulate mood elevation, whilst up to 9g is safe and effective. You can get 2g of Omega 3 from a fillet of mackerel, 10g of chia seeds or 10g of flaxseeds. Be careful to avoid/minimise saturated fats such as lard, butter, red meats, full fat milk and dairy products as too much of these can lead to high cholesterol which can impact heart health.
Keep Protein & Fluids in Mind!
It’s essential to have a high quality protein diet which contains all the essential amino acids for a healthy mind. Foods such as beans, nuts and pulses as well as fish, lean meats, eggs and dairy products will give us a high quality protein intake.
Many nerve cells in the brain are made from amino acids. Dopamine is the nerve cell is made from the amino acid, tyrosine, while serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. A lack of these amino acids inhibits synthesis of the nerve cells, therefore affecting mental health by causing aggression and low mood.
Also make sure you drink 6-8 glasses of fluids day (about 2l) as dehydration can impact your emotional well-being. Milk, juice, soups, tea and coffee all count! Be careful not to have too much caffeine as it can also affect mood. Limit tea to 5 cups a day and coffee to 3 cups a day.
Vitamins & Minerals
You need to get the following vitamins and minerals in your diet to promote a healthy mind:
- Vitamin B12 or Folate – Found in broccoli, peas, eggs and brussels sprouts
- Selenium – Brazil nuts, seafood and tuna
- Iodine – Seaweed, eggs and dairy
- Magnesium – Beans, nuts, green leafy veg and whole wheat bread
These vitamins and minerals have been associated to reduce depressive symptoms.
What About Nutritional Supplements?
Psychologists are now considering nutritional supplements/treatment an alternative to medication for those with mental health conditions. There are high number of people who do not wish to take medication due to common unpleasant side effects such as weight gain, weight-loss, nausea, indigestion, diarrhoea and constipation. Having said that, not all people who take the medication will experience these symptoms.
If you feel you need a nutritional boost, or if you are a smoker or drink a lot of alcohol, you may wish to take a multivitamin supplement once daily. Make sure to buy ones that are 100% of the RDI (recommended daily intake) and speak to your doctor first. Taking a dose of multivitamins above the recommended daily intake may not be effective, and could put your health at risk.
Points to Remember
To keep a steady supply of fuel to your brain, make sure you eat regularly throughout the day – focusing on including carbohydrates, protein and vegetables or salad in each meal. Aim to have 3 meals a day and healthy snacks in between, and drink 6 – 8 glasses of non-caffeinated drinks.
Eat whole-grains, pulses, fresh foods where possible, and fruit and vegetables. Minimise processed foods and and ready meals to make sure you get enough nutrition to help your brain to function well. And lastly, try to limit saturated fats and have more unsaturated fats such as oily fish and avocado for healthy formation of brain structures.
Have you found this article useful? Please leave your comments below to share your thoughts and how you find diet helpful for looking after your emotional well-being.
Previous article/interview: Benefits of Being a Mentor
Next article/interview: Interview with Deaf Unity Mentor Trainer, Penny Beschizza