It is possible for us eat drink and be merry (literally)? It depends on what we eat and drink.
It may seem depressing for me to talk about depression at this time of year but it is an unfortunate reality for many people. Statistically, in one North American survey, 45% of people dread this time of year and hospitals typically report higher levels of suicide attempts.
Instead of being a time of joy and fun, it is a depressing time for many people. The good news is that what you eat (and drink) can help your mood.
According to Psychology Today, the holidays, for some people, is a time for self-reflection and thoughts about the how much life and their life, in particular, sucks. They think about what they have not accomplished during the year and they see the holidays as another sign that time is passing them by.
For others, it is the non-stop, in-your-face commercialism of the season plus the constant activity and duties that overwhelm and depress people who are looking for a calmer, saner, more relaxing time.
For those who are alone at this time of year or who just feel alone, the media presentation of happy family gatherings in TV commercials, billboards, and shows plus listening to colleagues and friends talk about their family plans, does not help.
We also tend to eat too much in general and most of it involves processed, refined foods that do not contain enough nutrients. Research shows that the quality of what we eat has a direct effect on our mood and how we feel emotionally.
Research looking at diet shows that those consuming a traditional diet, rich in fermented foods, have significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety (25-30%) then those who consume a Westernized diet.
Examination of some of the body processes tell us that there are many physical imbalances in play for those with mood disorders. People who suffer from depression have chronic, low-grade inflammation, more oxidative stress and blood sugar issues.
They also have gut dysbiosis which results in the production of a toxin known as LPS (lipopolysaccharide), produced by bad bacteria. In fact, LPS is directly linked to the production of inflammation and oxidative stress, two physical factors that have been linked to depression. It also is connected to negatively affecting the central nervous system, which plays a role in regulating mood and depression.
How do traditional diets help regulate these body processes and help mental health? There are two ways:
- Traditional diets are loaded with whole foods that contain phytonutrients which help lower inflammation and contain plenty of antioxidants which can protect against oxidative stress. Many whole foods are also prebiotic and help feed our good bacteria.
- Traditional diets contain fermented foods which are high in lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Studies of both probiotics and fermented foods show that these families of good bacteria can lower chronic inflammation, provide increased antioxidant protection and decrease levels of LPS.
LPS also can damage the intestinal wall lining and open up the gut. Good bacteria protects the gut wall lining and keeps the gut closed.
How can fermented foods help with depression and mental health?
- When fibre found in wheat, rice and soy is fermented, it promotes better glucose levels and immune function and lowers inflammation. Fermentation of these foods as well as others such as lentils and buckwheat sprouts help the beneficial gut bacteria produce more GABA, a neurotransmitter known for reducing anxiety.
- Fermented dairy products such as kefir and yogurt also help mood. One study of participants consuming fermented dairy, non-fermented dairy and no dairy, found that that those who consumed the fermented dairy had higher activity in their brains in the regions that controlled emotions and sensations.
- It is believed that the reason for these changes is that fermenting of the milk bioactivates peptides and other chemicals that affects the central nervous system.
- One human study using herbs in traditional cultures, compared fermented versions of the herbs with non-fermented. The fermented form lowered LPS and increased lactobacillus strains in the stool. Fermented herb products are now appearing in the health foods store but we can also add herbs when we make our own fermented foods such as sauerkraut, cultured vegetables and kimchi.
- Lactobacillus strains produced from fermenting cabbage as in the case of kimchi and sauerkraut improves mental function.
- And this may be the best news for those who like to celebrate with food and drink. Regular, modest consumption of wine (2-7 glasses a week) as part of a whole food diet, is associated with lower systemic inflammation, increases in bifidobacteria and lower levels of depression. And no, you cannot have all 7 glasses in one day, once a week.
There are plenty of fermented foods options and it is easy to create great recipes combining wholes foods, herbs and spices, fermented foods and wine. And consuming all of these on a regular basis can lift mood, improved mental health and overall health. It can be quite the adventure in food so eat, drink and be merry.
If you would like to learn to ferment you own foods, check out the Simply Fermentation Online Workshop. Save 30%
- Depression inhibits the anti-inflammatory effects of leisure time physical activity and light to moderate alcohol consumption. Suarez EC, Schramm-Sapyta NL, Vann Hawkins T, Erkanli A. Brain Behav Immun. 2013;32:144–152
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