It turns out there may be more behind the adage, “You are what you eat,” especially when it comes to mental health. In fact, the correlation between diet and mental health may begin before we even take our first breath and are still in utero.
A recent report out of King’s College in the U.K. has found a link between poor diet during pregnancy and childhood ADHD. The study, which compared data from more than 160 children, found a diet high in fat and sugar during pregnancy may be linked to ADHD in children with behavioral problems early in life.
While evidence from prior studies already proved there was a strong link, this particular study sought to examine the more physiological process involved. The King’s College researchers found that when expectant mothers consumed high fat and sugar diets of processed food there was a modification of the IGF2 gene that is involved in fetal development and the development of the cerebellum and hippocampus, areas of the brain implicated in ADHD.
Interestingly, higher IGF2 levels were also associated with higher ADHD symptoms between the ages of 7 and 13, but only for children who showed an early onset of behavioral problems such as lying or fighting.
“These results suggest that promoting a healthy prenatal diet may ultimately lower ADHD symptoms and conduct problems in children,” said Edward Barker, a development psychologist at King’s College London who led the study. “This is encouraging given that nutritional and epigenetic risk factors can be altered.”
These findings are just the latest that highlight the importance of a healthy diet and its impact on our bodies, a relationship that is often overlooked by many of us.
“Nutrition is one of the most obvious, yet under-recognized factors in the development of major trends in mental health,” notes Dr. Antonis Kousoulis, deputy director at the Mental Health Foundation in Abu Dhabi.
Sugar far more than any other food seems to have the most disastrous impact on our bodies and our mental health. Not only does sugar contribute to obesity, it’s also been linked to rising dementia rates. The 2015 documentary Sugar Coated even went so far as to say Alzheimer’s disease is diabetes of the brain brought on by excessive blood sugar levels.
While Dr. Doug Berger cautions to wait for more data before conclusively linking diet and ADHD, understanding how important a balanced, fresh food diet is to mental health, Tokyo-based psychiatrist Dr. Doug Berger often begins his sessions asking about a patient’s diet.
“When we are sad or depressed, we tend to eat less healthy, high sugar foods which can create a sort of cycle of poor eating habits,” said Dr. Douglas Berger. “This causes us to gain weight, which can bring on feelings of depression and fuel the poor nutrition cycle. It is known that obese person’s cells can secrets substances that effect the brain and make it more depressed.”
Tokyo’s Doug Berger also points to the proverbial sugar high and sugar crash as evidence of its negative effects on our mental health.
“Good food should make us feel good and energized, not moody or deflated,” he added. “We don’t hear about spinach highs or tomato crashes because these foods nourish us and positively impact our body.”
Ultimately, we need to remember that food is meant to fuel our body for activity, not fill emotional voids. Emotional eating results of overeating because food can increase a chemical called dopamine that is involved in reward and good feelings, then when you eat too much you become tolerant to the effects of dopamine and have to eat even more to get the same satisfied feeling, just like a street drug. You can read further articles from Dr. Berger here.
This post has been sponsored by Will Travers; image Credit: Creative Commons photo by Star5112.