The bottom line is that foods have an immense impact on your emotions, moods and physical health, all of which directly impact your ability to deal with not only challenges, and day to day stressors, but also issues in your relationships.
Findings show that nutrition deficiencies cause biochemical conditions in the brain and body that raise stress to toxic levels, fostering depression and anxiety and other emotional (and physical) disturbances. More specifically, the culprit is chronic inflammation of the brain and body.
Chronic Inflammation, a public health issue?
Inflammation itself is the body’s natural immune response to harmful stimuli, an automatic initial defense of the body, without which wounds would never heal.
- When acute, inflammation is a healthy process that is designed to restore balance by containing harmful irritants that would otherwise spread and harm the body; at the same time, it moves restorative agents, such as white blood cells, to the region to allow healing of injury, infection, stress, etc., to take place.
- In contrast, chronic inflammation is a prolonged condition that attacks healthy cells and tissues instead of protecting them; it can lead to a host of diseases, among others, diabetes, asthma, heart disease, arthritis, autoimmune and neurological problems.
- The link between brain inflammation and mental health (as well as chronic inflammation and chronic disease) is now proven.
Essentially, this means the health of your mind is wedded for life to your physical health. They are inseparable. Poor nutrition can impair the brain’s neural development in every way, inhibitiing cognitive functioning, emotion regulation, learning, and overall performance. It is also linked to cognitive decline and dementia in later years.
Notably, this evidence has been around for more than four decades. In a major research project (conducted several decades ago) known as The China Study, Dr. T. Colin Campbell detailed the connection between nutrition and heart disease, diabetes, and cancer.
- In addition to going over the findings, in the book, Dr. Campbell also discusses the body’s amazing ability to reduce or reverse the risks and effects of these deadly illnesses, as well as the forces that have led to the current crisis in dietary confusion, such as powerful lobbies, government entities, and irresponsible science practices.
- Notably, decades went by before this information would even begin to make the dent it has in the last decade, spawning dozens of publications on the subject.
- This speaks to the power money has in deciding what information gets widely dispersed, and the widespread promotion of ‘reliance on science to find pill-cures‘ in response to ‘disease’ has been a profitable venture.
- In truth, pills cannot replace the body’s natural healing processes, and the field of science could do so much more were it free to act on behalf of the public interest.
Chronic inflammation is now recognized as the leading contributor to the breakdown of the body, with serious physical consequences to include diabetes, cancer, heart disease and obesity. Its effects on mental health run parallel.
So, knowing this, how do you eat and drink nutritionally smart to prevent chronic inflammation? Here are a few proven guidelines:
- Avoid processed sugar and processed foods. Sugar is “your number one enemy,” says author and founder of the ‘Beyond Diet’ program, Isabella De Los Rios, in her discussion of the top five inflammatory ‘diet’ foods, and processed foods (which contain a lot of sugar as well as toxic fats and chemicals) are “enemy number two.” An increasing number of medical doctors and researchers agree and advocate an approach that, instead of merely managing-symptoms, treats the root causes of chronic disease.
- Avoid sodas (including diet sodas), and fruit juices, which are loaded with sugar (as well as other contaminants) and drink plentiful amounts of water instead. Nothing replaces the healthful effects of water, and a slice of fresh lemon adds antioxidants! There are at least ten reasons to drink more water.
- Avoid alcoholic drinks, says physician and author Dr. Joseph Mercola. They are also loaded with sugar. But what about all the studies that enumerate the healthful effects of certain alcoholic beverages? According to Dr. Tim Naimi with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention there are no studies to support this finding, apart from what he describes as ‘weak science’ at best, and at worst, the studies are seriously comprised as they are funded by the alcohol industry (!). In contrast, Drs. Naimi and Mercola point out there is ample evidence linking alcohol to cancer, diabetes, and damage to the brain, heart and liver, among other ailments.
- Stay informed to learn what your brain and body need for healthy functioning. Eat foods rich in omega-3 and take supplements. Omega-3 can be found in nuts, dark green vegetables, salad greens, flaxseed, wheat germ oil, salmon, anchovies, tuna and others. A recent study published in The British Journal of Psychiatry associates psychiatric disorders with diets low in essential fatty acids (omega-3) that are essential to optimal brain functioning. Other studies also link omega-3 deficiency to depression and other emotional issues.
- Learn the difference between healthy and unhealthy ‘diet’ foods, as well as healthy and unhealthy carbohydrates. Nutrition expert Isabella De Los Rios lists top five inflammatory ‘diet’ foods and offers helpful tips in making key distinctions between what is and isn’t healthy.
As an outcome of poor nutrition habits that cause chronic inflammation, we face another problem: an epidemic of obesity.
Epidemic of obesity, a public health issue?
As a nation, we currently face an epidemic of obesity that seriously threatens public health. According to obesity researcher Dr. Stephan Guyenet, rates of obesity since the 1980s have more than doubled to 34 percent of the population, and extreme obesity has more than tripled since 1980.
The body, however, is amazingly designed to regulate body fat accordingly, as part of its 24/7 job to balance and to regulate itself in order to maximize our overall health and survival. So, how can this epidemic of obesity happen?
As Dr. Guyenet points out, the brain is wired with a reward system that reinforces and motivates behaviors that bring pleasure. Sugar and other processed foods are calorie-dense foods that, when ingested, overstimulate the brains natural reward pathways in specific ways. They intensify cravings and override the body’s natural signals to eat or drink in response to feelings of hunger or thirst. In short, these foods effectively seduce the neurons of the brain into craving the “most fattening [and destructive] diet in the world.”
Safe to say, as the basic ingredient of this ‘fattening diet’ is sugar, the epidemic of obesity is at root an epidemic of sugar addiction, often labeled food addiction.
There are several books and programs available to treat sugar addiction naturally, to restore insulin resistance (also known as Syndrome X), and to keep chronic inflammation at bay.
- The UltraMind Solution: Fix Your Broken Brain by Healing Your Body First – The Simple Way to Defeat Depression, Overcome Anxiety, and Sharpen Your Mind BY Mark Hyman, M.D.
- Feed Your Genes Right: Eat to Turn Off Disease-Causing Genes and Slow Down Aging BY Jack Challem
- 21-Day Weight Loss Kickstart: Boost Metabolism, Lower Cholesterol, and Dramatically Improve Your Health BY Neal Barnard, M.D.
- The Detox Miracle Sourcebook: Raw Food and Herbs for Complete Cellular Regeneration BY Robert Norse, N.D.
- Syndrome X: The Complete Nutritional Program to Prevent and Reverse Insulin Resistance BY Jack Challem
Finally, taking care of your emotional (and physical) health has a huge impact on key relationships. How important is that? Considering the brain is a relationship organ, the deepest strivings we have, as human beings, are often for stability and meaning in our relationships. Not surprisingly, studies show the health of key relationship directly affects personal health.
The way partners relate to one another profoundly affects their moods and physiology, their sense of emotional safety with one another. When one partner’s anxiety or depression impairs their health and daily routine, their relationship with their partner is likely to suffer. This can also leave their partner or children feeling left out, disconnected or even in the way. Depression can cause loss of libido or lack of interest in sex, thus, negatively impact sexual intimacy in couple relationships.
Regardless your intentions, how you relate to your partner to foster the lasting and loving relationship you aspire can impact your physical health and happiness. To relate effectively is no simple task, however. It requires the ability to regulate difficult emotions, such as fear and anger, in those challenging moments.
In contrast, emotional issues are often related to an inability to regulate emotions. Emotional disturbances can affect every aspect of life, including your relationships. However, food dense in sugar exacerbates moodiness, irritability and propensity for angry outbursts and reactivity. Studies show gut bacteria, directly affected by foods, send signals to the brain that can affect changes in behavior. It appears the gut bacteria and brain engage in vital cross-talk, if only we could better tune in.
In addition to other lifestyle changes, a primary strategy in nurturing your emotional (and physical) health must necessarily be to eat and to drink nutritionally smart, and that means to consciously avoid inflammatory foods and to choose anti-inflammatory foods instead that nourish the cells of your brain and body, eliminate the factors that predispose you to any sugar or food addiction, fight disease and slow down aging.
It’s one of the best kept secrets. Food is a powerful agent for emotional (and physical) healing. It can also provide a surprising boost to the quality of your key relationships, and your love life.
Eat and drink, be nutritionally smart (and merry in a lasting way)!