Imagine a psychiatrist who’s also a professional chef. That combination produces ‘nutritional psychiatry’ — the use of food in the treatment of mental health.
The woman with these two seemingly unrelated qualifications is Dr Uma Naidoo, director of Nutritional Psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. That’s her in the photo.
She’s unequivocal about the connection between our gut and brain. Diet affects gut health, and the gut and brain are in constant conversation, she says.
Moreover, depression, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD, dementia, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder might all be linked with the health of our gut bacteria. Dr Naidoo believes they are.
The interconnectedness of our bodies is such that making an improvement in one area — such as what we eat — has beneficial flow-on effects.
Dr Naidoo promotes the brain benefits of a lot of the foods we already hear about in the health space, such as fruit and veg, healthy fats (oily fish, raw nuts and seeds, olive oil, avocado and so on), fermented foods, herbs and spices, oats, lentils, eggs, seafood and dark chocolate.
She’s written a book called This is your Brain on Food. It’s probably the most comprehensive guide I’ve come across on this topic, and it includes a recipe section in the back, so if this is an area you want to learn more about, chase it up.
Another author on gut health is Dr Megan Rossi. She’s an Australian dietitian with a PhD who works in London.
While her work doesn’t focus on the gut-brain link, she emphasises using a diversity of unprocessed ingredients for a well-functioning gut, and her recipes provide lots of ideas. You can find them on her site www.theguthealthdoctor.com or in her books such as Eat Yourself Healthy and Eat More Live Well.
Another interesting development in this area — again in America — comes from 66-year-old journalist and Alzheimer’s campaigner Maria Shriver, who has recently launched a ‘brain health and wellness brand’ called Mosh that makes and sells protein bars for brain health.
Maria Shriver first came to our attention as a member of the Kennedy family. Her mother Eunice was a sister to John, Robert and Edward Kennedy. Maria was married to and had four children with Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Her interest in Alzheimer’s was fostered when her father was diagnosed with it in 2003 and she began investigating and writing about the disease. In the process she learned that two-thirds of the people with Alzheimer’s are women, and we still don’t fully know why.
She created The Women’s Alzheimer’s Movement in the US to raise funds and awareness around the disease.
While we don’t need to eat protein bars for a healthy brain, it’s interesting to see more and more links being made between food and brain function.
There are aspects of being female that need to be better understood before we’ll come close to removing the risk of Alzheimer’s, but at least there’s now a promising body of research supporting the role of nutrition (and exercise), which we can all do something positive about.
Photo Source: Daily Advent