There are not many studies currently available on the Mediterranean diet and its effects on mental health; however, there is some evidence which shows that the nutrients gained from this diet, such as antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, fibre and B-vitamins positively effect mood and brain function.
What is missing from many studies is the impact that the Mediterranean lifestyle also has on mental health, which includes diet, lifestyle, social and cultural aspects. Although diet does play a part in treating mental illness, it is not the only aspect which should be considered.
What a person eats directly affects functioning of the brain, and as a result, a person’s mood. The brain can only function at it optimal levels when a good diet rich in antioxidants, vitamins and minerals is consumed. A poor diet that is high in refined food has been shown in multiple studies to affect brain function and increase symptoms of disorders such as depression.
The Mediterranean diet is associated with reducing the risks of many chronic diseases, however there is currently limited research on the affects it has on mental health. Many components of the Mediterranean diet encourage healthy brain function such as omega 3 fatty acids, antioxidants and B vitamins. As well as this, the Mediterranean diet is rich in vitamins, minerals, polyunsaturated fatty acids and antioxidants which have been shown to have a positive impact on mental health.
How Diet Affects Mood
The gastrointestinal tract is lined with millions of nerve cells, making it more than just a place to digest food, but also a mood regulator. Around 95% of serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. The production of serotonin and the functioning of the neurons in the gastrointestinal tract are highly influenced by the intestinal microbiome which are directly affected by diet.
Studies have shown that traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet, can lower the risk of depression by 25% to 35% when compared to a Western diet. This is due to the abundance of vegetables, fruits, whole grains and seafood in traditional diets such as the Mediterranean diet, as well as the limited amounts of red meat and dairy consumed.
Recently more evidence has shown that there is a link between diet and mental health. Studies have shown that consuming a healthy diet rich in vegetables, fruits, olive oil, nuts, legumes and fish can provide protection against depressive symptoms. However, a diet high in sugar and processed foods is seen to have a negative impact on mental health, particularly depression.
The Mediterranean diet provides an abundance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes and fish. These foods are rich in antioxidants, fibre and many other nutrients that are positively associated with mental health. The Mediterranean diet provides a much higher proportion of omega 3 fatty acids compare to the high consumption of omega 6 fatty acids seen in a typical Western diet. Research has shown the importance of omega 3 fatty acid in supporting good mental health.
The key concepts of the Mediterranean diet and its effect on mental health are due to the diet being rich in a variety of nutrients which are associated with positive mental health effects. The Mediterranean diet is rich in antioxidants, omega 3 fatty acids, and B vitamins which are shown to positively affect mental health and brain function.
The Mediterranean Lifestyle
The existing theories indicate that the Mediterranean diet and its effects on mental health isn’t just about what food is consumed. It’s also about the lifestyle. The Mediterranean lifestyle is a holistic approach to supporting mental health. Although the diet provides a rich source of nutrients which are shown to positively affect mental health and brain function, the Mediterranean lifestyle also plays an important role. This include the social aspects and physical activity.
The benefits of a meal go far beyond the nutritional aspects in the Mediterranean culture. The social benefits of leisure time, cooking, sharing, and eating together in positive company support good mental health which are all depicted in the Mediterranean diet pyramid as essential aspects. Another important component of the Mediterranean lifestyle is leisure time which provides a social aspect beneficial for mental health.
More studies need to be done which include a whole lifestyle approach. A lack of social connectiveness can contribute to poor mental health including depression. However positive social connections can reduce the risk of poor mental health.
The Mediterranean lifestyle has a very important social aspect which supports overall wellness. The Mediterranean diet pyramid provides a holistic representation of a healthy lifestyle which benefits mental health including not only diet but also the cultural, social and physical aspects of good health. Looking at a single aspect such as diet does provide some benefits, however taking a holistic approach provides more long term positive effects for mental health as well as overall wellbeing.
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Most of us have heard about the placebo effect, however less is known about the nocebo effect. The placebo effect shows the positive correlation between our mind-body connection, our body’s ability to heal itself. However, what we are started to understand is that the opposite is also true, it’s called the nocebo effect.
The nocebo effect shows us the negative side of our mind-body connection. Essentially, it’s the connection between negative thought patterns and beliefs which manifest themselves mentally and physically.
The nocebo effect is due to psychological or psychosomatic factors which produce detrimental effects to your health, such as a negative prognosis or negative treatment expectations.
What is the Mind-Body Connection?
We all know that the mind is very powerful, although we probably don’t fully understand just how powerful it is. Science is starting to accept the mind-body connection, and there are already numerous studies about how stress, anxiety and negative thinking can affect your health. However, there’s still a long way before the mind-body connection is fully accepted and no longer termed “woo woo” or “pseudoscience”.
One study done shows how the nocebo effect can occur. Researchers compared two different placebos using two groups of people for treating their arm pain. The first group unknowingly received a sugar pill and the second group unknowingly received a fake acupuncture treatment using retractable needles.
The results from the fake acupuncture group demonstrated the placebo effect well, with the group reporting less arm pain. However, what was fascinating was how both groups demonstrated the nocebo effect. Both treatments were fake, however both groups reported negative side effects from their treatments.
The fake acupuncture group reported pain, swelling and redness after their treatment and the sugar pill group reported feeling sluggish, with some feeling so tired that they couldn’t get out of bed.
What is more fascinating about these “side effects” is that the groups experienced what they were TOLD they might experience after treatment. Oh, the power of suggestion!
Currently researchers have mostly been focusing on the mind’s ability to heal the body, the placebo effect. All clinical trials randomly assign patients to either a treatment group (with the real drug or treatment), or a placebo group (a fake drug or treatment). The patients do not know which group they are assigned to, and those in the placebo group often show improvement even though their treatment is fake. Simply because they believe they are taking the real drug.
However, along with this, people who take the placebo also report side effects such as nausea, pain or headaches. This is due to the warnings they receive. Both groups (placebo and drug group) receive the same information and the same warnings about possible side effects. This causes even the people in the placebo group to experience negative side effects simply because they expected it. This demonstrates the nocebo effect.
So how can this apply to ever day life? Do you have constant and ongoing negative thoughts patterns or beliefs such as;
I have read many books on this subject and have learned an important lesson that many people don’t realise at first. It’s not so much the occasional negative thought that will suddenly make you ill, it’s more about something your truly believe. Those self-help books which make people believe that they should never have a negative though are ridiculous. You’re going to have negative thoughts, but you don’t have to believe them.
The nocebo effect is as real as the placebo effect, but it’s not something to fear. By being aware of which thoughts you choose to get caught up in, and truly believe, can change your perspective and may even change your health; hopefully for the better!
A few years ago, if you had asked me what my opinion on homeopathy was, I would have said it’s rubbish. How can something that’s diluted until there is nothing physically left do anything? How wrong was I!
I didn’t understand how homeopathy worked and what it actually does. It’s now one of my favourite forms of alternative treatment. It complements convention medicine and works well on its own.
Homeopathy is an energy medicine. Yes, it’s true that it’s diluted many times until there are literally no particles of the original substance left. But, and it’s a big but (yes, I said big but, try not to laugh). However (yeah that’s more mature), the energy of the original substance remains and that’s what we want because homeopathy works at an energetic level.
Many people will say that homeopathy is just a placebo. I guess in a way it is! It’s a catalyst, it encourages your body’s natural ability to heal itself. Research has shown that the placebo effect is real, and even the nocebo effect, where you can “think” yourself into illness.
Many scientific studies have shown that homeopathy doesn’t work. How bias are these studies? And what are they looking at? Many of them are looking for an active ingredient, which they won’t find. So in the results they declare that homeopathy can’t possibly work because it’s impossible to find one single molecule of the active ingredient in the substance! If they took the time to understand homeopathy they would realise that they're wasting their time searching for an active ingredient, it’s not there. It’s not supposed to be there.
“Criticisms centred around the vanishingly small number of solute molecules present in a solution after it has been repeatedly diluted are beside the point, since advocates of homeopathic remedies attribute their effects not to molecules present in the water, but to modifications of the water’s structure.”
Brian Josephson, Ph.D., a Nobel Prize-winning scientist.
A way to “sort of” understand how homeopathy works is to look at the water experiment done by Masaru Emoto, a Japanese author, photographer and researcher. He looked at how consciousness effected the molecular structure of water. Emoto believed that vibrations and energy from thoughts and emotions can affect the structure of water.
His experiment consisted of exposing water to a variety of music, pictures and words. He then froze the water and photographed the resulting crystal formations. His results showed that the water exposed to positive words and music formed beautiful crystals, while the water exposed to anything negative formed ugly crystals. Now stop for a moment and think about your own inner critic.
Emoto’s results have be questioned by scientists, while others have gone on to replicate his experiment. His results can be seen here…
Masaru Emoto Water Study
He has also done a similar experiment with rice. His experiments make a lot of sense, but in the end, you need to look at all of the evidence and decide whether or not you feel that it’s real or not. It is something to ponder over. Our bodies are made up of around 70% water.
Another amazing experiment to look at is how sound vibrations can form complex patterns. I might be getting a bit off track here, but this shows again how energy is so much more than what we perceive in everyday life. Check this out….
Everything is made up of energy vibrating at a certain frequency (including your body). To me, this experiment gives you a very simplistic look at how physical forms come together. So why should we immediately say that energetic medicines such as homeopathy couldn’t possibly work? Finding good studies on homeopathy is difficult, but they are out there if you know how to look for them.
There’s so much we still don’t know, and so much that science cannot show evidence for yet. We need to keep an open mind because science will show some amazing things in the future, things that many people now think are crazy. At least leave your door open a little, it's better to be wrong than never to investigate at all.
I'm a freelance writer currently writing for an awesome marketing company in Perth. I have a Bachelor of Science in nutrition and human biology, and a Graduate Diploma in Human Nutrition, which both contribute to my writing.