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.
Take home messages:
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“Overthinking is my best friend. Always fills my brain with delight and sits by my side. It never leaves me alone.”
― Suyasha Subedi
Fellow over-thinkers, only you will understand this post to its full extent. We are a special kind, a strange kind; a type of person who is often misunderstood. I’m not talking about general overthinking, or anxiety; which many people suffer from in the Western culture. I’m talking about those of us who are natural over-thinkers, who love to think a lot, who philosophise and analyse everything to its full extend, and often beyond. Those of us who live in our head and get lost there for hours.
I used to believe that the way my mind worked was abnormal. Other people don’t think, question and analyse every little detail. But of course, I had to analyse and think about this. I had to work out how to stop my overactive mind and chill out. But now I’m overthinking why I overthink, then overthinking why I need to think about why I overthink. Ok I see the problem.
The inner world of an over-thinker can be filled with self-doubt and constant uncertainty. This sounds pretty negative, but it’s not always the case. Psychologists state that there are benefits to the overactive mind, or “Nervous Nellie”. Those of us who are lucky enough to possess this trait often worry and over-analyse issues far more than the average person. This can lead to stress, anxiety and many health issues including digestive problems and hypertension. Taking control is the key. Embrace your monkey mind while giving it bananas when it’s time to shut up!
So, what causes someone to be an over-thinker? One paper published in the journal Trends in Cognitive Sciences states that there is an area in the brain which controls self-created thoughts (thoughts associated with overthinking). This area may be more active in over-thinkers. This may lead to excessive thinking. However this also leads to breakthrough theories, research ideas, creativity and solutions to problems.
When compared to “normal thinkers”, i.e. those who often look on the bright side of life, over-thinkers are more likely to create solutions to the problems that they obsess over. Some research has even indicated that over-thinkers, or anxious people generally have higher IQ's compared to more relaxed individuals.
However, research also shows that over-thinkers are prone to many health problems, lower immunity and chronic health conditions. This shows that overthinking can be both a blessing and a curse. Overthinking to the point of chronic stress is not good for you, and may even cause health problems. However, using your monkey mind to your advantage can be one of your best assets.
Over-thinker isn’t a bad thing unless you let it become a bad thing. Overthinking can lead to stress, anxiety and depression when you allow it to control you. But when you take control, overthinking can be used to your advantage, leading to the most brilliant ideas, insights and breakthroughs. This is the major problem for the overactive mind, trying to take control and use it for good. Over-thinkers are prone to anxiety and it’s very easy for an over-thinker's mind to lose control. Once that happens, getting out isn’t easy. But not impossible.
Some of the common problems over-thinkers face include:
Ok, so there are a lot of problems that come along with having an overactive mind. But have you ever considered how much of a blessing it is to be an over-thinker? Many creative people are over-thinkers. Over-thinkers are never short on ideas. All of those ideas that pop into your head while your monkey mind is chattering have the potential to be amazing. Often, we start questioning whether the idea is good enough, maybe it’s stupid etc. Then we talk ourselves out of even trying.
This is where taking control is important, before that blessing turns into a curse. This is where you need to learn to recognise what you’re doing. Your amazing overthinking mind has given you an idea, so take it. If you allow yourself to analyse this idea your will talk yourself out of it. There’s a fine line between the advantages and disadvantages of the overactive mind, and recognising when that line appears is bloody hard!
This line applies to everything that triggers your monkey mind. The line will appear at different points, but understanding when your mind is working for you and when it’s sabotaging you is something that you have to practice for yourself. I certainly haven’t got it under control yet. Often you will recognise that your mind is taking control, but can’t get yourself out of it. This is when support can save you.
Why is support important? Sometimes you can’t see the forest for the trees. You’re so involved in your thinking situation, which is turning into anxiety and you cannot see the situation as a whole. I don’t know if it’s just me, but as an over-thinker I tend to keep my overthinking to myself. This is a bad idea if you don’t always have control.
Find someone who you trust, someone who won’t judge you, who will always be there. Ask this person if you can turn to them when your mind gets out of control, and tell them what you’re thinking, or overthinking. They will see your situation from a whole new perspective and help you to calm down. This is important for those who struggle often, it will save you a lot of stress and anxiety. Rather than spending hours or days obsessing over something, you could have it resolved in minutes. If you have no one to turn to, consider a counsellor.
Overthinking can definitely be a positive trait, and you should embrace it. However most, if not all over-thinkers are all too familiar with the negative side of this gift. You can learn to take control of your monkey mind and use it to your advantage. However, you will probably slip up on more than one occasion, so make sure you have support if you need it. But don’t forget that the way your mind works is unique and is a blessing. Just think about some of history’s greatest thinkers!
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!
While most of us are aware of the physical side effects from too much screen time, including the impacts on vision, sleep, and weight gain from sitting down constantly, there hasn’t been many studies done to show the effects on mental health in adults.
A 2014 Nielsen report found that on average, adults spend 11 hours a day in front of screens. Is it possible that this may have an affect on mental health as well as physical health?
Studies have shown that too much screen time, especially at night affects sleep quality. One study was done on the effects of technology use on sleep at the University of Gothenburg, led by Dr. Sara Thomee. Thomee stated that the blue light emitted from screens suppresses melatonin production, preventing a restful night’s sleep. Melatonin is a hormone produced by the pineal gland which regulates sleep and essentially helps you wind down at the end of the day. A lack of good quality sleep is associated with anxiety and depression.
Anxiety can also be caused by the constant influx of information through social media and other forms of media. Too much negative news can become overwhelming, leading to depression or anxiety.
Dr. Graham Davey, a British psychologist stated that constant negative news and violent media exposure contributes to depression, anxiety, stress, and possibly post-traumatic stress disorder. Negative news can significantly change someone’s mood and increase personal worries. This may lead to more negative or aggressive interactions with the world, due to subconsciously focusing on negative and threatening events.
Another issue with overusing technology is addiction. Certain types of screen time can cause dopamine to be released, such as social media. Each time you received a new post reaction, reply or message certain parts of the brain are activated and you receive a hit of dopamine. Over time this may become additive.
From the limited amounts of studies done so far, results have indicated that there is a correlation between screen time and mental health issues in adults. This includes addiction, depression, anxiety and aggression. However, not enough is known yet about the impact of screen time on mental health; and it’s still too early to determine a causation. We can’t be sure whether it’s the screens causing mental health issues, or those already suffering from mental health issues who are drawn to use technology more often.
It’s difficult to determine a “recommended amount of screen time” for adults, as many people need to use technology as part of their jobs. But you can look at how you’re using your screen time, and how it’s effecting your social life, physical fitness and overall health. If it’s negatively impacting other responsibilities and activities in your life, then you may need to take a break.
Like anything it’s all about balance. Take regular breaks and get outside as much as possible.
I was having a casual conversation with a group of people the other day. One of the ladies in the group started to talk about how she works twelve-hour days with no breaks, studies at night, looks after her kids and needs to be up at 5.30am tomorrow for another twelve-hour shift. She was then praised for her dedication and her strength while being cheered on with “wow’s” and “how do you do it’s”.
While this might be a more extreme example, it’s become the norm in Western society. Being constantly busy is seen as good. You will be praised and rewarded for working yourself into the ground.
I learnt my lesson the hard way. I took on too much in my final year of my undergraduate degree. I had just become a single mum to a toddler so I needed to find work to support us, which I did. But instead of cutting down on my uni subjects I continued as I was so I could still finish as planned. Between parenting, working and uni I couldn’t handle it. I had no time to rest. I was eating in my car on the run, shovelling the food in as fast as I could.
I was proud that I was working so hard because that’s what you’re meant to do, right? And that’s what I though until my body said “enough!” I became ill, so ill that I was unable to work and it took me 5 years to recover.
I can now look back and see how being sick has changed the way I live. I wouldn’t want to go through it again, and I don’t want others to go through something similar; or worse.
The overworked culture isn’t just happening in the Western world, in Japan they have a word for this, “karoshi” - meaning job related exhaustion or death from overwork. According to the Heart Foundation Australia, more heart attacks occur on Monday mornings, most likely due to the stress and anticipation of the upcoming working week.
It’s not only work that can cause major stress on the body in modern society. In fact, many of us love our careers and balance them very well with life. However there are many other stressors that prevent us from slowing down, such as technology, television, phones, advertising, news and gadgets. Our senses are constantly bombarded, never given a break.
I find it interesting when I'm out in public, almost everyone will be staring at their phone. Even when they sit down on a lovely park bench in front of a nice view; out comes the phone. Why not take ten minutes to relax and look at the view? But don’t take out the phone to take a photo, just enjoy. People feel like they MUST be “doing” something even when they're doing nothing.
It’s definitely not easy to relearn your way of living. I say relearn because we instinctively knew how to live when we were kids. Maybe we need to look at how kids live life to remember how we should be living. We don’t need to “act” like a child. We can maintain maturity while living in the moment and taking care of ourselves.
Yet as an adult we can't avoid those responsibilities which are often the source of our stress. But we do have the power to simplify life as much as possible to reduce stress. You can do this by taking on some, or all of the following ideas:
Today I started my car and the radio came on. It just happened to be the beginning of a song called Mad World by Gary Jules. I first heard this song in the movie Donnie Darko, but I have never really paid attention to the lyrics, although I found the song quite depressing. For some reason today I paid attention. While I believe most music isn’t so much about what is put in, but more about what the listener gets out of it. A song's meaning might be very different depending on the person, and that’s ok, it’s a personal thing.
I felt this song has a very strong message, and it’s probably a similar message many people get. The Gary Jules version is a cover of the Tears For Fears original, however I find the Tears For Fears version doesn’t have the same impact as the newer version. I feel like this song explains perfectly what I try to put into my own writing. For example:
All around me are familiar faces
Worn out places, worn out faces
Bright and early for their daily races
Going nowhere, going nowhere
Their tears are filling up their glasses
No expression, no expression
Hide my head, I want to drown my sorrow
No tomorrow, no tomorrow
To me this verse describes the typical life of those stuck in the “rat race”. “All around me are familiar faces, worn out places, worn out faces”, seeing the same crowd every day, worn out, depressed, doing the same thing every day, and “going nowhere”. Not following their heart, but doing what the think the must do. Or even what the have to do to get by, even though it’s not what they want to be doing. The next part really got to me, “no expression”. How many times have you sat on public transport during peak hour and looked around? Really looked at the faces around you? So many people look like blank zombies, where’s their happiness gone and how can I help them?
Here are two short films below that I find very inspirational:
I feel like this verse also touches on the loss of connection between humans. We see many people every day, but we aren’t connected anymore. Usually because we are looking at our phones. When did we become so afraid of strangers? Of course you have to be careful, but the majority of people are good and you will find that out when you connect. Smile at a stranger, you never know what that might mean to them, or how it will change their day.
The next verse is probably the most saddest part of the song for me:
Children waiting for the day, they feel good
Happy birthday, happy birthday
Made to feel the way that every child should
Sit and listen, sit and listen
Went to school and I was very nervous
No one knew me, no one knew me
Hello teacher, tell me what's my lesson
Look right through me, look right through me
I put the first two lines in bold because this really kicks you in the guts. And I think this applies to adults more than it does to kids. As an adult we believe that happiness will come at some point in the future, usually from something we are trying to “get”. This training starts young. Children know how to be happy, they know how to follow their passions and live in the present. Unfortunately we adults beat this out of them (not literally).
They learn that happiness comes from things, you will be happy when you get “this and that” on your birthday, or at some future point. But right now you must be serious and get your work done. There is a time to be serious and work, but where's the balance gone? Kids want to be creative, they learn from expressing themselves in their own individual way. While many schools are starting to recognise this, they are still placed into boxes and expected to all be the same. And when you’re different, you are bullied at school, or the “weirdo” as an adult.
So why can't we find happiness in the present? We are always looking towards the future, but life isn't there, it's here. "There" doesn't exist yet. And unfortunately it's often the latest "thing" we can buy that we think will bring us happiness. Quite often buying the latest "in thing" will bring some amount of happiness, but it won’t last. So we move on to the next phone, or TV, or whatever is “in” at that moment.
Minimalism is a great movement to get in to. However I personally wouldn’t take it as far as some people do, ending up with one lonely chair in a bare room. I like my home to be cosy and filled with enough, but not too much furniture. I found it very empowering to go through all of my stuff over time (probably about a year), and sell or donate everything that I either didn’t need, serve a practical purpose, or didn’t love. It was a slow process because I found it hard to give up some items, even though they didn’t serve a purpose for me, I guess I was scared that one day I might “need” this item. But I got braver and I haven’t missed anything I have gotten rid of.
I now carefully think about purchases before I make them and decide if I really need the item, or if I will love this item and not get sick of it after a few weeks. One thing I have notice (apart from saving money), is that I now buy better quality things, or secondhand things that will last and bring joy to me over the long term. Instead of cheap rubbish that breaks after a month, or is so mass produced that it has no originality. Quality, not quantity as they say! There’s something beautiful about secondhand furniture. It has a history and quality that you don't get from new furniture.
Now I’ve gotten a little of track here, so lastly I will cover the chorus of the song:
And I find it kinda funny, I find it kinda sad
The dreams in which I'm dying are the best I've ever had
I find it hard to tell you, I find it hard to take
When people run in circles it's a very very
Mad world, mad world
I found the verses spoke to me more than the chorus. But the chorus tells me that to some people, dying is more exciting than living in this mad world. A world where we run in circles. In other words getting nowhere. But not nowhere in a physical sense. Nowhere in a spiritual sense. We ignore our spiritual side, and whether we like it or not we are physical, mental and spiritual beings. We must nurture all of these parts to live in harmony with ourselves and others.
At the moment, at least in the Western world, we pay the most attention to the physical and the mental sides. We need to learn how to listen to our hearts more and follow our intuition and passions; which could actually be working in an office. But it could also be singing, or art, or writing, or a doctor, or a scientist; I could go on. Whatever it is, at the very least try. You might fail, but at least you tried.
“It's better to regret what you have done than what you haven't.” ~ Paul Arden.
You don’t need to go crazy and quit your job to follow your heart. It could be something as simple as doing what brings you joy in your spare time instead of watching TV or browsing Facebook. Doing what society tells you to do may make you rich, but will it make you happy?
"Everyone you meet always ask if you have a career, are married or own a house as if life was some kind of grocery list. But no one ever asks you if you are happy" ~ Heath Ledger.
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.