Research looking at diet shows that those consuming a traditional diet, rich in fermented foods, have significantly lower levels of depression and anxiety (25-30%) than those who consume a Westernized diet.
Examination of some of the body processes tells us that there are many physical imbalances in play for those with mood disorders. People who suffer from depression have chronic, low-grade inflammation, more oxidative stress, and blood sugar issues.
They also have gut dysbiosis which results in the production of a toxin known as LPS (lipopolysaccharide), produced by bad bacteria. In fact, LPS is directly linked to the production of inflammation and oxidative stress, two physical factors that have been linked to depression. It also is connected to negatively affecting the central nervous system, which plays a role in regulating mood and depression.
How do traditional diets help regulate these body processes and help mental health? There are two ways:
Traditional diets are loaded with whole foods that contain phytonutrients that help lower inflammation and contain plenty of antioxidants that can protect against oxidative stress. Many whole foods are also prebiotic and help feed our good bacteria.
Traditional diets contain fermented foods which are high in lactobacillus and bifidobacterium. Studies of both probiotics and fermented foods show that these families of good bacteria can lower chronic inflammation, provide increased antioxidant protection, and decrease levels of LPS.
LPS also can damage the intestinal wall lining and open up the gut. Good bacteria protect the gut wall lining and keep the gut closed, Subhan Allah.
How can fermented foods help with depression and mental health?
When fiber found in wheat, rice, and soy is fermented, it promotes better glucose levels and immune function and lowers inflammation. Fermentation of these foods as well as others such as lentils and buckwheat sprouts help the beneficial gut bacteria produce more GABA, a neurotransmitter known for reducing anxiety.
Fermented dairy products such as kefir and yogurt also help the mood. One study of participants consuming fermented dairy, non-fermented dairy, and no dairy, found that those who consumed the fermented dairy had higher activity in their brains in the regions that controlled emotions and sensations.
It is believed that the reason for these changes is that fermenting of the milk bioactivities peptides and other chemicals that affect the central nervous system.
One human study using herbs in traditional cultures, compared fermented versions of the herbs with non-fermented. The fermented form lowered LPS and increased lactobacillus strains in the stool. Fermented herb products are now appearing in the health foods store but we can also add herbs when we make our own fermented foods such as sauerkraut, cultured vegetables, and kimchi.
Lactobacillus strains produced from fermenting cabbage as in the case of kimchi and sauerkraut improves mental function.
And this may be the best news for those who like to celebrate with food and drink.
There are plenty of fermented food options and it is easy to create great recipes combining wholes foods, herbs, and spices, fermented foods. And consuming all of these on a regular basis can lift mood, improved mental health, and overall health. It can be quite the adventure in food so eat, drink and be merry.
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Mediterranean dietary pattern and depression: the PREDIMED randomized trial, Almudena Sánchez-Villegas12*, Miguel Angel Martínez-González13 et al, BMC Medicine 2013, 11:208
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