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Andrea Bayles Nutritional Therapist
ND, Dip Nutr, Dip Herb, MBANT, MURHP, MCNHC

Mental Health Awareness

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Mental health is all over the news at present and so it seems like a great opportunity to talk about the issues that can affect so many people – as many as 1 in 4 of the UK population suffer with some form of mental illness each year.

Whilst the pressures of our 21st century lifestyle are becoming unbearable, many are experiencing additional stress from poor lifestyle choices and diet.  We know full well that diet can have a huge impact on mental health. We also know that poor lifestyle – sleep, exercise, stress management – all influence how the body copes.  External influences like work, relationships, daily living can’t often be changed but it is important to understand that when there is excessive stress and increased demands, the support of brain chemicals and hormone production is essential. And this is where diet and nutrition are crucial.


All disease begins in the gut.’  Hippocrates


Gut Health and Mental Health

Even back in the days of Hippocrates, the gut-brain connection was known and so today, the health of the gut is the most important area to maintain. About 90% of the ‘feel good’ brain chemical serotonin is produced in the digestive system; it forms part of what we call our enteric nervous system – the nerves that run from the gut to the central nervous system. When there is normal stimulation, serotonin helps to improve mood, however, when the gut is dysfunctional either through inflammation or poor gut bacteria, then mood can be upset.

Many people who suffer with IBS often complain about flare-ups being triggered at more stressful times and often accompanied by anxiety or depression. And who hasn’t experienced a ‘nervous tummy’ moment when under particular stress such as exam time or interviews – a rapid dash to the loo is a clear indication that the gut -brain axis is definitely working!

When depression and mental illness are part of your life, it is important to support gut health. Natural Solutions provides gut health programmes and latest Gastrointestinal testing for stool analysis to help identify inflammatory conditions, microbial imbalances, fungal overgrowth and leaky gut. Support is always provided using diet and supplementation.

Nutritional Deficiencies

Lets talk about ‘serotonin.’ Serotonin is the neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that is involved in balancing mood and happiness. Known as the ‘happy hormone’ when levels decline it can lead to depression and anxiety.  Many anti-depressant drugs are designed to increase levels of serotonin but there are ways in which you can support the production without the use of antidepressant medication.  

Serotonin is formed from an amino acid known as tryptophan so therefore protein foods are rich sources – turkey, chicken, oats, legumes, pumpkin seeds to name a few rich sources. Eating protein is not enough though. Tryptophan needs co-factors to help it convert to serotonin and these include folate, Vitamin B3 and iron. The tryptophan has now become converted into 5HTP. 5HTP then requires Magnesium and Vitamin B6 to ensure that the proteins are being converted into serotonin.

So, it is essential to provide adequate levels of B vitamins, Magnesium, iron and folates alongside lots of good quality protein foods.

Other nutrients important for healthy brain function include essential fatty acids (EFA’s). It has long been known that Omega 3 supports the health and functioning of the brain and in particular EPA and DHA derived from Omega 3 to help with depression and anxiety. In addition, EFA’s are very supportive in keeping the brain sharp and helping with memory and concentration. Taking a good quality Omega 3 with EPA and DHA will help to support brain health.

Vitamin D deficiency is often associated with UK winters and seasonal affective disorder. Vitamin D is essential for supporting brain chemical synthesis, immune health and bone health – its worth asking your GP for A test to establish your current levels are good before taking a supplement. Tests are also available via Natural Solutions.

In general, dietary support for mental health and mood improvement should contain:

  • Gut health support – probiotics, pre-biotics and zinc
  • Establishing the levels of microbial flora and any presence of pathogenic bacteria/fungal overgrowth
  • 5HTP to support depression/anxiety along with B vitamins (B3 and B6)
  • Magnesium – known as natures tranquilliser
  • Plenty of protein rich in tryptophan’s – chicken, turkey, oats, pumpkins seeds, walnuts
  • Brain health and cognitive support using good quality Omega 3 – EPA and DHA
  • Vitamin D testing and supplementation where necessary


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