The popular discourse around wellness tends to bifurcate human beings firmly into mind and body, with physical health and mental health in two separate categories, each with their own maladies and remedies.
Medical science has discovered that there’s much more of a connection between mind and body than we often assume.
For example: exercise isn’t just good for your cardiovascular health, it boosts your mood by releasing endorphins, which activate the body’s opiate receptors and give us a feeling of calmness and pleasure.
Our impulse, when confronted with a mental health problem, is typically to treat it with talk therapy or psychotropic medication, but often, natural remedies that target problems with the body can be just as effective (or bolster the efficacy of these therapeutic treatments).
The mind and body are not separate, they are one, and what affects one affects the other. And adjustments to your diet could be one way of drastically improving your mental well-being.
Something as simple as eating spinach could improve your mental health in a major way.
Diet and Mental Health
The subject of natural remedies often raises the suspicion in those of us familiar with the quackery of so-called “alternative medicines.” But the link between mental health and diet isn’t spiritual, ephemeral mumbo-jumbo; it’s a scientific fact based on what we know about hormone balances, blood sugar, and neurotransmitter production in the gut.
Eating the wrong foods, or the right foods but in the wrong amounts, can cause a host of problems that affect the mind just as much as the stomach.
Problems resulting from diet include painful inflammation throughout the body that can trigger your brain’s stress response, undiagnosed allergic reactions, and spikes and crashes in blood sugar that trigger anxiety and depression. And neurotransmitters, the chemicals that are responsible for our moods, need certain dietary nutrients to be produced in the right quantities.
That’s where spinach comes in.
Serotonin and SSRIs
Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that’s strongly linked with feelings of happiness, contentment, and well-being. It’s no coincidence that the most widely prescribed anti-depressant medications are SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
They prevent serotonin from being re-absorbed into the presynaptic cell, meaning more of it is available to act on our brains. Essentially, these medications make it so that our brains use more of the serotonin that we produce. They are prescribed for mental health problems including social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic depression, eating disorders, and post-traumatic stress disorder.
A deficit of this single neurotransmitter is responsible for nearly all of the mental health afflictions that affect our lives.
Where Spinach Comes In
What does spinach have to do with all of this?
Well, 90% of the body’s total serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract. The health of your gut has a lot to do with the health of your mind. Serotonin is biochemically derived from a chemical called tryptophan, which is found in a variety of foods.
It’s tryptophan that makes you feel sleepy after eating turkey, although it’s also present in many other types of meat and proteins. And spinach is packed with tryptophan, meaning that the more of it you eat, the more of this chemical will be available to be converted into serotonin in your gastrointestinal tract.
Spinach is also high in folate, another nutrient that boosts the levels of serotonin in your brain.
So in many ways, this simple, leafy green is a natural antidepressant.
While SSRIs increase the amount of serotonin our brains use, spinach increases the amount that our gastrointestinal tract produces-so even if you’re already taking antidepressants, increasing your intake of spinach can do wonders to improve your mood. There are tons of other foods with similar effects.
Once you understand that the body and mind are inextricably linked, you can start to view your health holistically.
Research what you eat and look for foods that won’t just make you feel good while eating them, but for days afterward as well.