6 Ways Functional Nutrition is Important to Mental Health

What is Functional Nutrition?

To learn what functional nutrition is, we need to first define what functional medicine is.

Functional medicine focuses on identifying and addressing the root causes of disease within the body, rather than just treating the symptoms. It views the body as a whole, by considering nutrition, environmental factors, lifestyle, genetics, and more to identify an individualized treatment plan that addresses health all the way to the root.

Therefore, functional nutrition is a component of functional medicine that focuses on using nutrition and dietary interventions to address underlying imbalances and promote optimal health. The foods we eat have a profound impact on our overall well-being. Functional nutrition leverages the power of nutrients to support the body’s natural healing processes.

How is Functional Nutrition important to Mental Health?

Functional nutrition plays a significant role in mental health in a number of ways, the most well-known being the gut-brain connection. However, all of the following can drastically influence overall mental and brain health:

  1. Blood Sugar Regulation: Imbalanced blood sugar levels can strongly contribute to mood swings and affect energy levels on a day-to-day and even hour-to-hour basis. Functional nutrition emphasizes balanced eating patterns that help regulate blood sugar levels, promoting stable mood and sustained energy. It also seeks out and resolves the root causes of dysregulated blood sugar and insulin resistance.
  2. Gut-Brain Connection: The gut and the brain are connected through a network of nerves, hormones, and biochemical signaling pathways, often referred to as the “gut-brain axis.” This two-way communication path is how gut health can influence cognitive and emotional well-being. Changes in the gut can influence brain function and vice versa. Functional nutrition aims to support a healthy gut environment, which in turn can positively impact mood, cognition, and emotional balance.
  3. Microbiome Symbiosis: In addition to the gut directly communicating with the brain, the gut is home to trillions of microorganisms collectively known as the gut microbiome. These microorganisms play a crucial role in digestion, immune response, and the production of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin– which plays a key role in regulating mood. Functional nutrition focuses on balancing the microbiota so that they are in a symbiotic state, or one that works with the body rather than against it.
  4. Nutrient Optimization: Nutrient deficiencies can affect brain function and mental health. Essential nutrients, such as omega-3 fatty acids, B vitamins, zinc, minerals, phytochemicals and antioxidants, are necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis, nerve function, cognitive function, and overall brain health. Functional nutrition ensures that individuals optimize nutrient-intake to support mental well-being.
  5. Inflammation & Stress: Chronic inflammation has been linked to depression and anxiety. Chronic stress can impact digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as contribute to inflammation. Chronic stress can also lead to an imbalance of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline, potentially contributing to anxiety and depression. Functional nutrition identifies and removes the root causes of stress, along with decreases inflammation in the body via diet and lifestyle to positively influence mood and cognitive function.
  6. Hormone Regulation: Speaking of hormones, hormonal imbalances such as those related to thyroid hormones or sex hormones like estrogen and testosterone, can contribute to mood disorders like depression and anxiety. Other hormones influence the gut-brain axis, neurotransmitter production, mood, etc. Functional nutrition focuses on identifying and resolving the root causes of hormone imbalances through diet and lifestyle factors.

Functional nutrition is a valuable tool for mental health, but it’s important to note that it’s not a standalone treatment for severe mental health disorders. It should complement, not replace, conventional mental health treatments when necessary. Consulting with qualified healthcare professionals, such as registered dietitians and mental health professionals, can help develop a well-rounded and effective approach to support mental well-being through nutrition and lifestyle.

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