Thursday, September 6, 2018

The Gut-Brain Connection

However well the all-meat diet worked for Jordan Peterson and his daughter-- both of whom suffer from a form of autoimmune disease-- nutritionists see things differently. They do not recommend that any of the rest of us try such a one-note diet. Nutrition involves absorbing many different nutrients. Some are in meat; many are not.

Nutritionists have, for some time, been studying the relationship between diet and psychiatric illness, in particular, how it relates to depression and anxiety. They are careful to note that diet is more effective when combined with exercise and even therapy.

The Wall Street Journal has reported on the best ways to, as it says, “feed your head.” Those readers who are of a certain age will recognize the phrase from the Vietnam counterculture. It comes to us from a song by the Jefferson Airplane and refers to the ingestion of controlled substances, that is, drugs.

Hippies were not trying to attain to mental health. They were trying to have psychedelic visions. How our notion of mental health has changed....

Anyway, scientists have identified the nutrients that help manage depression and anxiety:

The paper names 12 nutrients key to managing depression and anxiety: folate (vitamin B9), iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine (vitamin B1), vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C and zinc. The foods richest in these include bivalves such as clams, mussels and oysters; leafy greens such as kale and spinach; wild salmon; organ meats; nuts; beans and seeds.

I will leave it to you to discern how appetizing that all seems. After all, as the old saying goes, de gustibus non est disputandum-- that is, there’s no arguing with taste.

Serious scientists have identified what they call a “gut-brain” connection and have shown how it helps managing your depression and anxiety:

Nutritional psychiatrists assert that the “gut-brain” connection is the crux of managing anxiety and depression for many. “The balance of good and bad bacteria in the gut is essential for mental health,” said Dr. Uma Naidoo, psychiatry instructor at Harvard Medical School, culinary instructor at Cambridge School of Culinary Arts and director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital. “An imbalance causes inflammation and an imbalance of the important hormones and neurotransmitters—melatonin and serotonin—in the brain.”

If you want to lower your anxiety, you should, we are told, eat fermented foods, which contain good bacteria and probiotics:

Eating fermented foods, according to Drs. Ramsey and Naidoo, brings “good bacteria,” aka probiotics, to the digestive system that help ease anxiety in the brain. This month, Mr. Bouley is introducing a menu with fermented foods at Bouley at Home. The menu includes ice cream made with koji (a fermenting agent used frequently in Japan), fermented foie gras and fermented mushrooms. Next year, he will publish a book, “Living Pantry,” that will document his work with doctors. He will also debut a Living Pantry website geared toward implementing the research in home kitchens.

Whatever the value of this research, it will inevitably feel like touchy-feeling silliness. Cultivate your own organic garden and return to the state of nature. If you don’t believe me, try out one of the recipes the Journal offers. I will spare you the recipe details but will merely share the name:

Pressure-Cooker Farro Grain Bowl With Cashew Cream, Summer Vegetables and Pickled Ginger Turmeric Dressing

It sounds like something that The Onion would have concocted.

If ever you should sit down to dinner and find that in front of you, you might just decide that it’s better to hold on to your anxiety and depression.


trigger warning said...

The weirder the food and the worse it tastes, the better it is alleged to be for you. Double points if it's "ancient" and "sustainably harvested" in a poverty-stricken developing country with open sewers where the common peasant would kill for a New York strip steak. Bonus points if it's "fair trade".

But inquiring minds want to know: is it still good for you if it's prepared by chefs guilty of cultural appropriation?

Sam L. said...

Fermented foods? Beer, beer, beer, beer! Haven't had one in years.

Ares Olympus said...

It does all look like a mess of opinions. Certainly autoimmune problems or allergies are necessarily unique to individuals and shouldn't tell anyone else what's best.

I think of Wendell Berry's "touchy-feely" advice from a 1989 essay "The Pleasure of Eating", found it here. Perhaps the "Slow food" movement takes up some of these suggestions?

At minimum I find Robert Lustig's anti-sugar advocacy most compelling. Our ancestors were not drinking 6-12 cokes per day while sitting 10 hours a day in office chairs to try to keep their energy up at work so they can go home and sit on the couch and fall a sleep in front of the TV. So far libertarians are okay with an explosion of diabetes on the grounds of personal freedom, but my ever rising health insurance premiums don't see fair on that accounting.