In today’s era, mental health is of utmost importance. One in every four people in the world experience at least one mental health condition in their lifetime. Nutrition psychiatry is a new and emerging field which shows an intelligent interrelationship between food and psychology. Researchers have found that poor nutrition is also one of the key factors of incidence of mental health problems. On the contrary, good nutrition helps in recovering from several mental health disorders such as trauma, depression, epilepsy and anxiety.
Talking about mental trauma, it is an emotional and physical response to a deeply stressful situation such as an accident or death. Healthy diet is extremely crucial after a traumatic experience as the body’s nutritional requirement increases. Trauma not only hampers mentally, but leave side effects on our gastro-intestinal tract as well because gut is also known as the second brain. It majorly impacts the micro biome living inside our J- shaped organ namely, stomach. With adequate nutrition therapy the primary and secondary effects of traumatic brain injury can be reduced and it may also help in improving the resilience of the controlling centre. Therefore, healthy eating helps in reversing the encephalitis caused by trauma.
The role of nutrition in healing from trauma:
1. Inclusion of Complex Carbohydrates
Are you the one who thinks that Carbohydrates are the diet evils? Do you also think that carbohydrates must be eliminated completely from our diet? Let’s just debunk this myth altogether. Scientifically, carbohydrates are the chief fuel for the body and mind. Glucose being the simplest form of carbohydrates is the main substrate for the brain. It depends on what type of and how much quantity of carbohydrates you are incorporating in your daily plate. Thus, for traumatic healing, a diet rich in complex carbohydrates must be preferred. Food sources of complex carbohydrates include whole wheat flour, grains, fruits, vegetables, legumes and pulses. On the other hand, refined carbohydrates must be eaten in controlled portions as it may lead to weight gain and obesity resulting in insulin resistance and dyslipidemia which can adversely affect the functioning of brain and in addition may aggravate the traumatic inflammation. Therefore, it is recommended to limit the intake of refined flour, sweetened beverages, and bakery and confectionery products during the brain injuries.
2. Omega 3 Fatty Acid
Omega 3 fatty acid plays a pivotal role in maintaining brain’s health because they assist in rebuilding of brain cells. Researchers have found that including healthy sources of fat decreases the risk of mortality in brain stroke and reduces the reoccurrence of it as well.
Omega 3 fatty acid has anti-inflammatory properties, thereby reducing the inflammation caused by stress during trauma. Furthermore, low consumption of omega 3 can lead to cognitive decline, depression and mood disorder. Therefore, food items like fish, fish oil, flax seeds, chia seeds, walnuts, soybeans, and almonds must be encouraged in the course of trauma. On the flip side, excess saturated and trans fats have dangerous impacts on the mind and body. Even excess of processed foods must be avoided as these can also be high in fat and sugars which is ultimately harmful for general wellbeing especially in the case of the mind disorders.
3. High Quality Proteins
This macronutrient nourishes our brain. They are the building blocks of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters, namely serotonin. Insufficient levels of serotonin can worsen the condition of traumatic patients. Protein keeps us satiated and including one portion of protein in every meal keeps our blood sugar levels at bay. Therefore, adequate protein intake in the form of pulses, nuts, seeds and eggs is required for one’s mood and helps in building the tissues that have been catabolised while suffering from trauma. Around 1-1.5g of protein per kg body weight can be recommended for the first two weeks after trauma injury. Branched chain amino acids (BCAA) are nutrients which cannot be synthesised by our human body.
However, BCAAs have a strong influence on the synthesis of brain neurotransmitters. They are largely effective in the patients dealing with encephalopathy, chronic liver diseases and condition like sepsis.
4. Protective Probiotics
Out gut carries trillions of bacteria which are principally helpful for our body and are called as Probiotics. Probiotics are those foods which are made up of good friendly bacteria and keep our gut strong. These friendly bacteria help in boosting and enhancing our immunity. Our gut is sensitive to stress. Therefore, patients dealing with trauma must consume a diet rich in probiotics to keep the gut in top shape. Food items such as curd, yogurt, buttermilk, probiotic drink and fermented foods such as Idli, Dosa must be incorporated in the diet of trauma patients.
5. Magical Turmeric
Turmeric is a traditional spice which has a protective effect on our body and mind. It consists of a bioactive compound namely, curcumin which is anti-inflammatory, antiviral and antibacterial. It is a powerful antioxidant as well. Researchers have found that inclusion of turmeric in our diet improves signs and symptoms that a trauma patient is dealing with as they stimulates the synthesis of essential growth factor in the brain. One can drink a glass of golden turmeric milk with a pinch of pepper before sleeping or sprinkle some in the tea.
6. Vitamins and Minerals
Oxidative stress has been associated with traumatic brain injury because the brain is prone to such stress as compared to other tissues. Therefore, Vitamin E and Ascorbic acid being powerful antioxidants play a key role in killing free radicals, hence reducing the oxidative stress. Foods such as citrus fruits, bell peppers, broccoli, and gooseberry are rich sources of Vitamin C. Studies have shown that a decrease in Vitamin D levels is correlated with increase in neurocognitive diseases like dementia. The micro mineral Zinc is responsible for boosting brain’s immunity and repairing its tissues mainly in post traumatic condition. Magnesium on the other hand enhances the cerebral blood flow and is involved in various enzymatic and homeostatic regulations of pathways involved in brain. Chickpeas, nuts and oilseeds, whole grains, green leafy vegetables, guava, banana, fish are decent sources of zinc and magnesium.
7. Limit Inflammatory foods
Unhealthy foods lead to inflammation and have been known to cause oxidative stress in our body. Foods like processed foods, junk foods, overdoing caffeine, refined foods and excess consumption of sugar has been associated with the risk of increasing inflammation which can take a toll on overall health and well being of the patient. A patient dealing with dramatic experiences must limit the intake of these unhealthy food options. Prioritizing healthy and natural alternatives will not only reduce the symptoms of shock but also helps in nourishing the mind and body.
Healing with trauma requires a patient to have adequate seven to eight hours of sleep as sound sleep enables nervous system to function well. It helps to concentrate, and analyse things in better manner. Exercise in one of the best medicine for brain as it improves mood and increases blood flow to the brain. Building social connections, indulging in meditation and sharing the feeling with a family member are some of the stress coping mechanisms that promote long term mental health.
The bottom line is that we must invest in modifying our overall lifestyle to combat any stressful traumatic health condition.
Authors of the above article are Dr. Vineet Chowdhary (Neuro-anesthesiologist) and Rakshita Mehra (Neurocritical Care and Clinical Dietician).