How to eat and what to take to support mental health
By Cliff Harvey PhD
Mental health is a topic near and dear to me. Part of the crazy complexity that is ‘Cliff’ is Bipolar Disorder Type 2. I struggled with depression through much of most of my teen years and through various times in the last twenty or so years. I’ve also been the beneficiary of hyper-productivity brought on by the ‘hypomania’ that is part and parcel of BP2 (next time you ask “how do you manage to do so much stuff!?”)
But it hasn’t always been pleasant, and particularly for those around me, who can end up, through no fault of their own, being the victims of my sullen moods and withdrawal.
So, learning more about mental health has also been a big part of my journey in nutrition, practice, and research. Honestly, I think without the ‘base’ that healthy habits provide, I’d be a mess 😉
The Basics: Eat, move, and be mindful.
So often, we want a ‘magic pill’ to take care of our problems. Well, I got bad news for ya kid…there ain’t no magic pill. BUT…there are relatively simple solutions.
Yeah yeah, I know you already eat. But do you eat like an adult? Eating like an adult means to eat a diet that contains mostly (80% +) natural, whole, unprocessed foods. There is an association between excessive sugar intake and refined and processed foods and reduced mood. Not to mention that a nutrient-dense diet supplies all the micronutrients that help your body to ya’know actually do stuff with the big guys (protein, fat, and carbs). There is also some evidence that reducing intake of sugar and simple carbohydrates (dependent on the individual) may be beneficial in the long-term control of negative moods in some people.
Just move. If you’re not currently exercising at least 3 days of the week, then start. I don’t care what you do, just get up and move and do something for at least 20 min on at least 3 days of the week. Once you’re into the habit of moving, you can fine-tune to incorporate the most effective forms of exercise for you.
The benefits of mindfulness are HUGE. Mindfulness meditation is one of the best ways to become more aware of your internal stuff, to let go of attachments to negative shit, and to begin to notice those moments when you’re reacting to things that happen, in ways that aren’t serving you usually due to your negative and self-limiting belief patterns). There are a lot of apps available to help you get into meditation. Calm, Pacifica, and Head Space are all popular options. There is also a simple meditation guide in my book Time Rich Cash Optional: An unconventional guide to happiness.
There are a few supplements that I like to take to help me to be more resilient and to improve my mental health (especially in the face of a little too much work!)
A good multi
While a multi is never a substitute for good eating and food always comes first, a multi- can help to provide some of the things that we may habitually, or occasionally lack for optimal health and performance.
Multi nutrients improve mortality outcomes overall,1, 2 and they can also reduce perceived stress,3 improve sleep,4 improve memory and cognition.5 Overall, multis are a safe and effective way to ensure a healthy intake of essential and beneficial nutrients.6
My pick: Good Green Vitality by Nuzest – 1 scoop in the morning
Fish oil supplementation is likely to be generally cardioprotective and improves markers of cardiometabolic health.7-11 It could also help your joints!12 Overall, fish oil helps the body to get enough of crucial omega-3 fats that help to modulate inflammation and immunity, and as an added bonus for mental health, fish oil is likely to help depression too.13, 14
My pick: Melrose Fish Oil - 1-2 tsp a day
As we move into winter, it’s easy for us to begin to become insufficient in Vitamin D. This is a cause of ‘seasonal affective disorder’ a type of depressive mood disorder that around 25% of people might suffer from (often without a diagnosis).
My favourite boosters!
While the supplements above provide the ‘base’ to support your overall mental health, I have a few tricks that I like to use to go from good to great!
This super ‘shroom helps to reduce perceived exertion, rebuilds neurons, helps protect your brain, and research shows that it can help to reduce depression. [See my article on why Lion’s Mane is my favourite ‘shroom’ here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/why-lions-mane-17984127
I love MCTs too. They are a special type of fat (oil) that bypasses the normal route of digestion, going straight to your liver to be converted into ketones a type of fuel that your brain and body can use very effectively. So, they help to fuel the brain and also have cool effects like reducing anxiety and inflammation. Check out more about MCTs here: https://www.patreon.com/posts/all-about-mcts-2-15413353
And how to take them: https://www.patreon.com/posts/all-about-mcts-3-15413449
Ketones provide…ketones! So, like MCTs, they help the body and brain to be fuelled (without the need for sugar) and have interesting benefits for improvement of mood, reduced anxiety and depression, and reduced inflammation. But unlike MCTs ketone supplements provide the ketones directly to the body without needing conversion. So, ketones can provide a ‘boost’ on top of your own internal creation of ketones.
My pick: Keto Max by Pruvit (click here for more info)
- Huang H-Y, Caballero B, Chang S, Alberg AJ, Semba RD, Schneyer CR, et al. The Efficacy and Safety of Multivitamin and Mineral Supplement Use To Prevent Cancer and Chronic Disease in Adults: A Systematic Review for a National Institutes of Health State-of-the-Science Conference. Annals of Internal Medicine. 2006;145(5):372-85.
- Alexander DD, Weed DL, Chang ET, Miller PE, Mohamed MA, Elkayam L. A Systematic Review of Multivitamin–Multimineral Use and Cardiovascular Disease and Cancer Incidence and Total Mortality. Journal of the American College of Nutrition. 2013;32(5):339-54.
- Macpherson H, Rowsell R, Cox KHM, Scholey A, Pipingas A. Acute mood but not cognitive improvements following administration of a single multivitamin and mineral supplement in healthy women aged 50 and above: a randomised controlled trial. AGE. 2015;37(3):1-10.
- Sarris J, Cox KHM, Camfield DA, Scholey A, Stough C, Fogg E, et al. Participant experiences from chronic administration of a multivitamin versus placebo on subjective health and wellbeing: a double-blind qualitative analysis of a randomised controlled trial. Nutrition Journal. 2012;11(1):1-10.
- Harris E, Macpherson H, Vitetta L, Kirk J, Sali A, Pipingas A. Effects of a multivitamin, mineral and herbal supplement on cognition and blood biomarkers in older men: a randomised, placebo-controlled trial. Human Psychopharmacology: Clinical and Experimental. 2012;27(4):370-7.
- Biesalski HK, Tinz J. Multivitamin/mineral supplements: rationale and safety – A systematic review. Nutrition.
- Delgado-Lista J, Perez-Martinez P, Lopez-Miranda J, Perez-Jimenez F. Long chain omega-3 fatty acids and cardiovascular disease: a systematic review. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;107(SupplementS2):S201-S13.
- Montori VM, Farmer A, Wollan PC, Dinneen SF. Fish oil supplementation in type 2 diabetes: a quantitative systematic review. Diabetes Care. 2000;23(9):1407-15.
- Eslick GD, Howe PRC, Smith C, Priest R, Bensoussan A. Benefits of fish oil supplementation in hyperlipidemia: a systematic review and meta-analysis. International Journal of Cardiology. 2009;136(1):4-16.
- Balk EM, Lichtenstein AH, Chung M, Kupelnick B, Chew P, Lau J. Effects of omega-3 fatty acids on serum markers of cardiovascular disease risk: A systematic review. Atherosclerosis. 2006;189(1):19-30.
- Campbell F, Dickinson HO, Critchley JA, Ford GA, Bradburn M. A systematic review of fish-oil supplements for the prevention and treatment of hypertension. European Journal of Preventive Cardiology. 2013;20(1):107-20.
- Miles EA, Calder PC. Influence of marine n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids on immune function and a systematic review of their effects on clinical outcomes in rheumatoid arthritis. British Journal of Nutrition. 2012;107(SupplementS2):S171-S84.
- Appleton KM, Rogers PJ, Ness AR. Updated systematic review and meta-analysis of the effects of n−3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2010.
- Appleton KM, Hayward RC, Gunnell D, Peters TJ, Rogers PJ, Kessler D, et al. Effects of n–3 long-chain polyunsaturated fatty acids on depressed mood: systematic review of published trials. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 2006;84(6):1308-16.