Understanding the link between antioxidants and mental health

What you eat has a significant impact on your health, both physical and mental —…

Understanding the link between antioxidants and mental health

What you eat has a significant impact on your health, both physical and mental — is a fact well established. In a similar vein, turns out that an antioxidant-rich diet especially holds the key to improving mental health, something Dr Uma Naidoo, director of nutritional and lifestyle psychiatry at Massachusetts General Hospital, highlighted in an Instagram post recently.

“If you have been following me for some time, you likely know that I often emphasise the importance of consuming antioxidant-rich foods. But is there any evidence to support this recommendation?” she wrote, adding that antioxidant supplements indeed have shown to have a positive impact on depressive symptoms.

Citing the study ‘Protective role of antioxidant supplementation for depression and anxiety: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials’ that was published in the Journal of Affective Disorders, Dr Naidoo wrote, “Wand and colleagues recently performed a meta-analysis of 52 randomised controlled trials (4049 total participants) to investigate the relationship between various antioxidant supplements and depressive status. They found that the positive effects of antioxidant supplementation, such as [magnesium, zinc, selenium, CoQ10, tea, and coffee and crocin], on depressive status were all significant”.

Apart from depressive symptoms, antioxidants may also help alleviate anxiety. “The researchers also considered studies reporting changes in anxiety status as a secondary outcome and found that antioxidant supplementation also showed significant improvement in anxiety,” she continued.

Though the study focused on antioxidant rich supplements, Dr Naidoo advised to add antioxidant rich food items in your diet. “Though this study focused on antioxidant supplements, I always advise my patients to prioritise whole, nutrient, and antioxidant-rich foods over supplements. Supplements can be beneficial when and where necessary, but eating more whole foods is a great starting point. Some of my favourite antioxidant-rich foods include berries, leafy green vegetables, green tea, and spices like turmeric and black pepper,” she concluded.

How can antioxidants promote good mental health?

Antioxidants are molecules that help neutralise free radicals in the body, which are unstable molecules that can damage cells and contribute to the development of various diseases, including those that affect mental health.

“Antioxidants play a crucial role in reducing oxidative stress, which can cause damage to cells and contribute to various diseases, including mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety. By reducing oxidative stress and inflammation, antioxidants can not only help manage the symptoms but also regulate mood,” Dr Harini Atturu, Consultant – Psychiatry, CARE Hospitals, Hi-Tec City, Hyderabad, told indianexpress.com.

Understanding the link between antioxidants and mental health Antioxidants are substances that protect cells from damage caused by free radicals. (Pic source: Pixabay)

Reiterating the same, Dr Shivaram Rao K, consultant neuro physician, Yashoda Hospitals Hyderabad said that some studies have found that dietary antioxidants, such as vitamin C, vitamin E, and beta-carotene, may be beneficial for mental health. “For example, a 2017 study published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience found that vitamin C supplementation improved mood and reduced anxiety in a group of healthy young adults,” he added.

Dr Rao K, however, emphasised the need for more research to fully understand the relationship between antioxidants and mental health, and to determine the most effective ways to use antioxidants for this purpose.

How to add antioxidants to your diet?

There are many different ways to include antioxidants in your diet. Here are some tips by Dr Rao K:

1) Eat a variety of fruits and vegetables: Fruits and vegetables are some of the best sources of antioxidants. Aim to eat a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables every day, such as berries, leafy greens, tomatoes, and sweet potatoes.
2) Include nuts and seeds: Nuts and seeds are also good sources of antioxidants, as well as healthy fats and other nutrients. Try adding some almonds, walnuts, chia seeds, or flaxseeds to your meals or snacks.
3) Choose whole grains: Whole grains, such as brown rice, quinoa, and whole wheat bread, are also good sources of antioxidants. They also provide fiber, which is important for digestive health.
4) Drink tea: Green tea and black tea are both good sources of antioxidants. They also contain caffeine, which can provide a boost of energy.
5) Use herbs and spices: Many herbs and spices are high in antioxidants, such as turmeric, cinnamon, and oregano. Try adding these to your meals for extra flavor and nutrition.

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