Most of us know that our food plays a role in how our physical bodies function. But, did you know that the foods you eat can have a direct impact on how your brain works? We as PTs are in a unique position to discuss nutrition and its effects with our patients. Our patients can find serious improvements in their physical and mental well-being and function if you can empower them to take their nutrition seriously.
Our brains are very powerful organs, and as such they require a constant supply of high quality fuel. With the trends in the food industry over the last few decades, it is becoming easier and easier to eat a sufficient volume of food without getting the nutrients our brains and bodies need. Moreover, foods that are marketed as “health conscious” or “organic” can often miss the mark and mislead consumers to make them think they are getting higher quality fuel than they actually are. Studies comparing traditional diets like the Mediterranean and traditional Japanese diets to a typical “Western” diet have shown that the risk of depression is 25-35% lower in those more traditional diets. Results suggest this difference comes from the high amounts of processed and refined foods and sugars in traditional “Western” diets. Having discussions with our patients about the nutritional content of their diets, and how their decisions are likely affecting their brain and body, is a very important component in promoting health and preventing the progression of disease processes.
For example, did you know that roughly 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gastrointestinal tract? Low serotonin levels could be showing up in your patients in the form of depression, poor sleep, anxiety, and chronic pain. The balance of “good” and “bad” bacteria in the gut can drastically alter the amount of serotonin our bodies are producing. Studies on these gut bacteria have shown that people that take probiotics to promote the good bacteria in the gut, their anxiety levels, perception of stress, and mental outlook improve. The good bacteria in our gut can not only influence what we are able to digest, but it can also affect mood and energy levels, and this notion is gaining traction among researchers in the growing field of nutritional psychiatry. Educate yourself about the effects of nutrition on your patients’ bodies and brains, and help make positive changes in their lives! Here’s a great article out of Harvard discussing this in more detail and with some links to additional studies and reviews about nutrition and brain health.