The pandemic has greatly challenged our mental health as a nation with one in five adults reporting having experienced depressive symptoms in the last quarter.
While it is widely accepted that our thinking influences our mental and emotional wellbeing, what most people don’t realise is that there are biological factors that can influence our mind states as well. People tend to forget that the brain and the body are intrinsically linked. Dysfunction in the one leads to dysfunction in the other. This is beautifully demonstrated by the numerous studies linking underlying medical conditions such as low cholesterol or anaemia and nutrient deficiencies such as folic acid to depression and low mood.
Certain genetic variants may also increase our vulnerability to developing a mental health condition, although no gene variant can predict with certainty that a person will develop a mental disorder. There are at least 30 genes that have been shown to have significant associations with key mental health disorders including:
Neurodegenerative disorders – mild cognitive decline and late-onset Alzheimer’s disease
Mood disorders – Depressive disorder, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder
Addictive behaviour – Risk for alcohol, nicotine, cannabis and opioid dependence, psychosis response from cannabis use, eating disorders (binge eating) and ‘adrenaline seeking’/risk-taking behaviour
The foods we eat and the lifestyle choices we make have a strong influence on the biochemistry of the brain, affecting both the neurotransmitter balance as well as the stability of the genes involved in mood and mental wellbeing. As we continue to navigate through times of uncertainty, those struggling with mood disorders may find it helpful to holistically address their mental health and wellbeing - integrating medical, nutritional and genetic support strategies with traditional psychological and talking therapies for best results.