How Chemicals in Our Diet Affect Our Mental Health

Most consumers realize that what kind of food they eat affects their physical health. Fewer people give much thought to the fact that eating habits can also affect mental health. However, scientists have recently begun to uncover an insidious connection between the chemicals found in food and recent increases in serious mental health disorders.

Diet and Depression

The National Institute of Mental Health estimates that over 17 million American adults have suffered at least one major depressive episode. The connection between depression and brain chemistry has long been accepted in scientific communities, but it is only recently that researchers have begun to evaluate how what people eat might be affecting depression. Turns out, there’s definitely a connection.

What people eat affects their gut microbiomes, meaning the beneficial bacteria that aide in digestion. Certain foods, including chemical-laden processed goods, kill off those beneficial bacteria, but it doesn’t just cause digestive problems. According to researchers with the Flemish Gut Flora Project, it also affects mental health.

The researchers studied the gut microbiomes of over 1,000 participants and correlated the concentrations of different microbes with quality of life and incidences of depression. What they found was that people with depression had consistently lower levels of two bacterial groups, Coproccus and Dialister, than happy people.

The Pesticide Problem

One 2014 study performed by the National Institute of Health further illuminated the problem by uncovering a connection between the pesticides in food produced with conventional agriculture and mental health. They studied 84,000 farmers and their spouses over the course of 20 years, documenting which pesticides they used and what physical and mental health problems they developed. What the study found was that the use of organochlorine insecticides and fumigants increased the farmers’ depression risk by between 80 and 90%.

Since then, over a dozen further studies have shown that it isn’t just farmers who suffer when these chemicals are used in food production. Even low-level of exposure can impair cognitive function, meaning that consumers of non-organic foods are also at risk.

Pesticides and the Endocrine System

The body’s gut microbiome isn’t the only thing that suffers when exposed to chemical pesticides. Ingesting chemicals, even in very small doses, also disrupts the endocrine system, responsible for hormone regulation. More specifically, 30 out of 37 tested brands of pesticides either increased or decreased levels of the male hormone androgen.

The EPA now runs a program called the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program. The program has tested over 200 chemicals found in both food and drinking water to determine their effects on the endocrine system. However, the program does not ban those pesticides and other chemicals that disrupt hormone regulation. It only offers information about their risks, leaving consumers to make the decision as to whether it’s worth the risk for themselves.

The Bottom Line

Just a few decades ago, those few nutritionists, doctors, and scientists who pointed out the potential dangers of non-organic food to mental health were considered a fringe movement. Today, research is supporting their ideas and more people than ever are going organic. Anyone who suffers from depression should absolutely consider getting their gut microbiomes back in balance by making the switch to organic, pesticide-free food.

Marvelous Mutitasking Myth

Multitasking. This subject creates debate whenever I mention it. People overestimate their power to multitask. Almost everyone is familiar with the term multitasker. Who among us has heard of a mono-tasker?

In a society that values productivity, multitasking has become a badge of honor. The neuroscience does not lie and a mere 2.5 % of us are able to do this effectively. I have known for decades that I am not one of the gifted 2.5 %.

In my profession, I offer up assignments, tasks and exercises for clients to do between sessions to further their goals. When in person, I write these down on note cards. Try as I have, it is impossible for me to write and talk simultaneously. I have said the word I meant to write and written the word I meant to say.

The distraction that attempted multitasking causes is the reason texting and driving is outlawed in many states; it compromises safe driving. These driving regulations are based on science and statistics.

Think you can multitask? Find out. Take this short quiz devised by advisor and coach Avik Chandra.’t-work/

Spoiler alert! I failed.

Task switching, a science word for multitasking, is detrimental to our productivity and our brains. The truth is that if you try to task switch throughout the day, a loss of up to 40% efficiency is the price you pay.

When did the word multitasking make it’s debut? I was curious and my friend google helped me. In 1965, when IBM was singing a new computer’s praises, this word was coined. This term was never even meant to be applied to human beings.

There is one possible exception where we can do two things at once. Research has discovered that if you are doing a physical task that you have done many times and are good at, you can pair that physical task with a mental task. Mental tasks require concentration and the specific physical task has become automatic. This is why I can talk to a sweet friend on the phone while we are both preparing dinner and not lop off a finger.

A client and I were talking about this recently. We must use our powers of discernment to know which we can do together. She can do laundry as she listens to a work webinar and neither task will suffer. She is less confident about her ability to have a coaching call with me and check important emails at the same time.

One way to combat this culture of trying to do two things at once, is to identify our one most important work priority of the day. We can singularly focus on that and make all else secondary. After that, we can pick the next important one. This blog post is my task of the night. After this is done, I can choose another.

A wonderful friend whose son suffered a terrible brain injury and was touch and go for many days, did survive and is thriving. My friend tells me the only thing that her son lost was his uncanny ability to concentrate when several noisy things were happening together. Now, he must have quiet and less background noise to focus well. Given all the ways he could have suffered permanent brain damage, this is a blessing.

Focus on the task at hand
For you are not a one man band
You will increase productivity
Live it, do it, you will see

The Wild Winds of a Well Worn Life

My adventure buddy and I are sharing a fitness challenge for 2020. An accountability partner makes the task more fun and successful. We are more likely to let ourselves down than another.

So, in the spirit of starting a new fitness routine, there are several forms of exercise I choose from. One, is taking my aging and blind yet young at heart dog for a three mile walk. This walk is part nature preserve and part neighborhood, nicknamed the Darth loop.

We had been in the lull of a three day winter storm and I checked and double checked my weather app to make sure it was not too harsh for my 11 pounder. Wind speed 13 miles an hour. Temp- low 30s. We have both endured walks with worse weather than this. Let’s go!

The first part of the journey was in an unsheltered wide open field where the wind can be other level strong. But it was not. Until it was.

When we reached the wooden bridge, the wind picked up. Still seemed doable. Instead of the three mile loop I made the decision to switch to the two mile one. Okay. Done.

Bad choice. As we continued, the wind picked up velocity and blew us about. Because of the mixture of snow and rain, deep puddles on the path resembled mini lakes with whitecaps. Then, the temperature dropped severely. My face became raw and wind burned. Darth did not stop to take his 100 territory marking sessions. That was something new. It now felt a version of the arctic tundra.

The wet path started to freeze so I slipped and lost my footing several times so I moved us to the ice crusted grass. I alternated carrying the dog with having him walk to keep his blood flowing. We were a good mile away from home.

That was a long and miserable mile. There was no speeding it up as the wind seemed to blow from all directions and the ground was too slick to run.

This is an analogy for very tough times. I often speak about the power of positivity. Yet, there are times when positivity won’t cut it and we simply must endure. In any way we can.

Winston Churchhill has been credited with the quote, “If you are going through hell, just keep going.”

And for Darth and I, there was no other option. Freezing up in this case could result in our potential freezing.

Sometimes all we can do is take one little step forward followed by another little step forward. And eventually, we will get to a new and better destination.

For us, it was a warm house where it took me hours to feel warm again. Thankfully, very short lived.

For some, it could be getting through a tough loss like a death or a divorce. A health crisis that is like nothing we have ever experienced. Seeing a loved one struggle with mental illness or addiction and feeling powerless. No amount of positive words seem to ease the tremendous burden and ache.

We do have a singular choice. And that is to keep going. Bit by bit often with no grand plan.

The winds of change swirl and freeze
When we prefer a mind at ease
Find the strength to move ahead
Even with a sense of dread
At some point, no one can know
The sun will come out, the wind will slow

Close Menu