As a naturopathic doctor, I often get asked what the best diet is. For such a straightforward question the answer is surprisingly complex. The simple answer is one that is organic, focuses on whole foods, is high in vegetables, and avoids inflammatory and processed foods. The more complex answer is, one that meets the individual medical, dietary, metabolic, lifestyle, and cultural needs of each person. So unfortunately one diet doesn’t fit all.
The best diet for you is one that meets your individual needs.
The good news is that when it comes to treating mental health conditions, we do often recommend one common dietary strategy in addition to the general recommendations listed above: the elimination of wheat and dairy. We recommend this because research shows a high correlation between mental health disorders and food sensitivities to casein (the major protein in dairy), and to gluten (the major protein in wheat).
A study done by the University of Florida published in Nutritional Neuroscience found high serum IgG antibodies to both gliadin (a component of gluten) and casein in the majority of the patients studied with diagnoses of either schizophrenia or autism. It was also found that removing gliadin and casein for 3 months significantly improved symptoms. This particular study showed that of the people diagnosed with schizophrenia, 86% had high antibody levels to gliadin, and 93% had high antibodies to casein! Of the patients diagnosed with autism, 87% had high antibodies to gliadin, and 90% had high antibodies to casein!
Similar studies have also shown a significant relationship between high levels of gliadin and casein antibodies and the onset and severity of Bipolar Disorder episodes. The level of casein antibodies in the body have also been correlated to the severity of manic episodes in these patients.
These findings suggest that there is an autoimmune component to the onset and severity of mental health conditions. Autoimmunity means that the immune system starts to attack our own cells as if they were invaders like a virus or bacteria. This includes cells of our nervous system, which can cause mental health symptoms. A contributing factor to your body making IgG antibodies is a leaky gut. Essentially, after years of eating low fiber and high sugar foods, the walls of your gut get weakened. A strong gut wall makes sure that only small, broken down particles from your food (like vitamins and minerals) get into your bloodstream, and big particles (like gluten and casein) don’t. When the gut wall is weak, big food particles escape into the blood. The body reacts to them and forms IgG antibodies.
Good gut health is essential for good overall health.
Good gut health is essential to proper immune health, and proper immune health is important for good mental health. When you think about it that way, it starts to make sense why these foods can contribute to a worsening of mental health symptoms. The good news is that making healthy diet changes is one of the best ways to positively impact your mental health. Cut out that wheat and dairy and you may just like the results!