Health experts warn that a lingering effect of the coronavirus pandemic could be a mental health crisis. While therapy and medications for stress and anxiety are often necessary, the foods you eat can also play a role in your well-being.
An American Psychiatric Association poll released in March found that 36% of Americans felt the existence of the COVID-19 pandemic was having a serious impact on their mental health. People were most worried about their finances, the risk of themselves or a family member contracting the virus, and the possibility of becoming seriously ill or dying.
All the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic has increased stress and anxiety, leading to a greater demand for prescriptions for (and some shortages of) antidepressant, anti-anxiety and anti-insomnia medications.
While it’s dangerous to treat food as a substitute for medicine, eating for your brain health can help ease the impact of anxiety, depression and even post-traumatic stress disorder, said Uma Naidoo, a nutritional psychiatrist and author of the new book “This Is Your Brain on Food.”
“During COVID-19 and whatever lies beyond this time, we anticipate a significant surge of these disorders, specifically anxiety, depression and stress,” she told HuffPost. “So food becomes one mechanism [to feel better], since we all have to eat.”
People already focus their diets on other health goals, such as weight loss or heart health. As the coronavirus continues to upend our lives, eating for mental health can be just as important.
The gut-brain connection
The gut has been called the “second brain.” And we recognize the link between the two even if we don’t realize it: You may feel “butterflies in your stomach” when you’re nervous or “go with your gut” when you make an important decision.
Naidoo said the two are connected physically and biochemically via the gut-brain axis, the complex communications network that links the emotional and cognitive centers of the brain...