Which Foods are Best for Mental Well-Being?

Meat, fruits, and vegetables – studies have suggested that these foods have the potential to boost mood and mental health. But which are best? Well, according to new research, the effects of specific foods on psychological well-being are highly dependent on a person’s age.
Food representation of the human brain

The effect of diet on mental health may be influenced by age, researchers suggest.

Researchers from the State University of New York at Binghamton have found that certain foods affect the mood and mental wellness of young adults differently to that of older adults, and vice versa.

Study co-author Lina Begdache, who is an assistant professor of health and wellness studies at Binghamton, and colleagues believe that their findings may help individuals to make food choices that benefit their mental well-being.

The team recently reported their results in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

In recent years, researchers have established that what we eat can have a significant impact on our mental health. A study reported by Medical News Today earlier this year, for example, suggested that increasing the intake of fruits and vegetables can improve psychological well-being in just 2 weeks, while other research has suggested a link between red meat intake and reduced risk of depression.

It is believed that such benefits are down to how certain foods modify our brain chemistry, which can affect psychological health. But Begdache and colleagues make an important point: the structure of our brains is not the same throughout our entire lifespan.

As the researchers note, “Brain maturation may not complete until the age of 30, which may explain the differential emotional control, mindset, and resilience between young adults and matured adults.”

“As a result, dietary factors may influence mental health differently in these two populations.”

To find out whether or not this is the case, the scientists used social media platforms to send out an online Food-Mood Questionnaire (FMQ). Respondents were divided into two groups: young adults (aged 18–29) and mature adults (aged 30 or older).

Red meat, poultry beneficial for young adults

Using the FMQ data, Begdache and colleagues looked at the link between diet, exercise, and mental distress in both groups.

They found that a higher intake of poultry and red meat — which both increase levels of mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, including serotonin and dopamine — was associated with better mood and mental health in young adults, but not mature adults.

“Regular exercise leads to a build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well,” notes Begdache. “In other words, young adults who ate meat (red or white) less than three times a week and exercised less than three times week showed a significant mental distress.”

Age ‘may necessitate dietary adjustments’

The scientists also found that abstaining from foods and beverages that activate the “fight-or-flight” response, or the stress response — such as coffee and carbohydrate-rich foods — was associated with better mental health in mature adults.

“[…] our ability to regulate stress decreases [with aging], so if we consume food that activates the stress response, we are more likely to experience mental distress,” says Begdache.

Overall, the researchers believe that their results indicate that a person’s age influences the effects of diet on psychological well-being.

The authors conclude:

Level of brain maturation and age-related changes in brain morphology and functions may necessitate dietary adjustments for improving mental well-being.”

The team now plans to investigate whether or not the dietary effects of food on mental health vary by sex, given that men and women have differences in brain structure.

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Eight Potential Health Benefits of Kombucha

Kombucha is a sweet, fizzy drink made of yeast, sugar, and fermented tea. It has a number of potential health benefits, including gut health and liver function.

This article explores eight potential health benefits of kombucha and looks at the research that supports them.

What is kombucha?

A jar of raw kombucha fermented drink, on a wooden table with chopped up lemon and a stem of ginger.
Kombucha is a fermented drink that is popular for its purported health benefits.

To make kombucha, sweetened green or black tea is fermented with a symbiotic colony of bacteria and yeast, otherwise known as a SCOBY.

During the fermentation process, the yeast in the SCOBY breaks down the sugar in the tea and releases probiotic bacteria.

Kombucha becomes carbonated after fermentation, which is why the drink is fizzy.

Potential health benefits

There is a range of potential health benefits of kombucha, including:

1. Gut health

As this 2014 study confirms, the fermentation process of kombucha means that the drink is rich in probiotics. Probiotic bacteria are similar to healthful bacteria that are found in the gut.

Consuming probiotics may improve overall gut health. Probiotic bacteria have been found to help treat diarrhea, and some research suggests they may help ease irritable bowel syndrome(IBS).

More research is needed into how kombucha improves gut health, but the link between probiotics and gut health suggests it may support the digestive system.

The link between healthy bacteria in the digestive system and immune function is becoming clearer as more studies focus on gut health. If the probiotics in kombucha improve gut health, they may also strengthen the immune system.

2. Cancer risk

There is growing evidence to suggest drinking kombucha could help reduce the risk of cancer.

2008 study found that kombucha helped prevent the growth of cancer cells. Further research in 2013 found that kombucha decreased the survival of cancer cells. Both studies suggest kombucha could play a role in treating or preventing cancer.

It is important to note that these studies looked at the effects of kombucha on cancer cells in a test tube. More research is needed to see if people who drink kombucha have a reduced risk of developing cancer.

3. Infection risk

A type of acid called acetic acid, also found in vinegar, is produced when kombucha is fermented.

study carried out in 2000 found that kombucha was able to kill microbes and help fight a range of bacteria. This suggests that it may help prevent infections by killing the bacteria that cause them before they are absorbed by the body.

4. Mental health

Young smiling woman drinking fruit juice ice tea.
The probiotics in kombucha are thought to have the ability to treat depression.

There may be a link between probiotics and depression, suggesting that drinking probiotic-rich kombucha could help promote positive mental health.

There are strong links between depression and inflammation so the anti-inflammatory effect of kombucha may help alleviate some of the symptoms of depression.

2017 review looked at a number of existing studies and concluded that there is strong evidence that probiotics may help treat depression. However, further research is needed to prove how effective they are.

5. Heart disease

Levels of certain types of cholesterol increase the risk of heart disease. Studies in 2012 and 2015 found that kombucha helps to reduce levels of the cholesterol linked to heart disease. Cholesterol levels and heart disease are also influenced by diet, exercise, weight, lifestyle habits, and inflammation. However, the research cited here suggests drinking kombucha may help reduce the risk of heart disease.

At the same time, it is important to note that these studies were in rats. More research is needed to prove that kombucha reduces the risk of heart disease in humans.

6. Weight loss

When kombucha is made with green tea, it may aid weight loss. A 2008 study found that obese people who took green tea extract burned more calories and lost more weight than those who did not.

If kombucha is made with green tea, it follows that it could have a similarly positive effect on weight loss.

Again, researchers need to look at kombucha and weight loss specifically before this is certain.

7. Liver health

Kombucha contains antioxidants that help fight molecules in the body that can damage cells.

Some studies, the most recent being in 2011, have found that the antioxidant-rich kombucha reduces toxins in the liver. This suggests that kombucha may play an important role in promoting liver health and reducing liver inflammation.

However, studies to date have looked at rats and more research is needed to say with certainty how kombucha can support liver health in humans.

8. Type 2 diabetes management

Kombucha tea in iced bottles, with fruit segments fermenting.
Kombucha may help to stabilize blood sugar levels and aid in the management of diabetes.

Kombucha may also be helpful in managing type 2 diabetes.

2012 study found that kombucha helped to manage blood sugar levels in rats with diabetes. This finding suggests it may be helpful in type 2 diabetes management.

Again, more research is needed to say with certainty whether kombucha can have the same benefits in type 2 diabetes management for humans.

Are there any risks?

It is important to be careful when making kombucha at home, as it can ferment for too long. It is also possible for kombucha to become contaminated when not made in a sterile environment.

Over-fermentation or contamination may cause health problems so it may be safer to buy kombucha in a store than to make it at home.

Store-bought kombucha normally has a lower alcohol content than homemade versions, but it is important to check the sugar content.

There are many potential health benefits of kombucha. However, it is important to remember that research is ongoing and not all benefits have been proven in studies with human participants.

If made properly or bought in-store, kombucha is a probiotic-rich drink that is safe to enjoy as part of a healthful diet.