Most people are aware of the debilitating world of PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), symptoms of which range from flashbacks to nightmares, hypervigilance, intense fear and distress. As its name suggests, PTSD is a mental health condition triggered by experiencing or witnessing a terrifying event – consequential feelings of which continue to stay within one’s mind long after the traumatic event.
PTSD has the potential to disrupt every facet of a person’s life; it can erode occupational functioning, place a strain on relationships and can ultimately ruin your physical health. Anyone who has experienced a traumatic event will undoubtedly have reactions like fear, shock, anger, anxiety or even guilt. But for a person with PTSD, these feelings continue to get a foothold and find more depth, often becoming so intense that it prevents the person from leading a regular life, if not treated.
What are some PTSD treatments?
One of the most common and evidence-based treatments to overcome PTSD is Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT). CBT is a psychological approach which focuses on the relationship between feelings, thoughts and behaviours. CBT therapists use a variety of methods and techniques to help their clients challenge unusual behaviour and thinking patterns. However this isn’t always a treatment that everyone can undergo; there are cases when people feel a resistance to seek therapy, or their symptoms of PTSD are so severe that they remain confined to their homes.
The other most common evidence-based treatment approach for PTSD is medicine. Although there aren’t any medications that entirely cure this condition, there are a few used to alleviate symptoms of stress or depression, which work by changing the levels of brain chemicals.
These current PTSD treatments are necessary, and can work, but are just not enough.
PTSD treatment and diet: are you eating right?
If you’ve ever been angry or depressed then you know that your emotions can strongly affect your appetite. Depending on the intensity of what you’re feeling you can end up eating more or even less in some situations. Letting our emotions dictate our eating can have dire consequences for our physical and emotional health. Maintaining a healthy, nutritional diet is essential to treat PTSD. Food has only recently been considered a possible treatment option for mental health conditions and disorders. After all, you are what you eat.
Firstly, diet is extensively used to help with PTSD.
In most cases, PTSD patients with mental health disorders don’t have an optimal diet. For example, a large study indicated a link between significantly lower fruit and vegetable consumption with distress levels. Furthermore, previous research has linked depression and anxiety with unhealthy dietary patterns. PTSD is also associated with stress-related eating disorders, emotional eating and poor diet quality.
Secondly, people with PTSD have an increased risk for poor physical health,
Including conditions like metabolic syndrome, cardiovascular disease and diabetes. Mental and physical health are mostly always interrelated and tend to aggravate each other, we need proper dietary approaches to address the psychological as well as the physical symptoms of PTSD.
Thirdly, diet has the potential to influence biological mechanisms underlying PTSD.
PTSD involves inflammation, brain chemical irregularities, oxidative stress, gut microbiome dysbiosis and mitochondrial dysfunction. Studies show that the Mediterranean diet has proven to have a significant positive influence on each of these mechanisms.
Studies have shown that there are specific foods that may reduce different symptoms of PTSD. The five foods mentioned below may help relieve PTSD to some extent.
- Blueberries – Research studies at Louisiana State University found that blueberries were able to lower PTSD symptoms in rats. Blueberries can effectively bring relief from PTSD by increasing levels of serotonin in the brain and therefore elevating the mood of a person.
- Cheese and Milk – Dairy products are rich in an amino acid called tyrosine. Tyrosine triggers the production of dopamine, epinephrine and nor-epinephrine which increase the levels of energy and alertness in the body.
- Chamomile Tea – Chamomile tea has properties to help fight stress. It has a soothing and calming effect on people who frequently experience agitation, irritation, mood swings and depression.
- Walnuts – Walnuts are rich in Omega-3 fatty acids. People who are deficient in fatty acids, often report pessimism, depressive symptoms and impulsive behaviour, similar to PTSD.
- Green Vegetables – Green vegetables like kale and spinach are rich in folic acid. Their deficiency can cause depression, especially in men.
Despite excellent reasons to consider diet as an approach to improve symptoms of PTSD, research on this had pretty much been non-existent – up until now. Researchers are developing a clinical trial which will explore the role of diet in the treatment of PTSD.
What are some tips for eating a diet that’s good for your mental health?
The best advice for those who are suffering from PTSD is to try and follow a diet that is good for mental health. Here are a few simple steps to follow in order to manage your mental health via diet:
- Follow ‘traditional’ dietary patterns, like the Mediterranean, Norwegian, or Japanese diet
- Increase your intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, whole grains, nuts, and seeds
- Limit your ultra-processed foods intake
- Eat wholesome, nutritious food for every meal and snack
- Start small with sustainable changes
Patients of PTSD need special care, expert advice, counselling and guided mental health support. However, lifestyle and dietary changes can also go a long way in significantly aiding treatment of this disorder.
When you do not give your brain the fuel it needs, it shuts down systems that consume large amounts of energy. Without glucose, your brain can not access the higher systems it needs to function; so by default the lower brain structures run the show, creating chaos! PTSD patients can help their brain process more effectively and efficiently by eating well, through following a balanced and scheduled program.