Individuals who follow a poor diet are more likely to develop mental health conditions such as depression and anxiety compared to those on a healthy diet, latest evidence has revealed.

Research from the University of Reading, Roehampton University, FrieslandCampina and Kings College London has found that an unhealthy diet can trigger changes in the brain that can go on to cause poor mental health.

The first-of-its-kind study looked at the diets and brain chemistry and structures of 30 individuals.

Brain scans show that volunteers who adhere to a poor diet experienced more changes in their neurotransmitters and grey matter volume compared to those on a Mediterranean style diet – a typically healthy diet.

Changes triggered by poor-quality diet are associated with an increased risk of rumination – engaging in a repetitive negative thought process that loops continuously in the mind without end or completion.

An unhealthy diet reduces gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA) and elevated glutamate and grey matter volume in the frontal area of their brain, the study has reported.

Chief author Dr Piril Hepsomali, from the University of Reading, said: “We can eat ourselves well!

“Ultimately, we see that people who have an unhealthy diet – high in sugar and saturated fat – have imbalanced excitatory and inhibitory neurotransmission, as well as reduced volume of grey matter in the frontal part of the brain. This part of the brain is involved in mental health issues such as depression and anxiety.”

According to the research study, a poor-quality diet can also make blood glucose and insulin higher.

Additionally, it has shown that a diet high in fat and cholesterol can trigger alterations in cell membranes that change the release of neurotransmitters.

Dr Hepsomali said: “I would like to note that GABA and glutamate are intimately involved in appetite and food intake, too.

“Reduced GABA and/or increased glutamate might also be a driving factor in making unhealthy food choices.”

Dr Hepsomali added: “So, there may be a circular relationship between eating well, having a healthier brain and better mental wellbeing, and making better food choices to eat well.”

Read the full study in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience.

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