Dr. Rupali Chadha is a board certified, Johns Hopkins Hospital educated psychiatrist. She is fellowship trained in forensic psychiatry and specializes in the brain diseases of the criminally insane and serves as an expert witness in trials. Dr. Chadha is committed to mental wellness and she has a passion for total body health including nutrition and fitness and how the body, mind, and spirit come together to build a healthy human. She sat down with us to discuss the interplay of diet and nutrition on the mind.
myDoqter: Dr. Chadha, thank you for sharing your insights with us on diet and the mind. You have a special interest in nutrition, fitness, and their interplay with mental wellness and recently wrote an article on the diet and the mind for Physician Outlook magazine. So let’s talk about the mind body connection! We know that there is a direct connection between the mind and the skin; we can see easily see this in the form of emotional flushing and sweating.. What can you tell us about relationship between the gut and the mind?
Dr. Chadha: Well, ever have butterflies in your stomach? Or feel like you were going to vomit (or needed a bathroom run) when you got some bad news? We have more serotonin receptors and neurons in our gut than in our brain! So the gut and the mind are linked and now new studies even show missing bacteria in our gut play a role in depression and other mental disorders.
myDoqter: That’s very interesting. We are all familiar with selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI’s) to treat depression and other mood disorders, so it is fascinating that you note their high concentration in the gut. Since you brought up the benefits of missing bacteria in the gut, can you you explain the idea of the “microbiome”. For those of us who aren’t familiar with this concept, can you explain what the microbiome and “good bacteria” are?
Dr. Chadha: Our microbiome is simply our population of billions of bacteria that live in our gut! Some of those bacteria help us with digestion and even send needed signals to our body! These bacteria we call “good.” When they are lost or missing, they can impact mental and overall health.
myDoqter: And we are learning that the disruption of the “good bacteria” of the microbiome can promote inflammation of the gastro-intestinal tract and even systemic inflammation. What can you tell us regarding the role of inflammation with respect to the mind and conditions such as depression and anxiety?
Dr. Chadha: Inflammation is often linked to cortisol, which is our stress hormone. Cortisol responses change when one has depression or anxiety. To increase a sense or calm, decreasing cortisol and overall inflammation has a positive effect on one’s mood.
myDoqter: Ok, so we see that gut bacteria, GI inflammation, cortisol, and mood can all be tied together. This point to direct mechanisms linking the mind and diet. Is there something to the idea of anti-inflammatory diets and what do you consider an anti-inflammatory diet? What are benefits of vegan or vegetarian diets? What would you recommend for those who want to incorporate animal products in their diets?
Dr. Chadha: A vegan, not vegetarian, diet is anti-inflammatory. Vegetarians still eat a lot of animal proteins and those, especially from dairy, can cause inflammation all over our body. If one is not vegan or plant-based, they can help inflammation by eating a lot of plants which carry anti-oxidants to help reduce the harmful effects of inflammation and also help our gut foster healthy bacteria.
myDoqter: It is becoming more and more evident that food affects both mental and physical health. We’ve touched on several important mechanism of connection including the microbiome, inflammation, hormones such as cortisol, and direct neuropeptide links between the nervous system and the gut. This is surely an area of fascinating research and we appreciate you highlighting some of these important concepts.