When we think of keeping ourselves mentally balanced and happy, we typically imagine psychologist and psychiatrist offices with their long leather couches and walls of hardcover Freudian books, or group therapy sessions with circled chairs and chants of “woosaaahhh.” Some think of books full of helpful information such as I’ve Decided to Live 120 Years by Ilchi Lee. Others may think of more holistic practices like meditation, yoga, and breathing techniques. It is true that these all play a role in a healthy mental state, but there is one category that people often overlook in the quest for a balanced state of mind and it is showing in today’s society more than ever: nutrition.
Yes, what you put into your mouth has a major impact on your mental health and with our modern western diet severely lacking in key nutrients that keep our mind healthy, it is no surprise that mental diseases like dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, and anxiety and depression are all on the rise. There are many key nutrients that tango together like a mid-19th century Argentinian ballroom in order to keep our brains ticking to the beat and one of the most crucial of these is cholesterol. Sadly, we have been waging war for decades against our mental allies.
The CDC states that one in six adults will suffer from depression at some point in their life. It estimates that 16 million American adults are affected by the disease every year, and anxiety typically goes hand in hand with depression. Additionally, the Alzheimer’s Association states that currently one in three seniors dies with Alzheimer’s or some other form of dementia. They also estimate that Alzheimer’s disease occurrence will grow from 5 million in 2015 to 16 million in 2050. So we have a growing epidemic on our hands.
When cholesterol was first declared the enemy, researchers saw that cholesterol collects in the arteries of the heart leading to reduced circulation in the heart, which leads to an increased risk for heart disease. The natural response to this was the recommendation of a reduction in dietary cholesterol. Not only that, previously acceptable cholesterol blood levels were reduced, and statin medications became a very common prescription. So common in fact that according to the CDC, 28 percent of American men and women over the age of 40 take statin medication to reduce cholesterol.
But in the battle to save you from heart disease, physicians may have thrown the baby out with the bath water. What they didn’t know until recently is that cholesterol only serves as a patch for damage to the arterial walls done by underlying inflammation, so the cholesterol in your arteries isn’t the underlying cause of heart disease. It’s your body’s attempt to repair the damage.
Not only that, cholesterol is very important to the brain and nervous system, where it serves important functions such as the synthesis of hormones like progesterone, estrogen, cortisol, and testosterone, acts as an antioxidant, and serves as a building block in cell membranes. In fact, 25 percent of the mass of the brain is cholesterol and 25 percent of the cholesterol in the body is in the brain. So cutting all of this cholesterol can have some serious health impacts. And it has . . .
The Alzheimer’s Association states that “since 2000, deaths from heart disease have decreased by 14 percent while deaths from Alzheimer’s disease have increased by 89 percent.” That’s a pretty big number. Moreover, incidences of depression and anxiety have also been on the rise.
Putting fats and cholesterol back into your diet won’t only have benefits for your taste buds and keep you full longer, but will keep you mentally sharp and emotionally happy going into your old age. Cholesterol is found in any fat, so it won’t be hard to find, and incorporating sources of cholesterol from healthy fats like avocado, olive oils, sea foods, and nuts also has the added benefit of lowering inflammation. Dementia, Alzheimer’s, anxiety, and depression are not fun diseases. But luckily the best way to avoid them is pretty tasty!