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The Mind-Body Connection: The Intersection of Mental and Metabolic Health

Have you ever wondered whether your metabolism and your mental health are related? Believe it or not, metabolism and mental health are closely linked. You may think that metabolism is only about how your body burns calories and manages your weight, but it is much more than that. Metabolism is also about how your body produces and uses chemicals that affect your mood, energy, and well-being. On the other hand, your mental health is not only about how you feel and think, but also about how you eat and digest. 

Your metabolism and your mental health influence each other in many ways, sometimes creating an uncomfortable cycle of metabolic dysfunction and mental health problems. Let’s explore the fascinating connection between metabolism and mental health, and how understanding it can result in making positive changes for health.

How metabolism influences mental health: the role of neurotransmitters

Metabolism is the process that all living organisms use to convert food into energy.  These energy units are building blocks that are used to make all of the components of all of the cells inside the body, including proteins, membranes, and other cell parts. Metabolism involves numerous chemical reactions and pathways, many of which are regulated by hormones and neurotransmitters. Hormones are chemical messengers that travel through the bloodstream and affect various organs and tissues, and neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells in the brain and other parts of the nervous system.

Hormones and neurotransmitters influence mood and mental health by modulating brain activity, cognition, emotion, and behavior. For example, serotonin is a neurotransmitter linked to mood regulation, as it affects feelings of happiness, well-being, and social bonding. Serotonin is synthesized in the body using the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is obtained through dietary sources like turkey, chicken, canned tuna and other fish, and dairy milk. Tryptophan is also used to make melatonin, a hormone that regulates sleep cycles. The availability of tryptophan can affect both serotonin and melatonin levels, which in turn can influence mood and mental health.

Metabolic disorders are conditions that affect the normal functioning of metabolism, like insulin resistance, diabetes, obesity, high cholesterol, or hypertension. Metabolic disorders can impair the production and regulation of tryptophan and serotonin. For example, in insulin resistance, cells become less responsive to insulin, a hormone that regulates blood sugar levels. Insulin resistance can lead to high blood sugar levels, which can damage nerve cells and blood vessels in the brain. High blood sugar levels can also interfere with the transport of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier, reducing its availability for serotonin synthesis. As a result, insulin resistance can increase the risk of depression and cognitive impairment by affecting both brain structure and function.

How our mental health influences metabolism and body composition 

When we suffer from mental disorders, such as depression or anxiety, our mental well-being is compromised. This can impair our ability to deal with stress, emotions, and challenges in life. This can have a major influence on our behaviors and choices that affect our metabolic health, such as what we eat, how much we move and even how well we sleep.

For example, depression can make us lose interest in food or eat more than usual. Anxiety can make us feel sick or crave food. These behaviors can have negative consequences for our metabolic health, potentially causing nutritional deficiencies, weight changes, hormonal imbalances, and metabolic disturbances.

Energy levels and motivation to exercise can also vary depending on mood. For instance, depression can make us feel tired or sluggish. Anxiety can make us restless or agitated. Regular physical activity is important for maintaining metabolic health, as it helps regulate blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation. 

Mental health can also affect metabolism through sleep, specifically the quantity and quality of sleep. For example, depression can cause insomnia or hypersomnia, meaning having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, or sleeping too much. Anxiety can cause insomnia or disturbing dreams. Sleep is essential for metabolic health, as it helps regulate hormones, appetite, glucose metabolism, and our immune system.

Finally, a chronic heightened state of stress can trigger the release of cortisol. Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal glands which has various effects on metabolism, like increasing blood sugar by stimulating the liver to produce more glucose, and suppressing the immune system by reducing the activity of disease-fighting white blood cells. Cortisol also makes us more prone to weight gain, especially around the abdomen, by promoting insulin resistance, the breakdown of muscle protein, and the enlargement of the number and size of fat cells. 

Taking action: boosting your mental and metabolic health

The interplay between mental health and metabolism is complex and multifaceted. However, there is hope. By understanding the connection, you can take action to enhance both your mental and metabolic well-being.

  • Eating a well-balanced diet of whole, unprocessed foods provides the body with the nutrition it needs for optimal states of metabolic and mental health. A diet high in refined carbohydrates (the Standard American Diet) typically results in insulin resistance and unstable blood glucose levels.  In addition to leading to obesity, type 2 diabetes, and cardiovascular disease, these disruptions in glucose levels can cause symptoms such as fatigue, irritability, anxiety, and depression.  Replacing these refined carbohydrates with whole foods and reducing overall carbohydrate intake often dramatically improves metabolic and mental health.  
  • Exercise regularly: Exercise triggers the production of endorphins, hormones that are natural pain relievers and mood enhancers. Exercise can also improve metabolic health by lowering blood sugar, cholesterol, blood pressure, and inflammation, and increasing muscle mass, bone density, and metabolic rate. The CDC advises adults to engage in at least 150 minutes of moderate or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic exercise per week and two days of muscle-strengthening activities per week. 
  • Get enough sleep: Sleep improves mood, memory, learning, and cognitive function. Sleep can also improve metabolic health by regulating hormones, appetite, glucose metabolism, and the immune system. Aim for at least seven to nine hours of sleep per night, and follow good sleep hygiene practices, such as having a regular bedtime routine, avoiding caffeine and alcohol before bed, and minimizing light and noise in your bedroom.
  • Manage stress: Stress can worsen mood, thoughts, and behavior, and increase the risk of depression and anxiety. Stress can also impair metabolic health by increasing blood sugar, suppressing immunity, and promoting fat storage. Some ways to manage stress are practicing relaxation techniques, such as deep breathing, meditation, or yoga, engaging in enjoyable activities, such as hobbies, sports, or socializing with friends or family, and changing your perspective, such as reframing negative thoughts, focusing on the positive aspects, or finding meaning or purpose in your situation.

Metabolism and mental health have intricate connections that stem from the interplay of various biological, psychological, and behavioral factors. Recognizing and addressing the relationship between these two systems is crucial for a holistic approach to health and well-being. 



  5. 5 Questions: Shebani Sethi on the connection between metabolism and mental health | News Center | Stanford Medicine
  6. Food and mood: how do diet and nutrition affect mental wellbeing? | The BMJ
  7. Frontiers | The Ketogenic Diet for Refractory Mental Illness: A Retrospective Analysis of 31 Inpatients (
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