Those of you that have read a few of my posts on this site understand that I believe your mental and physical health are intricately linked together and what affects one will undoubtedly affect the other.
So I want to ask you all this question: The last time you saw your GP, did s/he ask how you were handling stress? Did they ask how your mood was lately? Did they ask if you were going through any tough times, feeling bluer than usual, experiencing a major life change? No? Did they weigh you and tell you what your BMI was, and if it was too high, did they recommend any diet changes? Something tells me the latter is probably more common.
Here’s a study published last week in Molecular Psychiatry suggesting that stress and mental health are not just as important, but maybe even more important than diet when it comes to our metabolism and inflammatory responses to meals. In this randomized control trial, the authors studied a group of women and gave some a high saturated fat meal (let’s call it the fat meal) and others a high oleic sunflower oil meal (let’s call that the hippie meal), which is supposed to be healthier. First they looked at the women that hadn’t reported any significant stress the day before. As you’d expect, their levels of inflammation increased more after the fat meal than the hippie meal. But for the women that had reported stress the day before, their levels of inflammation increased just as much if they ate the fat meal or the hippie meal.
When was the last time you read diet advice that really focused on reducing stress or getting treatment for underlying mental health problems? Does the South Beach/Atkins/(enter fad of choice) diet casually mention going to a regular guided meditation class? Checking in with a psychologist or counselor if you are going through a difficult time? No?
Now, the study mentioned above included a group of women who had either experienced breast cancer and group who had not (but didn’t look at differences between groups), so it would be interesting to see if the results are consistent across healthy and patient groups of all kinds, and across age and sex.
So, here’s my next question for future research: How much does stress and mental health affect obesity, and could inflammation be a mechanism? What do you all suspect?