Six months after the birth of my second child, the world was out of joint. I was physically healthy with a supportive husband and family.
I was aware of how lucky I was and yet the joy that had poured out of me as I cradled our first baby wasbreaking down in front of my GP, I was prescribed antidepressants. This was my first brush with depression and I didn't know any better.
They had the side effect of making me lose my appetite – hurrah, I was too exhausted to make meals anyway – but they dulled the desire I had to curl up behind the sofa and weep.
They also prised the lid open just far enough that I could reconnect with my son Luke, nine months old, and daughter Elsa,feeling low but functioning, I went back to work three months later.
While researching an article about Omniya, a London clinic working in preventative health (stopping illness before it happens rather than treating it after you get sick) I met Peter Cox, a doctor who had moved from traditional medicine into clinical nutrition. Cox described the link between various nutritional deficiencies and depression.
Then, looking at my gaunt frame and hearing a description of how tired and fragile I felt, he suggested some blood and saliva tests.'What we eat contributes markedly to our mental health, and it amazes me that this area of treatment is not taken more seriously,' he explained.
'There is overwhelming evidence that a lack of certain nutrients, for example B vitamins, vitamin D and omega 3, are common contributors towards mental health disorders.
The amino acid tryptophan is required for the synthesis of serotonin (the calming and joy-giving hormone).' Tryptophan, which is found in spirulina and egg white, among other foods, is the building block from which serotonin is made.
'Without it, you cannot manufacture serotonin and will be more prone to depression. It amazes me that doctors do not test for these deficiencies.' It's terribly sad that we're preoccupied with being thinner and fitter but we're ignorant to the fact that our diet has the power to make us happier, too.
Unfortunately, as Cox tells me, 'doctors are only trained for a week in nutrition', and even then the time they have with each patient is sparse. Knowledge about the gut is progressing rapidly but the NHS is slow to adopt new and expensive routes.
Cox's research was a revelation to me. Digging deeper, I found that eating badly was only one in a series of ways that gut health and happiness are related. 'In a healthy gut, you absorb the nutrients from food through your gut wall,' nutritional therapist Eve Kalinik told me. 'If your intestines are inflamed, they cannot process the nutrients.
Instead of the saying, "You are what you eat," you are what you can absorb.' Kalinik argues that poor diet, illness or the modern triumvirate of alcohol, caffeine and stress can damage the lining of the gut and your subsequent ability to access essential nutrition.
The other key player in gut health, which is increasingly being proven central to overall wellbeing, is the microbiome: the collection of bacteria in our2015, scientists at Üsküdar University in Turkey published a paper titled The Gut-Brain Axis: The Missing Link in Depression, pointing out the relevance of the microbiome-gut-brain connection.
In short, the gut is being viewed as the second brain; there are more serotonin receptors and if you're not feeding yourself the right food to make your gut happy, it may be preventing you from feelingbacteria in the gut's microbiome is so important, let us pause for a few facts. There are at least 1,000 species of bacteria in the gut, known collectively as the microbiome*.
There are more bacteria in your gut than cells in the body, and (fun fact) they can weigh up to 2kg, roughly the weight of aof us has our own unique microbiome. We live in symbiosis with it – we host the bacteria and in return, it does a range of jobs for us, including synthesising certain vitamins (B12 and K), breaking down foodstuffs that we cannot and modulating our immune system**.