What links weight issues, fatigue and mood problems? It has long been known that these three issues often co-exist (1–3), especially, it seems, in women. Obesity is associated with a higher risk of developing depression and anxiety, and vice versa (2). Does being overweight cause fatigue and depression? Or does depression cause fatigue and weight problems? Or perhaps fatigue causes both? In fact, it’s probably none of these exactly. What is much more likely is that there are common underlying causes for all three. There are two – or perhaps three – prime suspects.

GUT HEALTH

The more we research gut health and particularly the pattern of micro-organisms that live in our gut, the more it is clear that chronic health conditions are linked with disruptions to the optimal functioning of the digestive tract. You may not experience any gastrointestinal discomfort, and yet all may not be well in the gut. Our gut microorganisms live with us, both providing and receiving benefits from this arrangement. We are discovering that the gut microflora, contribute to the functioning of body’s immune, hormonal and nerve pathways and functions.

 Another aspect of gut health, our ability to digest our food adequately, can also influence mood, energy and weight. If you are not able to absorb the nutrients from your food, you could be deficient in key vitamins and minerals needed for good mental health, for energy production and for weight control.

 Rebalancing the gut microflora and improving digestive health can result in improved mood, greater energy and help with weight loss. See my tips below for improving gut health.

INFLAMMATION

We all know how tired we feel when we are fighting off an infection. The processes of inflammation take a great toll on the body’s resources resulting in fatigue. Chronic inflammation is seen in both weight issues and mood problems (4). See my tips below for reducing inflammation.

STRESS

I’ve suggested stress as a third prime suspect. While it might not be a direct cause, it can adversely affect gut health and worsen inflammation beyond the psychological problems that high stress can create.

IS YOUR DIET MESSING WITH YOUR MOOD AND YOUR ENERGY?

At this time of year, many people are starting to give up on the January diet because they are feeling down. This is hardly surprising as under-eating for long periods will definitely affect your mood and the smaller the amount of food we are eating, the harder it is to obtain all the essential vitamins, minerals, proteins and fats that our body needs to function optimally.

WHAT YOU CAN DO

Here are a few things you can do to start to improve your mood, increase energy and control your weight.

1.    Improve your gut health by:

a.    Eating as wide a range of different vegetables as you can: these vegetables feed your beneficial gut bacteria.

b.    Chew your food slowly and savour the flavours: chewing and tasting encourage the body to digest the food well.

c.     Keep moving: people who exercise have a better profile of gut bacteria than those who don’t.

2.    Reduce inflammation by:

a.    Avoiding inflammatory foods: sugar, high carbohydrate foods, refined vegetable oils (especially sunflower, corn and non-specified vegetable oil).

b.    Consuming foods that have anti-inflammatory properties: oily fish, olive oil, a wide range of brightly coloured vegetables (I may have mentioned this already), include herbs and spices in your food.

3.    Reduce stress by:

a.    Taking time to do things you enjoy.

b.    Consider meditation.

c.     Trying calming exercises such as yoga, tai chi etc.

d.    Avoiding over-training: exercise is good but too much can be, well, too much.

e.    Avoiding over-dieting: as well as depleting our nutrient reserves, under-eating is stressful on the body.

f.      Getting good, restorative sleep.

By The Fold’s Nutritionist Caroline Rees PhD

REFERENCES

1.       Abraham SB, Rubino D, Sinaii N, Ramsey S, Nieman LK. Cortisol, obesity, and the metabolic syndrome: A cross-sectional study of obese subjects and review of the literature. Vol. 21, Obesity. 2013.

2.       Agustí A, García-Pardo MP, López-Almela I, Campillo I, Maes M, Romaní-Pérez M, et al. Interplay between the gut-brain axis, obesity and cognitive function. Vol. 12, Frontiers in Neuroscience. Frontiers Media S.A.; 2018.

3.       Lim W, Hong S, Nelesen R, Dimsdale JE. The association of obesity, cytokine levels, and depressive symptoms with diverse measures of fatigue in healthy subjects. Arch Intern Med. 2005 Apr 25;165(8):910–5.

4.       Olszanecka-Glinianowicz M, Zahorska-Markiewicz B, Koceak P, Janowska J, Semik-Grabarczyk E, Wikarek T, et al. Is chronic inflammation a possible cause of obesity-related depression? Mediators Inflamm. 2009;2009.