“If you always do what you always did, you will always get what you always got.”
Thankfully, there has been an increase in public awareness about stress and the importance of good mental health and the month of April has even been designated Stress Awareness Month. More emphasis however needs to be placed on the relationship between the food we eat and our mental health. Research by the UK based Mental Health Foundation suggests that the modern diet has created nutritional imbalances that may adversely affect our mental health.
Their research suggests that eating too little fresh foods and consuming too much processed foods containing unhealthy fats and sugars is leading to depression, anxiety, memory problems, stress related and other mental disorders. Experts from the food industry claim the research is not conclusive, but a group of Canadian psychiatrists have successfully treated thousands of patients with a variety of mental illnesses using a nutritional approach called Orthomolecular Psychiatry. They have used nutrition and vitamin supplements to treat major and minor psychiatric disorders. Food can affect how your brain functions in several ways.
FATTY ACID IMBALANCE
Sixty percent of the dry weight of the brain is fat, including the Essential Fatty Acids (EFA’s) like omega-3 fats. These are good fats, and unfortunately are in short supply in the modern western diet. EFA's are important components of nerve cell membranes and are involved in the electrical and chemical activity in the brain.
Lack of these fats can cause the brain to malfunction and promote mental illness. Nerve cell degeneration and brain shrinkage is found commonly in people with chronic schizophrenia in certain areas of the brain, Omega 3 fats may offer a means of maintaining healthy brain structure and avoiding this accelerated loss of brain mass. There is a need for specific EFA supplementation in conditions like schizophrenia, ADHD, and depression. Several major medical centres around the world are now using high doses of omega 3 fats to actually treat these conditions.
Like any other organ in the body, the brain can suffer from allergies. It is estimated that fifteen percent of people with schizophrenia have brain allergies. Cerebral allergies can involve a gut disorder called “Leaky Gut Syndrome”, in which poorly digested food particles are absorbed into the blood stream. These substances ultimately cause the release of brain toxins that results in psychosis, malaise, depression, irritability etc.
Culprit foods can also account for some mental disorders and an elimination diet can be useful in diagnosing this problem. Individualized nutritional programs can then play an important role in treating these disorders. Testing for other toxic substances may also be necessary when cerebral allergies are suspected.
The popular food additive MSG (mono sodium glutamate) is a flavor enhancer. In addition to stimulating the taste buds, it is also an excito-toxin – a substance that is potentially quite toxic to nerve cells. In sensitive individuals it can cause many problems ranging from light-headedness, poor concentration, headaches and memory loss to convulsions, hallucinations, coma and death.
It should not be forgotten that alcohol is also a brain toxin that kills brain cells. It also causes vitamin B deficiencies, brain dehydration and loss of important minerals like magnesium and potassium leading to increased nervous system irritation.
The main fuel on which the brain runs is glucose – blood sugar. Imbalance in blood sugar levels can lead to brain dysfunction. Hypoglycemia, the medical term for low blood glucose levels can result from excess consumption of sugar and simple carbohydrates as well as irregular eating habits. Irritability, poor memory, poor concentration, tiredness, cold hands, muscle cramping, sugar cravings and "feeling temporarily better after eating carbohydrates" are typical hypoglycemic symptoms.
Hypoglycemia tends to be an aggravating factor in mental illnesses since the brain cells are being starved of fuel. Some researchers have even found an association between violent and antisocial behavior and high sugar consumption. The treatment for hypoglycemia involves dietary changes and nutritional supplements.
VITAMIN AND MINERAL DEFICENCY
Many vitamins and minerals are essential for normal brain function. For example, Niacin (vitamin B3) can affect the activity of the brain and may play a role in schizophrenia and Parkinson's disease.
Niacin also plays a role in the fatty acid metabolism of the brain that is disrupted in schizophrenia and along with vitamin C creates a gentle tranquilizing effect on the brain. Vitamin B12, folic acid and other B vitamins, magnesium, chromium and zinc are a few of the other nutrients that affect brain function.
But you don’t have to have a mental illness to benefit from good nutrition. Fortify your nervous system and become more resilient to stress with an appropriate nutritional plan. I use a program called Cellular Nutrition along with lots of the omega 3 fatty acids to promote good mental health.
More recently a specific nutritional program for mental disorders called Empower Plus has been evaluated by a number of medical experts who have published very positive findings on this product. Their website www.truehope.com provides useful information