Is it possible to battle mental illnesses with only the food you eat? Imagine that.
No need for prescription drugs or medicine. None at all. In this article, I want to show you how nutrition affects mental health.
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The most common mental illnesses in the U.S. today are…
- Bipolar disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
Our Current Mental Health Treatment Strategies
At present, mental health treatment strategies follow a strict path – prescribe medications like antidepressants or antipsychotics first, then counseling and therapy, then if all else fails, other forms of treatment, like alternative therapies.
While the Journal of the American Medical Association noted that the use of antidepressants and antipsychotics is on the rise, they don’t really work for the long term. They may have helped in preventing suicides, but in the long run, they only made people’s lives worse.
Let’s take a look at some studies that demonstrated this disturbing observation…
- In a 2009 study on children with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), treatment with Ritalin provided only temporary relief.
- A 2014 study on the effect of drugs on mood disorders showed that the drugs did nothing to improve the patient’s’ mood swings.
- In a 2004 study on children suffering from depression, children on antidepressants are three times more likely of seeing their depression converting to full-blown mania or bipolar disorder.
In her Youtube video “The Surprisingly Dramatic Role of Nutrition in Mental Health”, clinical psychologist Julia Rucklidge felt that doctors were not educated enough in the role of nutrition in mental health. They couldn’t explain how nutrition affects mental health. Despite research evidence, doctors still hold on to the belief that drugs are the key to treating mental illness. Not so, Rucklidge says. If a healthy diet can cure heart disease, why not mental illness?
Rucklidge’s Clinical Trial on Micronutrients
To prove her point, Rucklidge conducted a clinical trial on 50 adults with ADHD, wherein one group was given high dose micronutrients and the other group a placebo for a period of 8 weeks. These patients were given as much as 15 pills daily containing 36 micronutrients.
The results were astounding…
- There were two times as many people in the micronutrient group that showed positive responses compared to those who took a placebo.
- In the micronutrient group, there were two times as many people who went into remission from their depression.
- Hyperactivity and impulsivity behaviors were reduced to normal, non-clinical levels.
- Patients with ADHD who took micronutrients claimed that their symptoms did not impair them or interfere in their daily lives.
Rucklidge did a similar study on patients with bipolar disorder and PTSD. The results she obtained were as follows…
- Reduction in bipolar disorder symptoms within a six-month time period, enabling patients to reduce intake of their regular medications
- Just one month of taking micronutrients led to a reduction in symptoms of PTSD from 65 percent to 18 percent
Further studies found that…
- Aggression in prisoners was reduced by 35 percent
- There a reduction in the decline of cognition in the elderly
While Rucklidge’s clinical trials and the research data she presented seem very promising, so much so that many bloggers have been quoting her Tedx Talk extensively, there are two persistent questions that come to my mind.
First, Rucklidge talked about micronutrients in general. From my point of view giving a patient high dose micronutrients is like shooting a huge missile at a very small target. Given that there are many micronutrients that science has identified, which SPECIFIC micronutrients can help in treating and/or preventing mental disorders?
Secondly, how much of these micronutrients should a patient take?
Pinpointing Specific Micronutrients for Mental Health
There have been heaps of studies conducted by doctors and researchers all over the world to determine the role of specific micronutrients in treating mental disorders. One group of researchers went so far as to compile all of the findings from these studies in one long article entitled “Understanding Nutrition, Depression and Mental Illnesses”.
Here’s what they found:
How nutrition affects mental health:
- Amino acids like tryptophan, tyrosine, phenylalanine, and methionine aid in treating depression, mood disorders, and insomnia.
- Eating low carbohydrate diets may lead to the development of depression because of low insulin levels. Individuals who go on low carb diets are advised to eat foods with low glycemic indices, like fruits, veggies, and whole grains, not only to boost energy levels but also to improve mood.
- Proteins are made up of amino acids, which have an impact on mental health and overall brain functioning. Not eating enough proteins that contain tryptophan and tyrosine may lead to poor mood and aggression.
- Omega-3 fatty acids are important because they form the structure of the membranes of the brain and individual brain cells. Eating foods rich in these fatty acids help in treating and preventing depression and mood disorders.
- Vitamins B1, B2, and B6 are effective in improving mood. Thiamine (B1) in particular has been found to improve cognitive performance in the elderly.
- Cyanocobalamin (Vitamin B12) helps in improving cognitive performance in the elderly as well as in teenagers who suffer from a deficiency of this vitamin.
- Folate is effective in treating depression.
- Calcium should be given to depressed patients and others with mental health problems. Since many of these patients are being given drugs that prevent the absorption of calcium in the bones, they are at risk of fractures.
- Chromium is found to be directly linked to the development of depression.
- Taking iodine during pregnancy helps prevent the development of severe cerebral dysfunction, or cretinism, in the baby.
- Iron helps in the treatment of ADHD and depression and improves cognitive function. Iron is recommended in pregnant women to prevent depression.
- Lithium is one of the trace elements that are already in use in the treatment of mental disorders. It is used in treating depression, aggression, schizoaffective disorder, eating disorders, and impulse control disorders.
- Selenium aids in reducing anxiety and improves mood.
- Zinc helps in the treatment of depression.
- Antioxidants prevent free radicals from damaging the brain.
If you are planning to take any of these micronutrients to treat mental illnesses, the researchers recommended taking them at the dosages used in their respective studies.
As you can see, nutrition plays a major role in mental health. This quote from the article “Nutritional Medicine as Mainstream in Psychiatry” in the January 2015 issue of The Lancet best summarizes our opinion on nutrition and mental health:
“Although the determinants of mental health are complex, the emerging and compelling evidence for nutrition as a crucial factor in the high prevalence and incidence of mental disorders suggests that diet is as important to psychiatry as it is to (other medical fields)… We (therefore) advocate recognition of diet and nutrition as central determinants of both physical and mental health.”
This is how nutrition affects mental health!