Whole Foods and Mental Health

mental health and food
The influence of diet in causing and preventing physiological and psychological disorders is well established, as is the importance of vitamins, minerals and other nutrients in maintaining health.

Nutritionists go one step further by using diet and nutritional supplements to treat and prevent illness. They look for nutritional deficiencies, food allergies and intolerances, and for lifestyle and environmental factors that disturb the digestion and the full absorption of nutrients.

Food Intolerances, Allergies and Mental Health

Food intolerances and allergies can contribute to a wide range of mental health problems, including depression, chronic fatigue, substance abuse, and Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Highly processed “junk” foods, deficient in essential vitamins and minerals and high in refined sugar, salt, fats, and chemical additives, negatively impact physical and psychological well-being. In addition, even those who eat a balanced diet and have an otherwise healthy metabolism, can be adversely affected by environmental toxins. Industrialization, traffic pollution.

The use of pesticides result in food that contains excessive levels of heavy metals, namely lead, cadmium, mercury, and aluminum, all of which have been associated with neurodegenerative diseases, including dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, autism, and schizophrenia.

Scientific research has proven that good health is directly related to the quality of food eaten, and that inadequate diet negatively affects mood and even hastens aging. Numerous studies have shown that whole foods contain much higher levels of nutrients. Additionally, those nutrients are much more bio-available in whole foods, meaning they are absorbed better by the body.

The source of our nutrition has become critical as crops grown in poor soil lack essential micronutrients, yet are abundant in toxic chemicals. Meanwhile, antibiotics and hormones fed to livestock find their way into our food chain. Getting what we need from our food isn’t as easy as it used to be.

To function, the body must have a balance of all the essential nutrients; proteins, carbohydrates, fats and oils, minerals, vitamins, and water. Improper diet and nutrition eventually result in an increase of blood acidity and deterioration of body’s metabolic mechanisms. This leads to fatigue, insomnia, mild depression, and anxiety. Physical problems at this stage are generally limited to a lowered immune system, weakness, and headaches. Initially, the symptoms are minor, but tend to get more serious over an extended period of time.

Nutritional Deficiencies and Psychiatric Disorders

For some people, certain environmental factors combined with nutritional deficiencies can become so severe that dietary adjustments alone may not be enough. In these circumstances, large doses of vitamins and minerals (above what is considered the recommended daily levels) may be call for. In order to decide what the correct dosages are, a nutritionist or physician needs to examine tests and carefully monitor the individual’s progress.

There are a number of situations in which nutritional supplements can help. Someone with high stress may need extras nutrients to assist in reducing oxidative damage. This includes population such as pregnant women, students, older adults, and anyone who is under unusual amounts of stress from work, personal issues, or physical exercise.

To compound the problem, many people don’t get the nutrients they need from their diet because they don’t consume a variety of healthy foods. Even for those who aren’t suffering from stress, nutritional supplements can be a good way to help improve and preserve good health, especially when monitored by a health professional.

Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

References

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Levine J, Timinsky I, Vishne T, Dwolatzky T, Roitman S, Kaplan Z, Kotler M, -Ami Sela B, Spivak B. Elevated serum homocysteine levels in male patients with PTSD. Depress Anxiety 2007 Nov 9.

Obeid R, McCaddon A, Herrmann W. The role of hyperhomocysteinemia and B-vitamin deficiency in neurological and psychiatric diseases. Clin Chem Lab Med 2007;45(12): 1590–606.

Patel K, Curtis LT. A comprehensive approach to treating autism and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder: a prepilot study. J Altern Complement Med 2007 Dec;13(10): 1091–7.