Many people are surprised to discover that our diets play an important part in our mental health. If the health of our entire body can be adversely affected by poor-quality foods, isn’t it logical to assume that the brain and nervous system can also be affected? The brain in fact, is very susceptible to foods, drugs and toxins.
According to Melvin Werbach M.D., a faculty member at the UCLA School of Medicine and author of Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness, “It is clear that nutrition can powerfully influence cognition, emotion and behavior. It is also clear that the effects of classical nutritional deficiency diseases upon mental function constitute only a small part of a rapidly expanding list of interfaces between nutrition and the mind.” A deficiency of any single nutrient can alter brain function and lead to depression, anxiety and other mental disorders.
Nutrition And Mental Health
Food additives can have numerous adverse effects. Caffeine is one that has been extensively studied and is well known to affect the nervous system, including our minds. It is a stimulant. A person’s response to caffeine will vary, and people prone to depression or anxiety tend to be especially sensitive to caffeine. The term “caffeinism” is used to describe a clinical syndrome similar to generalized anxiety and panic disorders that include such symptoms as depression, nervousness, palpitations, irritability and recurrent headaches.
Several studies have looked at caffeine intake and depression. For example, one study found that among healthy college students, moderate and high coffee drinkers scored higher on a depression scale than did low users. Interestingly, the moderate and high coffee drinkers also tended to have significantly lower academic performance. Several other studies have shown that depressed patients tend to consume fairly high amounts of caffeine (greater than 3 or 4 cups of coffee a day). The intake of caffeine has been positively correlated with the degree of mental illness in psychiatric patients. In other words, the more caffeine consumed, the greater the mental illness in these patients.
When refined sugar is combined with caffeine, the symptoms intensify. In one particular study, subjects described themselves as feeling depressed and didn’t know why, often felt tired even though they slept a lot, were very moody and generally seemed to feel bad most of the time. When caffeine and sugar were taken from their diet, subjects reported substantial improvement, and in subsequent testing when given supplements in a double-blind study, those that took caffeine and sugar supplements reported a significantly higher rate of depression during the test period. (hint: Guess what all those ‘energy drinks’ are made up of?) If you pick-up my latest book ‘Natural Cures: 200 All Natural Fruit and Veggie Remedies for Weight Loss, Health and Beauty’, you’ll find a couple make-it-yourself energy drink recipes that are far healthier for you, only contain 100% natural ingredients, and provide energy, vitamins and electrolytes from natural food sources.
The average American consumes 150-225 mg of caffeine daily, or roughly the amount of caffeine in 1-2 cups of coffee. Although most people can handle this amount, some people are more sensitive to the effects of caffeine than others. People with depression or any psychological disorder, should avoid caffeine completely. Caffeine is just one of the many substances that can affect the mind. Drugs, alcohol, nicotine, food dyes, preservatives and other chemical additives can all affect how we think and act.
The mind can be affected by the health of other organs in the body. The colon is the body’s sewage pipe, removing metabolic waste and toxic debris from our bodies. When fecal matter gets clogged or pathogenic organisms proliferate in the bowel, toxins are absorbed into the bloodstream, affecting EVERY part of the body, including the brain. Toxins in the brain can affect thought, reason, judgment, memory, patience, temper, rationality, mental and physical energy, concentration, sex drive, equilibrium, senses and coordination. Eating low-fiber, high-protein, fatty and chemical-laden foods is the primary cause of colon auto-intoxication.
Carbohydrates in our food, are converted by the liver into glucose. The level of glucose in our blood is closely regulated by the pancreas. Either too much or too little glucose in the blood, can have serious health consequences. Diabetes for example, is a condition resulting from too much glucose in the blood. Glucose is the fuel by which the brain, as well as the other organs of the body, derives as energy. The brain functions at a social level when it has plenty of fuel. However, when the blood sugar drops below the critical level, as in hypoglycemia, the brain ceases to function at a social level, leading to irritability and hyperactivity, to explosive behavior and even violence. A pancreas hampered by toxins and other negative factors, can cause adverse psychological changes.
The liver, the body’s main processing plant, can also affect the mind. Here elements from digested food are stored, synthesized, distributed and poisons detoxified. A poor-quality diet, puts a tremendous burden on the liver. Too much stress can lead to degenerative liver disease and infection.
For centuries, traditional Chinese doctors have linked the liver with hot tempers. Researchers at the University of California Los Angeles Medical Center, have found that when a liver is diseased by hepatitis, cirrhosis or some other condition, it releases toxins into the bloodstream. These toxins travel to the brain, and trigger bouts of irritability, anger and even rage. These toxins may also be responsible for feelings of disorientation, anxiety and apathy. This may explain, in part, the outbursts commonly associated with alcoholism. Among alcoholics with liver disease, it is the diseased liver, says researchers, rather than the alcohol abuse, which seems to determine the more volatile behaviors.
A poor-quality diet contributes directly to many mental and emotional problems. It also affects the way we handle stress, and stress is one of the major causes of all dis-ease. Good nutrition goes beyond achieving and maintaining good physical health. It is also imperative for the wellness of our emotional and mental mind.
Bon Veggie Appetit!
Gina ‘The Veggie Goddess’ Matthews