The World Health Organization views mental health as: “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”
Therefore mental health is more than an absence of autism, dementia, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. Mental health is complex. It can be impacted by personal experiences, the environment, accidents, exercise, personal behavior choices, and nutrition.
Even with all these variables I believe nutrition is a primary foundation for optimizing long-term mental health. Proper nutrition provides the brain with the necessary building blocks it requires to function at peak performance. Better brain function then improves the odds for either adapting to or dealing with less than optimum situations such as personal experiences, the environment, accidents, exercise, and personal behavior choices.
Nutrition impacts mental as well as physical development from the moment of conception. All foods are a mixture of various “chemicals” (atoms and compounds). In terms of how they provide man’s nutrient requirements, some foods are complete and dense and some are not. Unfortunately, too many of today’s food choices are inflammatory, high glycemic, nutrient lite, and even anti-nutrient. This may seem very basic yet too few people understand that over time the inherent chemistry of their food choices is far more powerful than the chemicals in our everyday environment. Therefore the popular concerns for contaminants on food and in our environment are misguided because those factors have relatively little impact compared to the chemistry of individual food choices.
Take for instance sugar or high glycemic foods and drinks. Eating sugar is like stomping on the accelerator and revving up an engine over the red line. Sugar is an empty food that provides only energy. Sugar causes massive dopamine releases that act just like an addictive drug. Over time sugar’s dopamine spikes become addictive. Unless the energy from sugar is burned off rapidly either physically or emotionally, the body takes the energy and converts it to fat resulting in obesity.
Sugar shock has obvious symptoms. We’ve all seen groups of children, who were lethargic prior to receiving sugary treats, turn into rampaging, out-of-control, over-energized groups without any ability to concentrate on the required tasks at hand. The children may even exhibit rage and depression as well as hyper activity. Besides obesity, even emotional dysfunction may be a reaction to sugar. Nutritional scientists also point out that sugar incites rage in some people just like alcohol does in barroom brawls.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Omega-6 (n6) and Omega-3 (n3) fatty acids (fats) were known to be necessary for normal body function as far back as 1930, although it wasn’t until the 1980s that essential fatty acids (EFA) received real in-depth scrutiny. That’s when n3's importance in health and disease really surfaced. Initial laboratory work with rats demonstrated a strong association of the balance of n6 and n3 in cell membranes as the determining factor for the Omega-3 deficiency. Many tests with various ratios showed that when n6 exceeded n3 by more than four times, the rats had faster growing tumors, difficulty solving problems, and the onset of various chronic diseases including obesity.
The researchers also noted that the modern American grain-based diet was heavily weighted with n6. They noted that most Americans had EFA ratios of 10:1 on up to 30:1 in some cases. Numerous diseases were soon associated with these high ratios (above 4:1) and by 2002 they included cancer, diabetes, obesity, asthma, coronary heart disease, major depression, aging, arthritis, Crohn’s disease, ulcerative colitis and lupus erythematosus, psoriasis, multiple sclerosis, and migraine headaches. In addition, studies with human newborns indicated that n3 is essential for the normal functional development of the brain and retina, particularly in premature infants.
There are scores of reports and the short list of ailments that can be addressed by correcting the n3 deficiency above were in a 2002 report by Artemis P. Simopoulos, MD, FACN titled Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Inflammation and Autoimmune Diseases. She is one of the world’s foremost authorities on fatty acid research.
These early studies generated considerably more research and with a promise for possibly curing and preventing many chronic diseases both mental and physical. This race for more knowledge is in full gear today with literally hundreds of studies involving EFAs being underway. But already there are many cases of anecdotal evidence where people have cured or at least totally suppressed the symptoms of a whole range of chronic diseases. In all cases these people had to exhibit tremendous self discipline to only eat foods that were nutrient dense, low glycemic, with equal measures of n6 and n3 fatty acids.
There are numerous studies that also show great promise for improved brain function and resiliency when one’s balance of n6 to n3 by weight in their cell membranes is between 1:1 to no more than 3:1. It is even believed that brain injuries from contact sports may be less debilitating when n3 levels are high. Apparently, n3 plays a role in how the brain “floats” inside the skull protecting the brain from concussions. The DOD is studying this now.
There has been considerable work that has had very encouraging results for treating people hampered by depression, ADHD, bipolar, and other mental illnesses. But very little is known yet if aggressively addressing the n3 deficiency can help cases of Autism. There is some anecdotal evidence where some Autistic children have experienced considerable improvement, but once again it took tremendous self discipline for the parents to only provide foods that were nutrient dense, low glycemic, with equal weights of n6 and n3 fatty acids. The schools certainly do not cooperate in this with their food programs. Compounding the problem is the irony of the number of people who are suffering from chronic disease that do not have the will power to change their diets and sidestep traditional foods.
The brain foods that are nutrient dense, low glycemic, with equal weights of n6 and n3 fatty acids are readily available in local grocery stores or specialists on the internet. These foods are primarily grass-fed meats, wild caught seafood, and many vegetables (especially the dark green vegetables). Supplements include flaxseed, chia seeds, fish meal, and fish oils. Many fruits, all nuts, seeds, and grains, and all vegetable oils are not on the list.
May 22, 2015