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Depression and antidepressant use linked to sudden cardiac death in womenNutrition and Mental Health
This article first appeared in Brainwaves Magazine, Winter 2007, author not
Mental ill health is believed to be the result of a combination of several factors,
including age, genetics and environment. For decades the prevalent treatments
for mental health problems have been medication and psychotherapy.
It is now emerging that one of the most obvious, yet under-recognised factors in
the development of good mental health is the role of nutrition. The majority of us
are well aware of the connection between diet and obesity, diet and heart
disease and so on, but outside of mental health problems specifically focussed
around areas around the consumption of food, i.e. Anorexia Nervosa and
Bulimia, many of us probably rarely, really consider that what we eat has a direct
effect on our mental state.
Most of the brain is derived directly from food and just like the heart, stomach
and liver, the brain is an organ acutely sensitive to what we eat and drink. In
order to remain healthy, it needs a good balance of complex carbohydrates,
essential fatty acids, amino acids, vitamins and minerals and water.
Whilst we are probably all aware of the “buzz” or short term improvement in
mood we experience when for instance we smoke, drink alcohol or eat chocolate,
we are probably less aware of the fact that some foods can have a lasting
influence on our moods and wellbeing due to the specific impact they have on
the structure and function of the brain.
There is obviously a lot of science behind the increasing amount of research
coming to light and this article will merely skim the larger issue. For a more in-
depth scientific explanation of exactly what and how certain compounds
(essentially foods) affect the brain please go to
Neurotransmitters are messages passed back and forth within the brain. They
allow billions of neurons (nerve cells) to communicate information amongst
themselves. These neurons are made from amino acids which must be derived
from the diet we eat as the body cannot make them. These neurotransmitters
affect how we feel, keeping them healthy and working effectively is therefore
extremely important. The most well-known transmitter, Serotonin for example, is
associated with feelings of contentment, is made from the amino acid tryptophan
(which we reported in the last edition of Brainwaves as being present in
The table below outlines a basic list of the four main neurotransmitters in the brain concerned with the way we think, and outlines what role they have and the foods which help to either nourish them or hinder their role in keeping our minds healthy. Neurotransmitter
How else can we keep our brains healthy?
Vitamins and minerals are another extremely important part of a healthy brain
diet, for example, deficits in the major vitamins can have a negative effect on our
brain function, lack of Vitamins B1 can result in poor concentration, B3 can result
in depression, B5 can affect memory and increase stress, all of these vitamins
can be found in foods such as whole grains and vegetables. Lack of vitamin B6
linked with irritability and depression, is found readily in bananas, vegetables and
whole grains. Lack of Vitamin B12, found in meat, some fish, dairy products and
eggs can cause psychosis and confusion, and deficiencies in Folic acid found in
leafy green vegetables, can cause anxiety, psychosis and depression.
The Miracle of Water
One way we can really help ourselves is to drink more water! Water makes up
around 80% of the brain and is an essential element in its functioning.
Inadequate hydration – often as a result of some medication – or because of
simply not drinking enough has significant implications on mental health. The
early effects of dehydration affect wellbeing, performance and learning.
Dehydration can cause restlessness, irritability and a general feeling of being
unwell. More severe symptoms can include low blood pressure and on occasion,
heart failure. In the UK an adult human body loses 2.5 litres of water on average
every day. If this is not replaced adequately the problems outlined above can and
almost certainly will occur.
It is more and more accepted that diet plays an important part not simply in
general mental wellbeing but in specific mental illnesses. Current research has
highlighted that, amongst others, depression, schizophrenia, post-natal
depression, bipolar disorder, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), Attention Deficit
Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s Disease may all be affected by
certain foods we eat or neglect to eat. Examples of three of the illnesses and
some of the research findings follow:
Depression – is the most common mental health problem in the UK. One way
that vitamins and minerals for example may improve mental health and cognitive
function (the way we think) is through their role in the brain’s conversion of amino
acids. As mentioned in the paragraph explaining neurotransmitters, the media
has made us aware of the role of Serotonin and that when it is present in lower
levels than the norm it is linked with depression. As a result of this discovery,
much research focussed on the precursor to serotonin (the amino acid
tryptophan) and studies have found that combining tryptophan with selective
serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) antidepressants (i.e. Prozac) gives better
results in reducing depressive symptoms than with the use of SSRI’s alone.
Could this possibly then advocate a new treatment approach eventually?
Schizophrenia – occurs in around one in every one hundred people and is
typically characterized by delusional thinking, hallucinations and mood
disturbance. Some research evidence has shown that people who suffer from
this mental illness have significantly lower levels of certain fatty acids in their
bodies in comparison with people who do not have mental illness. This
correlation also is opening up further research into identifying specific ways that
diet can work alongside medication and other care options to relieve the
symptoms of schizophrenia.
Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) – is most apparent in
children. 4% of the population are affected by this disorder. Even before the
latest research came to light, parents and teachers have been quick to report that
improvements in their children’s behaviour can be seen when diet changes are
introduced. Studies have so far found that the involvement and presence or
deficit of essential fatty acids, minerals and levels of iron in the diet play an
important part in the control of this illness.
Food and mental health are then intrinsically linked, yet at the moment for most
mental health patients, diet is rarely if ever really tackled in their treatment –
whether that is the depressed person visiting their GP for help or a hospital
inpatient receiving treatment for schizophrenia. It would seem that the now
commonplace message being ‘drummed’ into society by healthcare
professionals, about the importance of a healthy diet on our physical health
needs to be impressed upon the public conscious again but this time in a way
that focusses on the benefits to mental health too.
Whilst the research into specific foods and specific illnesses and how to treat or
prevent them with the use of good nutrition is far from an exact proven science
right now it does show some things for certain which are undeniable. The variety
of nutrients that appear to have a positive effect on brain health are the same
nutrients that are proven to have benefits for physical health. At the same time,
we also know that those foods which are implicated in having a negative effect
on the brain, and thus mental, health are also the same as those known to be
poor for physical health.
So in conclusion we can be certain thus far that a generally healthy diet, one
including fresh fruit and vegetables, with a wide variety of whole grains, nuts,
seeds and legumes and occasional oily fish, lean meat and dairy products
essential for a healthy body are also the same diet necessary to aid the healthy
mind. The food we eat at every stage in our lives affects how we think and feel
regardless of our age, gender, race or background.
With all of this in mind, an open invitation is extended to you all to ‘Zest Café’
where many menu items are ‘neurotransmitter friendly’, we even have a few aptly
named smoothies to keep you happy and healthy!
Verslag van de ledenbijeenkomst van 12 november 2013 Dinsdag 12 november was er weer een ledenbijeenkomst van Ypsilon in Er was een goede opkomst van ruim 20 mensen. Het onderwerp van deze avond was Antipsychotica, dat zijn medicijnen die helpen tegen De heer Peter Neutelaars, psychiater bij Emergis, hield hierover een korte inleiding en daarna was er ruimte voor vragen en discussie. 10