The interconnectedness of nutrition and mental health is often overlooked. There are many disorders which we label as mental disorders that can be caused by something in the diet or nutrients that are lacking in the diet. (Rogers 97, Pfeiffer 87) Depression, addiction, hyperactivity, learning disorders, anxiety, alcoholism, schizophrenia, and even behavioral problems such as crime and violence or conduct disorder and anti-social personality respond very well to dietary changes and nutritional supplementation.
One of the first indications of nutritional deficiency is a psychological disturbance. (Kane 85) The brain is a very delicate sensitive organ and controls our mood, thoughts, perceptions, emotions, and behavior. It has a protective barrier called the blood/brain barrier that selectively transports nutrients and other substances that are needed for brain function.
The production of proper neurotransmitters is highly dependent on this uptake from the blood, so if the nutrients are inadequate then imbalances of the neurochemicals of the brain can occur and result in disturbance of thought, mood, emotion, perceptions, or behavior.
An inadequate supply of nutrition from our diets is falsely believed to be rare in industrialized societies. Nutrient deficiencies in our society are practically epidemic. Up to 50% of our population may fail to ingest even the recommended daily allowance for various vitamins and miners. (Werbach 92, Rogers 97) One of the reasons this is occurring is because it is estimated that about 75% of the western diet consists of processed foods, and on the average, each person consumes 8-10 lbs of food additives each year. (Tuoorma 94) Processed foods with food additives are stripped of their nutritional value and, therefore, are extremely lacking in the proper nutrients needed for our minds and body to function properly.
In a study by the FDA, they found that the average American diet has less than 80% of the RDA of one or more of the following nutrients: calcium, magnesium, iron, zinc, copper, and manganese. These nutrients are critical for good mental health.
There is evidence that suggests that there is sufficient toxicity from residual pesticides in our food, air, water, homes, and yards that can cause neurotoxic damage. Our diets are not healthy because we eat food that is grown on overworked soil, sprayed with numerous chemicals and fertilizers, then refined and processed with mass amounts of food colorings, preservatives, and dyes. When we ingest these foods we become toxic and malnourished.
The average food supply is overloaded with pesticides. Pesticides were created originally to be used as nerve gasses for chemical warfare. It was then decided that since they were so effective on killing humans they would use smaller doses to kill insects, rodents, etc. The chief target organ that is affected by pesticides is the brain. When the brain is affected symptoms such as loss of memory, loss of problem-solving ability, inhibited intellect, paranoia, irritability, social withdrawal, schizophrenia, numbness, paralysis, poor coordination, weakness, autoimmunity, headaches, dizziness, vomiting chest, pain and many more can develop. One of the primary symptoms to develop is depression. (Rogers 96)
Pesticides inhibit the enzyme acetylcholinesterase. This enzyme controls the metabolism of acetylcholine, which is our primary “happy hormone” in our brain. Pesticides also inhibit the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin, which is our other “happy hormone”. Thus if you have inhibited happy hormones depression develops.
In addition to this, pesticides also inhibit other enzymes like ATPase, which is needed for energy, and thus chronic fatigue can develop, and our enzyme cholesterol ester hydrolase, which creates impaired cholesterol metabolism, and they also inhibit the enzymes that affect how the body and mind handle stress. (Rogers 96)
The presence of food additives and preservatives is also detrimental to our mental health. They can cause anxiety, hyperactivity, learning disabilities, disturbance in mood and thought to name a few. Considerable scientific data is emerging that links food additive intolerance to various mental and physical disorders, especially hyperactivity. (Tuoormaa 94)
Schuitemaker (88) cites a study that found a dramatic effect on anti-social behavior of criminal children by changing the diet to whole healthy foods and eliminating foods that contained coloring preservatives, additives, and sugar. Anti-social acts were diminished in 80% of the subjects. In a follow-up study, they used the same diet and reduced anti-social acts by 50%. What was most interesting about this study was that the offenders who had been convicted of the worst crimes were the ones who benefited the most. The institutions that cooperated in this study were so impressed with the improvements they did not return to their old diet menu.
These are only a few examples of the powerful dynamics between nutrition and mental health, but it is very clear that we can make profound changes in our lives if we eat a healthy diet.