Thursday, March 14, 2013

Food For Thought

Do Our Diets Relate to Mental Illness


"Everyone is a moon and has a dark-side which he never shows to anyone."  Mark Twain

If you, like me, suffer from depression and anxiety, rest assured that we are in good company. President Abraham Lincoln suffered from depression and low self-esteem his entire adult life. His friends spent time with him to prevent suicide. Princess Diana suffered from postpartum depression, bulimia, and self-inflicted injuries. William Churchill suffered from depression that he called the 'black dog'. To compensate for this, he often worked from 8A.M. until 2 A.M. Sir Isaac Newton suffered from depression and insomnia. Astronaut, Buzz Aldrin and playwright, Tennessee Williams (A Streetcar Named Desire), each used alcohol to fight their depressions. Twain suffered from severe depression the last fifteen years of his life!

In the past several years researchers in Australia, United States, Spain, Norway, France, and the United Kingdom have analyzed the relationship between the foods we eat and mental illness. Before explaining some of the results I need to educate you on some technical terms.

This section may be a bit boring, so fix a cup of coffee, kick back, and try your best to enjoy it. It is the baseline for the rest of my Blog.

These are chemicals that transmit signals to activate receptors in the brain and spinal cord. These chemicals are readily available in our foods. They activate dopamine, serotonin, and noradrenaline systems. The terms of noradrenaline and norepinephrine are synonymous. The same hold true for epinephrine and adrenaline.

This is a neurotransmitter and a chemical that is released by nerve cells to send signals to other nerve cells in the brain. It plays a major role for reward-driven learning. People with low dopamine levels are diagnosed with Parkinson's Disease.

 Drug addicts have been reported to have ten-fold the level of dopamine when high on Meth or Coke. People who have low levels of dopamine can have difficulty with numbers, short-term memory loss, reduced libido, Restless Leg Syndrome, ADD, Fibromyalgia, and Depression. High levels are found with Schizophrenia and the manic state of Bi-Polar Disease. Increased dopamine is related to motivation, desire, and pleasure; all of which can be socially negative or positive. A rapist would be an example of a negative response.

Serotonin is also a neurotransmitter and is responsible for our feelings of well-being. It is called a 'happy hormone'. Only 10% is stored in the Central Nervous System (brain and spinal cord). The rest of it is located in the 'gut' region where it is used to regulate intestinal movements and helps with wound healing, among other functions. In the brain, serotonin helps with memory, learning, safety issues, mood, appetite, and sleep. It also reduces the insulin release from the pancreas. It is synthesized by the amino acid, tryptophan.

There is a decrease in serotonin transmissions in the brain with Depression, Anxiety, Social Phobias, Insomnia, and Anger.
Stress is a major trigger for the 'Flight or Fight" Reaction. If we stay in a stressful state long enough, certain diseases result. These include: Diabetes, Cardiac Problems, and High Blood Pressure to name a few. More importantly, if we are constantly under Stress and releasing serotonin, we will desensitize it. Then the serotonin is depleted! When serotonin is depleted, another chemical runs rampant in our bodies. It is a collection called the catecholamines. Excessive amounts of catecholamines in our system lead to Depression, Anxiety, Insomnia, and Increased risk of obesity. Having been under severe and constant stress for the past six and one half years, I have suffered from depression, high anxiety, sleep loss, and weight gain. What about you?

Constant Stress depletes the neurotransmitters. The body knows it needs some help. It signals us to intake high glycemic carbohydrates which are known to increase a spike in dopamine and serotonin. This is part of the cause for obesity! Address the Stress and you will partially address the obesity. It is proven that exercise thirty minutes a day will double the serotonin and other brain-repair chemicals.

Norepinephrine aka Noradrenaline
This is a neurotransmitter that plays a major role in the 'flight or fight' response in all animals and humans. It increases heart rate and releases glucose from storage places in the body. The glucose is then used by the muscles to fight or flight. It increases blood pressure to send blood to our muscles at a faster rate than normal.  Other reactions during the 'flight or fight response' include: Hair stands on end (just look at your cat during a fight), blood vessels open wide to accommodate more blood flow carrying oxygen to the muscles, sixteen major muscles in our bodies immediately contract preparing to run or fight, and tubes in our lungs open wider to transfer more oxygen to the muscles.

It is synthesized from dopamine. Other functions in the body include: reducing inflammation in nerve cells, proper release of glucose, increases blood flow to muscles, and increases oxygen supply to the brain. When this chemical is reduced from excessive stress, diabetes, coronary problems, loss of short term memory can occur.

Schizophrenics tend to have high levels of this chemical. Those who have Depression have low levels. In our bodies there is an amino acid called tyrosine. This is needed to create dopamine, which in turn is a precursor to epinephrine and norepinephrine.

Epinephrine aka Adrenaline 
Epinephrine is a neurotransmitter that is produced during exercise (the runner's high), excitement, pain, and orgasm. It produces a feeling of well-being. It also plays a part in the 'Flight or Fight" reaction. Stress is also the major trigger for epinephrine. It is also produced by the amino acid tryosine. 

Points to remember from the section above 
* Chemicals needed by the body are found in our foods 
* These chemicals are called neurotransmitters
* People with low levels of Dopamine may have difficulty with numbers, short term memory loss, and reduced libido
* Low levels of dopamine have been associated with depression, fibromyalgia, ADD, and restless leg syndrome
* Being in a constant state of Stress will deplete serotonin and can result in Social Phobia, Insomnia, Depression, Anger, Anxiety, and Obesity 
* Foods high in sugar will temporarily elevate us to 'feel good' when we are low in serotonin and dopamine. This is one reason for obesity in people who suffer mental illness.
* People who suffer from depression have low levels of norepinephrine (noradrenaline) 
* Exercising 30 minutes a day will double the serotonin levels in our system

What Does Literature Review Report    

1. Sleep deprivation weakens our immune system and negatively affects our memory, metabolism, learning ability, healing (both physical and psychological). This is why sleep deprivation is used as a torture technique.
2. The National Sleep Foundation reports that with insomnia there are problems that can occur with the heart, lungs, brain, immune, and endocrine systems (diabetes).
3. UCLA - Berkeley reports people with Depression have reduced serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine.
4. Food addiction is caused by brain chemicals that are just as powerful as the addiction to alcohol and drugs. It starts with the body trying to replenish the loss of serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.
5. Insomnia increases inflammation in arteries. When it is chronic heart attack, stroke, and/or diabetes can occur.
6. Foods with refined sugar, white flour, high fructose, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners/colors, preservatives, and chocolate can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, apathy, obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.    
7. Antidepressant medications increase the amount of serotonin in our system.

Depression and Anxiety 
1. Over 2,000 adolescents aged 11-18, in Australia were tested over a four year period looking at the hypothesis of "Foods that we eat can have a bearing on our mental health". They were tested specifically for depression. One group ate foods from the 'Core Food Groups". This included two or more servings of fruit per day and four or more servings of vegetables per day. They avoided chocolate, fried foods, chips, sweets, ice cream, and processed foods. The other group ate all the 'bad foods'. After four years the following was noted:
A. Those who ate from the 'Core Food Groups' had a marked improvement in their mental health.
B. Those whose dietary qualities deteriorated experienced a worsening of their mental health.
2. Consuming trans-fats has been linked to increased risk of depression.
3. A study in Norway found that consuming processed and other unhealthy foods was linked to anxiety.
4. The Norway study also found that there was a direct link between better quality diets and improved mental health. Specifically depression and anxiety were improved.
5. Another study found that women who ate the 'Western Diet" high in refined or processed foods, meats, and saturated fats had a 50% increased likelihood of depression.
6. Women who consumed a 'Whole Diet' of vegetables, fruits, whole grains, fish, high quality pasture-raised beef reduced their risk of depression and anxiety by more than 30%.
7. An interesting study in Spain found people who ate pizza and hamburgers had an increased risk of depression That same study found the consumption of nuts, seeds, fish, leafy green vegetables, and avocados decreased the risk of depression over time.
8. There was a report in the Archives of General Psychiatry in 2009, that people who follow the Mediterranean Diet that is high in fruits, vegetables, nuts, whole grains, fish, olive oil were 30% less likely to develop depression compared to those who followed the 'Western Diet'.
9. One study I found reported that fish oil supplements prevented conversion from a sub-threshold psychotic state to full-blown schizophrenia.
10. Salmon, herring, and mackerel have the highest levels of omega- 3 fatty acid. This chemical can not be synthesized by the body, but is vital for normal metabolism. It must come from our food supply. It has been proven positively associated with cognitive and behavioral performance. One study reported that a deficiency of omega-3 may be a risk factor for suicide.
11. It has been reported that pasture raised animals have a healthier fatty acid profile than animals raised in feedlots. In the United States, animals that were raised in feedlots were found to have an increase in saturated fats.
12. Diets that include berries and other dark pigmented fruits and vegetables may slow cognitive decline through the anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.
13. Alcohol is a depressant. However, low to moderate alcohol consumption has been associated with numerous health benefits. These include: improved cholesterol profile, blood platelet and clotting improvement, and improved insulin sensitivity.
United States Food & Drug Administration Report    
Moderate alcohol consumption is defined as one drink per day for women and up to two drinks per day for men. One drink is equivalent to 12 fluid ounces of regular beer, five fluid ounces of 12% alcohol wine, or 1.5 ounces of distilled spirits.
14. If you are a diabetic and want to consume alcohol, NEVER do it on an empty stomach. Drink about two hours after you have eaten or the alcohol will spike your sugar level.
15. One researcher reported, "Diet can not cure a person who has bipolar disease but our studies demonstrate diet can prevent multiple episodes."       

Points to remember from the section above   
Foods with refined sugar, white flour, high fructose, corn syrup, artificial sweeteners/colors, preservatives, and chocolate can lead to anxiety, depression, insomnia, apathy, obesity, diabetes, and heart problems.  
* Insomnia may lead to major health problems
* Consuming trans-fats has been linked to depression
* Consuming processed foods has been linked to an increase in anxiety
* Diets high in the consumption of fruits, nuts, berries, seeds, vegetables, fish, pasture raised beef reduce the risk of depression and anxiety.

Actual Case Study 
A 64 year old male has a long history of depression, anxiety, and insomnia. He experienced severe physical and emotional abuse from his alcoholic father from ages 11 through 17. While writing a novel he realized something that had been repressed for nearly fifty-seven years. He remembered being locked in a darkened stairwell at age eight, for nearly eighteen hours with no water or food. He had to endure extreme heat and insects in the darkened area. 

At the same time while writing his book, he and his wife were the victims of a frivolous law-suit. The other party was after the full retirement from the subject and his wife. For six and one half years the male subject reported he felt like he was locked in a trunk of a car and being driven around with no 'say-so' in the entire situation. The night before trial, the other party dropped their law-suit. It was over after all those years of constant stress and pressure.

The subject developed sleep deprivation during the law-suit. He also developed diabetes, circulatory issues, sleep apnea and severe depression. Previously he was diagnosed with Restless Leg Syndrome. He was further diagnosed with PTSD due to his childhood experiences magnified by the law-suit. 

That subject is ME! 

I have taken the following steps to improve my mental and physical health.
1. I exercise 60-90 minutes five days a week.
2. I have changed my eating habits to include grass fed beef, cage-free chickens, fruits, nuts - (walnuts especially are great for depression), leafy green vegetables, seeds, fish, and organic foods in general.
3. I use medications to control my anxiety and depression as prescribed by my physician
4. I am involved with talk therapy on a monthly basis.
5. I have changed the way I cook. I use no oils except extra virgin olive oil. I use a water-less system that is significantly better than 'regular' cooking methods. Here is their web site 

I now sleep all the way through each night, I am losing weight, I have a positive attitude about life, and I have a sense of well-being.

Foods That Are Healthy   
1. Meats, nuts eggs, and cheese contain the amino acid Tyrosine which helps with the development of norepinephrine.
2. Mushrooms, fruits, vegetables, pineapple, plum, turkey, lamb tomato, bananas, walnuts, pecans, cashews, and almonds are great sources for creating serotonin.
3. Root vegetables such as carrots, beets, potatoes, yams, onions, turnips, pumpkin, and squash are great foods for better health. Be sure to research the benefits of butternut squash.

4. Garlic, whole beans, brown rice, oatmeal, fish, fruits, vegetables, grains, nuts, watermelon, plant foods help in the production of the neurotransmitters.    

*Note: The above article is NOT meant to be medical advice nor is it meant to replace information from your physician. ALWAYS check with your physician before making any life-style changes!

To learn more about my novel, The Shade Tree Choir, go to my website at My novel is available also at Amazon and Smashwords.

As always feel free to leave a comment or a question. 

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