by Susan Brown
According to the National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 86 percent of American healthcare dollars are spent treating chronic diseases; in 2013, that was $2.7 trillion. Seven out of 10 deaths are related to ongoing chronic health conditions. We struggle daily to feel better. We hurt, we are exhausted, we can’t get up in the morning and we can’t fall asleep at night. Even digesting foods and having normal bowel movements are major concerns for millions of people.
If someone is chronically sick, they can’t possibly be happy and mentally well. It is important to understand that there is a direct correlation between physical wellness and being happy. Healthy equals happy. The root causes of chronic physical diseases are typically the same as for chronic mental health issues, and it may well be that suboptimal nutrition is at the root of these health issues. If we fix the physical manifestations of chronic problems by eating whole food nutrition with specific supplementation, mental wellness will improve.
Most natural health practitioners tell their patients, “Disease and health both start in the gut, you choose.” Great nutrition leads to great health. Poor nutrition leads to poor health. The health of the digestive tract, or gut, is especially meaningful when discussing mental wellness
The hormone serotonin, which regulates appetite and sleep, is also considered the feel-good, happy hormone. The most serotonin is produced and stored in the gut, where digestion occurs, and that is where the highest concentration of serotonin receptors is located. This makes sense because our most intimate relationship with the outside world is with the foods we eat. If we are not getting the nutrients we need, our body responds quickly and we will not feel well. Thus, our mental health is intimately tied to our digestive health.
Over the past decade, clinical psychologist Dr. Julie Rucklidge, of the Mental Health and Nutrition Research Group at the University of Canterbury, New Zealand, has been researching the effects of micronutrients, vitamins and minerals on those suffering with mental health issues. The findings of one of her double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled trials regarding the effects of nutrients on adults with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) were published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2014. She states, “This study provides preliminary evidence of efficacy for micronutrients in the treatment of ADHD symptoms in adults, with a reassuring safety profile.”
In a 2014 Tedx Talk, Rucklidge noted that after decades of treating mental illness with drugs, there has been no reduction in the rate of mental illness, and studies have consistently shown just the opposite to be true—an increase in depression using pharmaceuticals; only short-term improvement in children with ADHD taking Ritalin and children not taking Ritalin doing better in the long term. Children treated with antidepressants were three times more likely to become bipolar later in life than those not treated with antidepressants.
At least 20 international studies have replicated the finding that micronutrients have a positive effect on mental wellness and that 60 to 80 percent of people respond favorably and safely to nutrient supplementation. Although most studies have focused on nutritional supplements, some address the effects of food on mental wellness. The results look promising and show that avoiding refined and processed foods is beneficial for mental wellness.
It should be noted that the level of micronutrients used in most studies are higher than what would typically be found in over-the-counter supplements based on U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommendations. Because it can be difficult to eat enough foods to provide the therapeutic doses needed, nutrient-dense supplementation appears to be critical for success. The nutrients found to be most effective against mental illness are the vitamin B-complex, especially B1, B6, B12, folic acid; vitamin D; amino acids; Omega-3 fatty acids; and the minerals iron, zinc, copper, magnesium, iodine and selenium.
In addition to successfully treating mental illness using nutrition, studies have shown that using nutrient-based therapies can be substantially less expensive than using pharmaceuticals. One study demonstrated the cost to successfully treat mental illness with nutritional supplementation to be as low as 2 percent of the drug therapies.
By eliminating or reducing refined and processed foods and optimizing nutrition by incorporating nutritionally dense foods and specific supplements, each of us can personally experience the physical and psychological benefits of making better food choices. As Rulcklidge states, “Nutrition matters.”
Susan Brown is a certified nutritionist practicing out of Vitality Health Center in Scotia/Glenville. For more information, call 518-372-4706 or visit GetVitalHealth.com.
This article appeared in the November 2016 issue of Natural Awakenings Magazine. Click to read more.