Undernourished and mentally unbalanced

July 17, 2013

For centuries, it has been known that food affects mental health. In the United States, there are now three times as many people on disability for mental illness than there were in 1987. Mental well-being is associated with being resilient to stress. Chronic stress causes a decline in mental health, leading to depression, anxiety, addictions, and other psychological disorders. But not everyone needs to make an appointment with a psychiatrist to address mental issues. During the 2013 IFT Annual Meeting session “Diet, Mental Energy, and Mental Well-Being: A Landscape Overview of the Science and Consumer Perceptions,” speakers suggested that a change in dietary patterns may be more effective than pharmaceuticals to address mental health issues.

Speaker Bonnie Kaplan of the University of Calgary said that the number one cause of acquired insanity is imperfect nutrition, but with the growth of psychiatric medications in the 1950s, psychiatrists moved away from addressing mental issues through dietary intervention. Still, studies indicate that people who eat Western diets high in processed foods have a higher rate of mood and anxiety symptoms. Studies also indicate that people who eat a Mediterranean-style diet have lower incidence of mood and anxiety symptoms. Even in people already diagnosed with having a mental disorder, a higher intake of vitamins and minerals can lead to better outcomes, Kaplan said.

Moreover, an unscientific study at Appleton Central High School in Appleton, Wis., observed that students behaved better when they consumed healthy lunches consisting of vegetables, fruits, and whole grains. Plant foods are the most nutrient-dense foods on earth; however, it is extremely difficult to get people to change their dietary patterns. Kaplan said that the solution may be supplementation of nutrients because it is integral that people receive less pharmaceutical intervention for mental disorders (many pharmaceutical drugs addressing mental illness have undesirable side effects). Broad-spectrum supplements containing multiple nutrients are ideal because treatment with one nutrient at a time has been shown to be ineffective, Kaplan said.

Humans are what they eat, and it is especially true for their brains. With 80% of children and 70% of adults consuming less than five servings of vegetables and fruits per day, these poor dietary habits could have lasting consequences on the mental stability of society.

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