NUTRITION AND MENTAL HEALTH
By Lawrence Wilson, MD
© Decmber 2009, The Center For Development
Nutritional imbalances play a critical role in mental as well as physical health. Many emotional and behavioral symptoms and disorders have, at their root, nutritional and biochemical imbalances that either cause or aggravate them. This article is a brief introduction to the major nutritional imbalances and their mental and emotional effects.
A solid, steady energy level is very important for the brain. The brain uses almost one-third of our calories. Any fluctuations or low levels of energy will have enormous impacts on our nervous system and emotions as well.
This has been demonstrated and is well-known in the case of hypoglycemica. In this condition, the brain does not receive a steady supply of glucose. Common symptoms can mimic many emotional and physical disorders. These include fatigue, depression, anxiety, confusion and even violence and psychosis.
Emotionally speaking, when one is tired, decision-making and all other mental and emotional factors are more difficult. Thousands of people today suffer from low energy levels. This often results in feelings of depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, withdrawal and more.
Dr. George Watson, PhD, spent over thirty years researching the biochemical and nutritional aspects of mental health. He began his work in the late 1940’s when he held a post-doctoral research fellowship in psychology at the University of Southern California. He wrote:
“Since the brain and the nervous system use proportionately more energy than any other of the bodies organs, when there is a dysfunction in the energy cycles, the first adverse affects are found in ones thinking, feeling, and behavior.” (Watson, 1979)
We need energy to take risks, to face challenges and to live up to our potential to be all that we can be. Enough adaptive energy is absolutely required to cope with stress as well. When energy is low and other imbalances are present, the weakened chemistry fosters negativity and discouragement that impedes self-expression and self-actualization. This fact has been born out many times in our healing practice.
The production of energy (ATP) from our food involves two major components, an intact energy pathway and a balanced metabolic or oxidation rate. Let us discuss these very briefly.
THE ENERGY PATHWAY
The energy pathway involves the ingestion of food, first of all. In most people, the diet is improper, with too many refined foods, too much sugars and not enough vegetables, for example. Other aspects of diet include eating habits such as eating regular, sit-down, quiet meals. This is as important in some cases as what a person eats.
The pathway continues with the digestion of food, another area most people are sorely deficient in. They lack adequate digestive enzymes, which we supply in our nutritional balancing programs for everyone. Once food is digested properly, it must be absorbed into the cells, another area where many people have difficulty due to their diet of too many omega-6 fatty acids and not enough omega-3 fatty acids. This makes the cell membranes less permeable and causes inflammation as well.
Once absorbed, food goes to the liver, where it must be converted in many instances, to other chemical substances. This is also often a problem, as the livers are so toxic today due to the ingestion of many chemical substances that are toxic for the body.
Nutrients then pass to the cells. Once nutrients enter the cells they must be further processed in the energy cycles within the mitochondria of each cell. Deficiencies of manganese, for example, or B vitamins will inhibit this energy conversion in the Krebs and glycolysis energy cycles. This is also very common today.
A person’s energy drops drastically if any step in the energy pathway is blocked by nutrient deficiencies, toxic metals, toxic chemicals, infection or other problems. It is not wonder many people seek out caffeinated beverages or other stimulants to keep going today!
The other important factor in a person’s energy level is the metabolic or oxidation rate. We prefer the more exact term, the oxidation rate. It is the rate at which energy is made available to the cells in the body.
When this rate is too fast or too slow, one’s energy level decreases dramatically. This is somewhat like pedaling a bicycle in the wrong gear. Some people may be familiar with the engine problems that occur by running a car in the wrong gear as well.
In addition to energy loss, specific emotional and behavioral symptoms are associated with a fast or an excessively slow oxidation rate.
Dr. George Watson, who coined the terms fast and slow oxidation, noted that fast oxidation is associated with impatience, irritability, anxiety, ADD and ADHD in young children, panic attacks, at times, and other mental and emotional symptoms.
Slow oxidation is more associated with depression, apathy, despair, hostility, bipolar disorder, schizophrenias, moodiness, spaciness, brain fog, malaise and other mental disorders.
Assessing the oxidation rate is not easy with blood tests. However, it is readily apparent on a hair mineral analysis in which the hair is not washed at the laboratory. Fast oxidizers have low levels of calcium and magnesium and relatively high levels of sodium and potassium on their hair mineral tests. Slow oxidizers have the opposite situation with relatively high levels of calcium and magnesium in their hair tissue relative to the levels of sodium and potassium.
This occurs because calcium and magnesium have a sedating effect on the nervous system. When they are elevated they have a depressive effects on the central nervous system. Sodium and potassium tend to have a stimulating or enhancing effect on the nervous system. For more on how to calculate the oxidation rate from a hair test, read The Oxidation Types.
Every time Steven ate pizza, he became sullen and unresponsive. Eliminating this food cleared up the problem. Reactions to foods such as wheat, milk and many others can trigger emotional and behavioral problems. These reactions are sometimes known as central nervous system allergies.
A pioneer in this field was an allergist, Dr. Benjamin Feingold. In 1985 he wrote Why is your Child Hyperactive? He found that among hyperactive children, a full 50% improved when they removed certain food items including sugars, dairy, wheat and various chemical food additives such as colorings, flavorings and preservatives. Even some “natural” flavors can cause problems. One is better off without any additives, according to his research findings. His primary focus was on children diagnosed as hyperkinetic. Currently this is known as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD.
Another pioneer in this field was a psychiatrist, Abram Hoffer, MD. In his book, Orthomolecular Nutrition, Dr. Hoffer gives many examples of patients whose aberrant behavior was traced to food sensitivities. One young girl became psychotic each time she ate oysters.
Doris Rapp, MD, a pediatric allergist, thoroughly documented the effects of foods and chemicals on behavior in her excellent more recent books. For example, she wrote in, Is this your Child’s World? “reactions to foods, dusts, molds, pollen or exposure to chemicals can cause aggressive behavior and extreme anger.”
Unfortunately, children’s food, in particular, but many prepared foods for adults as well continue to be laced with hundreds of toxic chemicals. In addition, food reactions are extremely common to everyday foods such as wheat, for example. This problem if usually missed by most psychiatrists, psychologists and counselors who attempt to correct a physical problem with drugs or counseling when a dietary change would be a simple remedy.
In Disease Prevention and Treatment, 3rd edition, the authors note that while other tissues of the body store fuel, such as sugar and fat, the brain does not. T he brain is dependant on a steady supply of glucose (sugar) for its moment-to-moment operations. Also, the brain uses up a tremendous amount of calories. If the blood sugar is unstable for any reason, it can have profound effects on behavior.
Eating sugars, particularly refined sugars, upsets calcium metabolism, depletes vital B-complex vitamins, depletes minerals such as chromium, manganese and zinc, and often leads to carbohydrate intolerance. Even fruit and fruit juices contain too much sugar for most people, especially children. They are much better off without juices and limiting their fruit intake.
Hypoglycemia is one result of eating a diet of refined foods, the use of stimulants and/or vital mineral depletion. It may be better described as carbohydrate intolerance. The body becomes unable to absorb certain carbohydrate loads effectively without adverse consequences.
More specifically, what happens is that several hours after a carbohydrate or sugar-rich meal, the blood sugar level falls because the body cannot properly respond to such a lot of carbohydrate ingested at the meal. It can easily fall to a level at which the brain is effectively starving for fuel.
Symptoms include fatigue, dizziness, shakiness, irritability and depression. Others are palpitations, anxiety, nightmares, and panic attacks. Others are impaired memory and concentration. Much more can be understood about hypoglycemia. To find out more, read Hypoglycemia and Diabetes on this website.
THE SUGAR AND STIMULANT ROLLERCOASTER
Many people eat a sugar-laden breakfast that also includes coffee. This pumps up their blood sugar level, which can cause irritability and even manic behavior.
By about 10:30 in the morning, however, the blood sugar falls. They become sleepy, and often crabby or irritable, and require a snack. They often have a sweet or stimulant food to carry them over till lunch.
Lunch may include more sugar, perhaps a soda pop with caffeine, sugar and up to 70 chemicals. It might include the artificial sweetener, Nutrasweet or aspartame or other chemicals such as MSG. These are called excitotoxins. These affect the brain powerfully. The sweets and caffeine also pump up the blood sugar again, and the roller coaster blood sugar ride continues throughout the day. Along with it, emotions can flare and one may wonder why work, relationships and other activities are becoming more difficult to focus on and enjoy.
An afternoon snack is usually required to maintain one’s energy level. This is usually sweet again, and may contain more caffeine, too. The blood sugar rises again, only to fall about 5 pm, when it is time for happy hour or a drink or another soda pop to balance out once again. Millions of Americans live this way, and more of the world is starting to live this way as well. It is sad to behold because it is preventable by eating more protein, some omega-3 fats and oils and much less sugar, chemicals and stimulants such as caffeine.
Specific nutrients are absolutely required for many aspects of brain activity. These include all the B-complex vitamins, zinc, manganese, selenium, chromium, other vitamins and many more.
For example, a key mineral is calcium. It acts as a psychological buffer that relaxes muscles and the nervous system, and helps to calm people down. Low tissue levels of calcium are very common. Hypocalcemia, as it is sometimes called, may produce mild, diffuse encephalopathy (a brain disorder) and should be suspected in any patient with unexplained dementia, depression, or psychosis: (Berkow, pg.1196).
In milder cases it causes irritability, anxiety, nervousness, restlessness in children and hyperkinetic behavior. It can also lead to short tempers, violence and even murder. Muscles become more tense and one develops a “short fuse”. All this is from a low level of one common mineral that is deficient in most people’s diet today.
It is well known that phosphoric acid, an additive in most types of soda pop, binds to calcium in the intestine. There it forms an insoluble product that cannot be absorbed, thereby robbing the body of calcium. In The Handbook Of Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones, Dr. Roman Kutsky explains that modern diets are very often deficient in calcium and nutrients needed to use calcium such as vitamin D. This tends to cause more of many problems, including mental and emotional diseases.
Also, stress from any cause can use up nutrients much faster than they can be replenished, even with a wholesome diet. As a result, deficiencies in many vital nutrients are even common in those who supposedly eat a healthful diet. Stress is a hidden source of problems for many people that can lead a healthy person to develop symptoms of mental illness.
An important cause of mental ailments today is called biochemical individuality. This is the term used to describe normal variations in the nutritional needs of each person. It is a critical reason for certain nutritional problems that often lead to emotional and mental ailments. Variation depends on one’s health conditions, lifestyle, age and even genetics.
In plain words, some people simply need much more of a certain vitamin or mineral than others. If they do not receive it, they will develop both physical and often emotional and mental symptoms. This is fact, even if most doctors and psychiatrists do not recognize it as true. I have seen it prove out many, many times. It can even explain various food cravings such as a love of chocolate, which is rich in magnesium, copper and other nutrients.
For example, the “minimum daily requirement” for thiamine, vitamin B1, is extremely low. However, Dr. Kutsky notes that “special conditions requiring supplementation of vitamin B1 include pregnancy, lactation, heavy exercise, alcoholism, high carbohydrate intake, processed food diets, deficiency diseases, old age, gastrointestinal disturbances and antibiotic usage. This list includes most Americans!
Among the symptoms of a vitamin B1 deficiency are mental confusion and aphonia (difficulty speaking). Others include depression, irritability and memory loss” (Kutsky, p.216).
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS
These are also essential for good mental health in some cases. Unfortunately, today they are found in abundance only in fish oils, flaxseed oil, hemp oil and to some degree cod liver oil and some other sources such as grass fed beef and free-range chicken fat. However, most people do not get nearly enough of these critical nutrients.
One of these, DHA, is critical for young growing babies and children. Children’s brains absolutely require a lot of it for proper development. Many other nutrients, of course, are also important as well.
Toxic metals are minerals that have no known necessary function in the body, and in fact have very harmful effects on the body. Examples are lead, cadmium, copper, aluminum, arsenic, mercury and a dozen others.
These metals are found in our air, water, and food. We also acquire them by contact, such as mercury found in dental fillings. They are difficult to detect with standard blood and urine tests as they do not remain long in the blood.
Copper. All toxic metals are toxic to the brain and the nervous system. For example, the late Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, PhD.,M.D taught an entire generation of nutritionally oriented psychiatrists that many psychological problems, ranging from depression to schizophrenia, can be caused by high copper levels. Pfeiffer was the former director of the Brain Bio Center in Princeton, New Jersey. In Mental and Elemental Nutrients, he also mentions the connection between copper and postpartum psychosis, autism and one type of schizophrenia. To read more about copper toxicity, read the article on this website, Copper Toxicity Syndrome.
Thus, toxic metals are an important hidden cause of emotional and physical illness that is often ignored because physicians of all kinds are unaware of their presence and importance.
Mercury. Another important toxic metal contributing to mental disorders is mercury. Pfeiffer (1975) states that 10% of all ingested mercury goes to the brain, which, in turn, depletes it of necessary zinc. Zinc functions as a calming neurotransmitter and a facilitator for important enzymes in the brain.
Drs. Casdorph and Walker mention symptoms of mercury poisoning as depression, fearfulness, and frequent bouts of anger or hallucinations. Others are the inability to accept criticism, inability to concentrate, indecision, irritability, loss of memory and a persecution complex.
Manganese poisoning is often found to be prevalent in people with psychopathic behavior. Casdorph and Walker (1995) discuss the case of James Huberty, who opened fire with an assault rifle at a busy McDonald’s restaurant in San Ysidro, California in 1984, killing 21 people. Among other tests, the city’s medical examiner did a hair mineral test. It revealed extremely high levels of lead and cadmium, and even higher levels of manganese. The examiner wrote that the killer’s mineral analysis showed a “trace metal pattern previously observed only in violent sociopaths.”
In 1989, Patrick E. Purdy sprayed assault riffle fire at children at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, California. He killed 5 children and wounded 30 others. Then he turned the gun on himself and pulled the trigger. Post mortem hair mineral analysis showed also an extremely high level of manganese. As it happens, both killers were welders. Among the metals they worked with were lead, cadmium, iron and manganese, according to Casdorph and Walker (1995).
For much more information on the important topic of toxic metals, read the article on this website entitled Toxic Metals.
Thousands of chemicals affect our mental health today. They range from simple food additives to pesticides, solvents, plastics and many other industrial chemicals. Many are neurotoxic and thus are capable of affecting emotions and behavior.
A few are well-known and well-researched such as alcohol and marijuana. However, many hundreds of others are unknown to most people. One reason is the severity of their effects vary depending on an individual’s sensitivity. So while one person is hardly affected by chemicals such as pesticides, others become agitated and even violent.
TCE. An example of a toxic chemical that affects the nervous system and behavior is is trichloroethylene (TCE). It is commonly found in homes and schools, in adhesives, coffee, copy machines, dry cleaning fluid, floor polish, food additives, fumigants, glue, ink, paint, rug shampoo, and more.
Dr. Doris Rapp, MD mentions that symptoms of TCE exposure symptoms include central nervous system damage, depression, dizziness, fatigue, and psychosis. She gives the example of William, a student whose grades were typically between 85 and 90 percent. Shortly after the school installed new carpet, his grades dropped to barely passing. He switched to a different school with plain wooden floors, and his grades returned to their original high levels.
Fluoride has been shown by Dr. Rapp and others to have dramatic effects on children’s emotions and fine motor skills. She gives the example of a ten-year-old girl who had been depressed for two years. During that period she had been taking fluoride tablets. When she was tested with the fluoride and asked to draw a picture, she drew a face with tears rolling down her cheeks.
Stopping the fluoride tablets and eliminating other exposure to fluoride in water , foods and toothpaste caused a dramatic improvement in Marcia’s symptoms.
Chlorine. Another chemical that can cause problems is chlorine, found in tap water, and even moreso in swimming pools and hot tubs. Dr. Rapp gives an example of eight-year-old William. He was tested for chlorine after his mother noticed he fell asleep during an exciting dolphin and whale show at Wonderland. William’s handwriting (normally neat) became unreadable when he was tested to sensitivity to chlorine.
Once again, much more could be written and has been written elsewhere about the detrimental effects of toxic chemicals on our brain and resulting behavioral problems. We love Dr. Doris Rapp’s rather large textbooks as sources of information on this topic.
THE IMPORTANCE OF DETOXIFICATION
To deal with the problem of toxic metals and toxic chemicals in the environment, many people benefit from a detoxification regimen. This can be done at home at low cost. We have articles that cover this topic in depth in the book, Sauna Therapy, for example.
Detoxification is so important for some cases of mental and emotional illness that it deserves a separate article, though here I am just mentioning this critical idea. It has been practiced for many years by followers of L. Ron Hubbard, the founder of Scientology. More than half a million people have gone through their sauna detoxification program to improve and get rid of drug and alcohol addiction. It also works well to help reduce toxicity with many chemicals and toxic metals.
The Hubbard program, while excellent, must be done at a center under doctor’s supervision and it is costly. It takes about a month in most cases and may cost several thousand dollars. One spends several hours in a sauna each day with a doctor or medical technician keeping a close watch. For this reason, we developed a much less costly program that can be done at home, even while working a regular 9 to 5 job. It is described in our book, Sauna Therapy.
Seven areas have been identified in which nutrition and biochemistry affect emotions and behavior. They include a persons energy level, the impact of the oxidation rate and the effects of food reactions on the central nervous system. Other areas discussed are the impact of blood sugar problems, toxic metals, nutrient deficiencies and environmental chemicals on emotional and mental well-being.
The article concludes with a short discussion of another critical topic in mental health, detoxification. This is a controversial area today with all sorts of practitioners offering a variety of therapies with machines, baths, clay, patches and other paraphernalia. We strongly recommend the infrared sauna and coffee enemas or colon cleansing, however, as the most powerful and also the least costly and most important, the safest methods that can be done in the privacy of any home.
All these areas have been studied extensively, many for thirty to one hundred years or even more. However, they have not been incorporated in the medical approach to mental health that is so dominated by drug therapy today. Yet these factors contribute to many conditions for which people seek counseling.
Addressing these factors would greatly enhance the success rates of counselors and other professionals who work with emotional and behavioral disorders. I am pleased to help anyone with information, training and other materials that may be of assistance.
Berkow, R., editor, (1977) The Merck Manual, thirteenth edition, Pennsylvania, Merck Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories.
Carlson, N. (2004) Physiology of Behavior, eighth edition, Massachusetts, Pearson Education,Inc.
Casdorph,H.R. and Walker, M. (1995) Toxic Metal Syndrome, How Metal Poisonings Can Affect Your Brain. New York: Avery Publishing Group.
Crook,W.G. (1999). The Yeast Connection Handbook. Tennessee: Professional Books, Inc.
Feingold, B., (1985) Why Your Child Is Hyperactive?, New York, Random House Books.
Gittleman,A.L., (1999) Why Am I Always So Tired?, New York: Harper Collins Publishers.
Hoffer,A. & Walker, M. (1978) Ortho-Molecular Nutrition. Connecticut, Keats Publishing.
Kutsky, R.J. (1981). Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones, 2nd edition. New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.
Pfeiffer, C., (1972) Mental and Elemental Nutrients, Connecticut, Keats Publishing.
Rapp, D. (1996) Is This Your Child’s World?, New York, Bantam Books.
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Watson, G., (1979) Personality Strength and Psycho-Chemical Energy, New York, Harper and Row Publishers.
Wilson, L. (2005) Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc. Publishers.
Wilson, L., (2003) Sauna Therapy, LD Wilson Consultants, Inc.