Since ancient times, humans have known that environment and food can interfere or improve an individual’s health condition, and have used food and plants as medicines. The Greek philosopher Hippocrates (460-370 BC) once wrote:
Everyone has a doctor in him or her: we just have to help it in its work. The natural healing force within each one of us is the greatest force in getting well. Our food should be our medicine. Our medicine should be our food. But to eat when you are sick, it is to feed your sickness.
Many Australians are living with mental disorders. 35 % have a significant level of stress in their lives, 26 % have above normal levels of anxiety, 26 % have moderate to extremely severe levels of depression (Australian Phycology Society, Stress, and well-being survey, 2015). Mental health depends not only on nutrition but many other factors. However, if we just could get nutrition right we would not have an epidemic of mental health today.
So what affects our mental health?
Factors contributing to mental illness are very complex and need to be identified. However, depression is not due to a Prozac deficiency.
- Medical condition
Diabetes and Pre-diabetes
Lupus, Lyme, West Nile virus
High blood pressure
Inflammation (histamine elevation)
- Nutritional deficiency
Vitamin B12 deficiency
Mg, Zn deficiency
- Heavy metal toxicity
- Chemical toxicity
Glyphosates, organophosphates, pesticides
Calcium channel blockers
Hormonal birth control
If we analyse just briefly all those contributing factors, nutritional deficiency is the common denominator in these conditions.
Why is the traditional Mediterranean diet the winner?
There is emerging scientific research around brain function, neurobiology, psychology and the stress response system which is unveiling new and sometimes surprising strategies. Rather than just resolve depression or anxiety; optimal mental and emotional health can be achieved with physical activity, nourishing foods, social support, behavioral therapies such as mindful meditation. All of these strategies are scientifically shown to support brain structure and function far beyond pharmaceutical agents.
There is an old saying that” the definition of insanity is repeating the same thing but expecting different results”. It could be argued that the high use of conventional psychotropic medications is an example of such action. With a high rate of 96/1000 prescriptions (second highest rate after Ireland in the world of antidepressant prescription per capita), it would be logical to assume these pharmaceuticals must be providing clear benefits to suffers from stress and neurological conditions.
Each mental illness requires a different natural treatment and often many modalities. But we can help ourselves, our infants, children and our family so they do not develop a mental illness.
Research confirms links between diet and depression and cognitive health. A large study that compared a “whole food” diet, high in vegetables, fruits and fish, with a “processed” food diet, heavily loaded with sweetened deserts, fried food, processed meat, refined grain and high fat dairy products over 5 years, found that whole foods offered significant protection against depression.
Science beings to understand more, how the human brain works
While many biological pathways might explain this benefit, new evidence points out that whole foods can actually increase hippocampus volume. Hippocampus is the brain region known for its role in memory, learning and adding emotional context to events. Exposure to “Western “diets were associated with hippocampus shrinking in a four-year longitudinal study.
(A longitudinal study is an observational research method in which data is gathered for the same subjects repeatedly over a period of time. Longitudinal research projects can extend over years or even decades. In a longitudinal cohort study, the same individuals are observed over the study period).
The human brain has neuroplasticity: the brain’s neurons and pathways are altered to adapt to environmental and behavior changes. This means that different choices structure the brain differently. The brain is capable of change and we can always rewire the brain. This benefit of neuroplasticity may be explained by another study which found that depressed patients following the Mediterranean diet for 3 years had significantly higher BDNF gene and lowers risk of depression, compared to those on a low fat diet.
(The BDNF gene provides instructions for making a protein found in the brain and spinal cord called brain-derived neurotrophic factor). This protein promotes the survival of nerve cells (neurons) by playing a role in the growth, maturation (differentiation), and maintenance of these cells)
Can we rewire our brain and grow new neurons connections?
There is a new and a fascinating science emerging known as nutrigenomics. Nutrigenomics is the study of the effects of foods and food constituents on gene expression. This means that nutrigenomics is research focusing on identifying and understanding molecular-level interaction between nutrients and other dietary bioactive with the genes. Personalised nutrition is the concept of adapting food to individual needs. While it has become apparent that consumers respond differently to diet, depending on their genetic makeup. Food, nutritional deficiency affects gene expression in a detrimental way.
What it means when we eat an apple for instance- we eat an information contained in that apple. Gene expression will be deferent if the apple is organic and unwaxed or if the apple is sprayed with glyphosates, other pesticides, and herbicides, or is genetically modified or contain preservatives. For instance, there is a strong correlation between increased of use of glyphosates herbicide in food production and autism.
The diet of many Australians has plenty of calories (sugars or salt,) but not enough nutrients in it like minerals, vitamins and proteins. Food today is mostly processed, artificially fortified with vitamins and minerals and deprived of fibre. A classic example is an average loaf of white bread loaded with sugar and salt that has hardly any fiber. Bread loaded with gluten is already a challenge for our digestive system but multigrain is even greater challenge resulting in gut permeability, food allergies and sensitivities and affecting our mood.
A balanced diet and unprocessed wholesome food and managing/minimizing stress at all costs is a good foundation for a healthy mother to be, an infant a child or an adult. It is a well-known fact that food containing sugar makes children not only hyperactive but also obese. Advertising is pushing certain unhealthy food products upon us. It can fool not only children but a parent too.
Dietary management can initially be daunting and particularly for a depressed or anxious patient. Any improvement here may have profound and lasting benefits for protecting mental health.
Lifestyle choices also play an important role in the ment al health. The 2016 Australian study shows that mental and physical health improves in just 30 minutes by being in nature. Research shows that even parks have offered health benefits including reduced risks of developing heart disease, stress, anxiety and depression. A seven-day retreat in the wilderness has a profound therapeutic effect on anxiety, depression, and insomnia. If a patient suffers from chronic anxiety, depression or insomnia, my prescription is to take one week of holiday and go camping or stay in a secluded cabin in the wildness with no electronic devices or electricity.
What the future holds?
The answer to mental health has always been there. The science of nutrigenomics can only give us more scientific evidence, but if we just use our common sense and use our body’s ability to heal. Spend time in nature and eat healthy food to nourish us and the epidemic of mental illness and other illnesses would cease to exist. We as consumers have control what quality food we consume, so use that power to our advantage. So please choose wisely where you shop for food, what food you buy, how you cook your food. Choose wisely, what pesticides and herbicides, skin care and cleaning products you use as you are buying “the information” which affects your genes and genes of you children.
There is a Chinese proverb:
“Anyone who takes medicine and neglects diet, wastes the skills of the physician”
If you would like to know more about how the DH-Natural Medicine Clinic can help you, please call us now on (02) 4854 0205
Danuta Hulajko is a holistic practitioner, international speaker and the founder & practitioner at the DH Natural Medicine Clinic and www.healingremedies.com.au in Sydney.
Danuta specialises in Allergies, Anti-Aging, Auto-Immune Conditions, Cardiovascular Conditions, Female Reproductive, Menopause, Mould Toxicity, Skin Conditions, Stress and Insomnia and Thyroid Dysfunction.
For more information please go to our website. You can also follow Danuta Hulajko’s work, events, seminars, expos, latest health research, her health tips and advice on Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram.