Until recently, the only available method of helping to balance the chemistry of the brain was through a variety of drugs, which tend to dampen emotional and mental activity with undesirable side effects. Only when scientists started to examine what
The brain is made entirely out of food molecules. It concentrates large amounts of complex essential fats, vitamins, minerals, proteins and other nutrients. No less than 60 per cent of all nutrients passed from the mother to the developing infant during pregnancy are used by the brain for its development. Even in a fully grown adult, about 30 per cent of all energy derived from food is used by the brain.
Two psychiatrists in Canada, Dr Abram Hoffer and Dr Humphrey
Osmond, started to report amazing
recoveries in patients labelled as schizophrenic using large amounts of vitamins and minerals. An American doctor and biochemist Dr Carl Pfeiffer at the Brain BioCenter in New Jersey, identified types of mental
illness that could be corrected by
specific diets and nutrients (Biol Psych, 1976; 2: 773-775).
Since the pioneering research of the Sixties, nutrition has been identified as a major factor in hyperactivity, learning difficulties, delinquent
behaviour, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, insomnia, memory loss, anorexia in fact, almost every known type of mental health problem (Werbach M, Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness, Third Line Press, California, 1991).
Modern man is exposed to many chemicals which interfere with how the nutrients from food work. These anti-nutrients include certain kinds of food additives, household chemicals, drugs and inhaled pollutants from smoking, exhaust and industrial pollution. For example, lead in petrol and cadmium in cigarettes are two anti-nutrients that accumulate in the brain and affect behaviour and mood (Chem Soc Rev, 1986; 15: 93-123). The brain relies completely on a continuous supply of glucose from the blood in order to work properly, with 30 per cent of available glucose being used as brain fuel. When glucose drops too low, the brain immediately suffers, resulting in such symptoms as anxiety, depression, disruptive outbursts, confusion, difficulty concentrating and even blackouts.
Dr Carl Pfeiffer classified glucose intolerance as one of the five main underlying factors in schizophrenia. Psychiatric symptoms of glucose intolerance have been noted to include unsocial or anti-social behaviour, phobias, suicide attempts, nervous breakdown and psychosis, hyperactivity, depression, eating disorders, fatigue, learning disabilities and PMS.
Even back in the 1960s Drs Hoffer and Osmond were able to demonstrate that so called schizophrenics could be effectively treated with much larger amounts of vitamin B3 and vitamin C (The Lancet,10 Feb, 1962). Dr Pfeiffer later identified the role of vitamin B6 and the mineral zinc in mental illness (J Ortho Psych, 1974; 3: 292-300). We now know that deficiencies in magnesium, manganese, B12 and folic acid, as well as zinc and B6 can result in mental illness (J App Nutr, 1975; 27: 9-39; Bil Psychiatry, 1994; 19: 871-876; The Lancet, 1990, 336: 392-5).
David was diagnosed as suffering from schizophrenia at the age of 20, having suffered from acute depression, paranoia and extreme mental confusion. He was also seeing and hearing things. He was put on the drug Stelazine, which calmed him down, but he felt disoriented and couldn't go back to college or relate to friends and famiy normally. He went to see a nutrition counsellor who identified that David was deficient in vitamin B6 and zinc and had glucose intolerance.
Within days of adding B6 and zinc supplements, changing his diet and avoiding sugar, coffee and alcohol, he became symptom free. He was able to stop taking Stelazine and is now doing very well at university without a recurrence of his previous mental health problems.
Besides these factors, mental health research over the last 30 years has proven that food allergies or intolerance can also result in mental and emotional symptoms (The Lancet, March 9, 1985).
A nutritional approach to mental illness involves working out an individual's nutritional status and correcting any potential deficiency with diet and supplements. Much higher levels of nutrients are often needed to restore mental health than are needed to maintain it. There may also be some people who, perhaps for genetic reasons, need higher levels of nutrients than others to maintain mental health.
Most drugs currently being used to treat mental illness are designed to enhance or block the chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, that allow information to flow in the brain. These neurotransmitters are themselves made from nutrients in food. For example, serotonin, the neurotransmitter that induces sleep, is made from a protein ingredient, tryptophan. The body also needs vitamin B3, B6 and iron to produce serotonin.
Instead of giving drugs that block or enhance such neurotransmitters, it's possible to give the body the raw materials the brain needs to rebalance neurotransmitters. Such approaches are much safer since these essential nutrients are much less toxic and less expensive than drugs, and are proving to be as effective, if not more so.
Excerpted with permission from Mental Illness Not All in the Mind. (For copies send lb1 to, ION, Blades Court, Deodar Road, London SW15 2NU.)