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Bad food, bad thoughts

MagazineNovember 2011 (Vol. 22 Issue 8)Bad food, bad thoughts

In a recent study of 1262 older adults with normal cognitive function at the outset, researchers in Ontario and Quebec, in Canada, found that, over a period of three years, a high intake of sodium chloride (table salt) combined with low levels of physical activity was associated with a significant decline in cognitive (mental) function

In a recent study of 1262 older adults with normal cognitive function at the outset, researchers in Ontario and Quebec, in Canada, found that, over a period of three years, a high intake of sodium chloride (table salt) combined with low levels of physical activity was associated with a significant decline in cognitive (mental) function.

The study participants were between 67 and 84 years of age; all had normal cognitive functioning and all were living independently. The study was published online in the journal Neurobiology of
Aging (Neurobiol Aging, 2011; doi: 10.1016/j. neurobiolaging.2011.07.004).

It may be speculated that sodium intake has an impact on brain health via alternative pathways, such as compromising the integrity of the blood-brain barrier or by affecting the function of the hypothalamic-paraventricular nucleus.

In any case, the results of the study clearly highlight the fact that naturopathic clinicians need to ensure that their patients' sodium intake falls well below the recommended maximum level of 2300 mg/ day, and that it's vitally important to focus on multiple lifestyle domains, such as on both exercise and diet, as in the study above, instead of singling out only one factor at a time, when creating health-promoting strategies in the clinic.

The root of the problem

It is known that 75 per cent of lifelong psychiatric disorders are rooted in adoles-cence. A recent study examined the extent to which the most common mental disorders, such as depression and anxiety, are related to the habitual diet in 1046 women, aged 20-93 years, who were randomly selected from the general population (Am J Psychiatry, 2010; 167: 305-11).

After adjusting for age, socioeconomic status, education and health behaviours, the so-called 'traditional' dietary pattern-characterized by vegetables, fruit, meat and fish-was associated with lower odds of developing mild (dysthymia) or major depression and/or anxiety disorders. In contrast, the so-called 'Western' diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer was associated with higher odds for these high-prevalence psychiatric disorders.

In the latest study by the same team at the University of Melbourne, their findings have suggested that it may be possible to prevent teenage depression by ensuring that adolescent diets are sufficiently nutritious. A healthy diet was defined as one that included fruit and vegetables as the "core food groups", including two or more servings of fruit and four or more serv-ings of vegetables every day, as well as the total avoidance of processed foods, including chips, fried foods, chocolate, sweets and ice cream. An unhealthy diet was one that was high in snack and processed foods (PLoS ONE, 2011; 6: e24805; doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0024805).

Over the two-year study period, the investigators also found that the adoles-cents who improved the quality of their diets also experienced an improvement in their overall mental acuity. In contrast, those who continued to eat an unhealthy, processed diet experienced a worsening of their mental-health status.

Back to basics

Nevertheless, interesting as this all is, none of it is really news. Naturopathic medicine has been trumpeting much the same thing for more than a century now.

In addition, the late Dr Richard Mackar-ness was a major champion of the concept of 'Clinical Ecology', an offshoot of conventional medicine in which its proponents believe that low levels of chemical agents-including those found in processed foods-can cause harm and diseases in those who are particularly susceptible. It was Dr Mackarness who first coined the term 'Stone-Age diet' to describe his dietary regimen in his 1976 book Not All in the Mind (London: Pan Books).

In this book, he also discussed the case of Joanna D, a young patient referred to him for treatment in May 1973. She had been admitted to hospital many times following outbreaks of violence to herself and her children. Dietary treatment restored her completely to a normal life free of drugs.

She remains a splendid vindication of Mackarness' Clinical Ecology cause and perfectly exemplifies the idea behind 'You are what you eat'.

Harald Gaier

WDDTY VOL 22 NO 8


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