All people with brain disorders need a whole body/whole life approach to treatment–no one medical practice is sufficient. Neither mainstream psychiatry or naturopathy have all the answers for mental health, but both provide important treatments: diet, medication, therapy, exercise, gut health, and sleep, etc. This article is about brain diet specifically–foods which support or improve brain health.
These are some general rules for this food:
Uncooked vegetables are ideal if appropriate. Cooking removes some of the essential nutrients.
In the case of fish, raw may not be appropriate except for sushi or pickled herring. For fish that’s canned, choose fish packed in oil, not water. Omega-3’s are dissolved in the oil, but removed in the process of packing in water.
Variety is important. Concentrating on a few foods exclusively is not helpful because you and your child still need additional nutrients that are important for your overall health.
Food is better than supplements because food nutrients are properly absorbed in the body in the right ‘dosages.’
Be aware of food fads. There are no miracle foods.
Over the decades, people have been bombarded by different dietary research, and demanded foods that were reported to have benefits at the time. Food producers then labeled and provided whatever the public wants.
A good example of a fad years ago was fat-free and oil-free foods. As it turns out, additional studies proved this was actually harmful–people need fats in their diet, but just a selection of fats.
For decades, coffee and chocolate were once considered harmful, but this has since been proven wrong for most people.
Diet sodas were supposed to be better than sugary sodas, but as medical research and understanding advanced, this was disproven. Sugar-free sodas are actually more harmful.
There’s been an antioxidant craze. Yes, antioxidants are important, but these nutrients alone are insufficient for brain health.
The “paleo diet” was big for a while. It was the great idea of someone who was not a paleontologist. Paleontologists themselves aren’t comfortable with the theory because they are still finding evidence of what early humans actually ate.
“Gluten-free” foods are considered the only safe options. Gluten is very bad for a small segment of the population, but not most people. What’s funny as that even water is labeled gluten-free. This is from a dish detergent label:
Vitamin D deficiency is serious for mental health: In the case of psychiatric health, severe Vitamin D deficiency was discovered in ~75% of adults tested in a psychiatric hospital. Other studies have shown that those with mental illness tend to have abnormally low levels of Vitamin D.
“Vitamin D’s effect on mental health extends beyond depression. Schizophrenia has also been linked with abnormal levels of vitamin D.”
“..vitamin D activates genes that regulate the immune system and release neurotransmitters (e.g., dopamine, serotonin) that effect brain function and development. Researchers have found vitamin D receptors on a handful of cells in regions in the same brain regions linked with depression.”
Take the time to learn how to prepare these foods in ways that your and your kids like!
This guest article is by a naturopathic physician in Portland, Oregon USA, who specializes in mental health treatment for children and adults using naturopathy. Following is a summary and link of a podcast about the use of holistic/alternative medicine for the treatment of ADHD.
According to naturopathy, the health of the mind and body are intricately linked. Just as our thoughts strongly influence our physical health, our individual physiology affects our mental and emotional well-being. The foods we eat, our digestive health, the toxins in our environments, our hormones, lifestyles, experiences, beliefs and attitudes all play important roles in our physiology and biochemical make-up. As a philosophy, holistic mental health recognizes this beautiful web of interdependency.
Holistic approaches for adults and children can be used in conjunction with psychiatric medication, but unlike pharmaceuticals, holistic mental health treatments usually have the “side effect” of improved physical health and a richer emotional experience. Rather than suppressing or covering up symptoms with a drug, the goal of treatment is to address underlying causes and work towards integration and balance.
As a naturopathic physician, my goal is to support the wisdom of the body and mind and facilitate an individual’s inherent ability to heal. Naturopathic Doctors (ND’s) are licensed primary care physicians who have attended a four-year, postgraduate-level naturopathic medical school and are clinically trained in the art and science of natural therapies. In addition to conventional diagnosis, laboratory testing and pharmaceutical medications, the scope of naturopathic medicine includes nutrition, counseling, homeopathy, botanical medicine, physical therapies, and mind-body approaches. Training in naturopathic medicine does encompass the same basic bio-medical sciences as conventional medical training, but the approach to health and disease differs considerably. It is the philosophy of naturopathy that clearly differentiates this medicine and directs how we approach each patient.
This will look different for each person and will be guided by conversation and individual interests as well as physical exam and laboratory analysis when appropriate. I have found the following therapies to be key factors in mental health recovery.
Some patients see me primarily for counseling, and people with this focus are welcomed. Others are either interested in a blend of counseling and naturopathic approaches or seek care strictly for holistic medical support. A young person’s treatment needs and interests also change over time, so I meet a patient where they are at this moment. My counseling approach has a strong emphasis on self-awareness and mindfulness. Self-observation coupled with an attitude of curiosity, openness and acceptance allows for conscious insight and more freedom in the responses to the stresses and challenges a young person faces daily. Mindfulness-based therapies are a particularly effective approach for depression, anxiety and addiction issues, and can lead to increased clarity and a sense of contentment.
The foods we eat have a direct impact on the chemistry of our bodies and brains and, therefore, on our mood, thoughts and behavior. Our brains require the correct balance of amino acids, fats, vitamins, minerals and glucose in order to function properly, and individual needs can vary drastically. I work with all patients, children and adults, to uncover their unique nutritional needs through history-taking, diet analysis and lab testing, and then help individuals address underlying biochemical imbalances through shifts in their diet and nutritional supplements. Food allergies or sensitivities can play a significant role in mental health, as well, and the removal of these foods from the diet can have a profound impact on one’s healing. Orthomolecular psychiatry is a field of medicine that has applied these nutrition-based therapies in the treatment of conditions such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression and has helped shape my naturopathic practice.
Homeopathy is a gentle yet powerful system of healing based on the principle of “like cures like.” People have observed since ancient times that a substance that causes an illness or symptom can, in very small doses, cure the same problem by stimulating the body’s intrinsic healing ability. Through an in-depth interview, I strive to understand a child’s unique physical, mental and emotional experiences and, after careful study, select the appropriate remedy. Homeopathy offers a safe and elegant treatment that is a natural complement to counseling and can be used alongside conventional medications and other naturopathic treatments. As a truly holistic and individualized form of medicine, it is particularly well-suited to psychological and psychiatric concerns. Although identifying the effective remedy can sometimes require patience and perseverance, the results of successful homeopathic treatment are profound and long-lasting.
Restoring Digestive Health
Many mental and emotional concerns have their origins in the gut. It is important to identify and treat conditions such as hypochlorhydria (low stomach acid), candida overgrowth, gut dysbiosis (a bacterial imbalance in our digestive tracts), parasites, inflammation, leaky gut (increased permeability of the intestinal wall), and food allergies as they have direct effects on brain function. Imbalances in the gut play a significant role in many neuropsychological conditions. Conversely, our emotions strongly influence our appetite and digestion. The nervous system and the digestive system are intricately linked by a constant exchange of chemical and electrical messages including nutrients and neurotransmitters. Anything that affects one realm is likely to affect the other, and I have found that addressing gastrointestinal health is often foundational in one’s mental health recovery.
Blood Sugar Balancing
The sugar in our blood is called glucose, and this is the primary fuel for our bodies. Being one of the most sensitive and demanding organs, our brains require a constant supply of this glucose to perform its never-ending functions. A healthy body is able to regulate the blood sugar to provide a consistent energy source for the brain; unfortunately, this function is commonly impaired. Hypoglycemia is a condition in which the body can’t sustain constant glucose levels and can be a causative factor in attention and behavior issues, anxiety, panic attacks, rapid-cycling bipolar disorder, insomnia and addiction. Elevated blood sugar over time not only leads to diabetes, heart disease and obesity but also mood and behavior disturbances, decreased mental functioning and dementia. Many psychiatric medications put people at additional risk for blood sugar problems only exacerbating this problem. Balancing your blood sugar is an important component of disease prevention and general health and will also support your mood, energy, metabolism and mental functioning.
Amino Acid Therapy
Supplementation with amino acids can help optimize neurotransmitter levels. Amino acids are the building blocks of proteins that our bodies transform into neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, GABA, dopamine, epinephrine and norepinephrine. These are the messenger molecules that allow our nerve cells to communicate and have a direct impact on our mood, learning, attention, pain and pleasure perception, sleep, energy, and thought processes. Most psychiatric drugs manipulate our body’s ability to process these neurotransmitters in an attempt to alter the levels of these important chemicals. Instead of, or in conjunction with, antidepressants or anti-anxiety medications, we can give the body the amino acids it needs to make more neurotransmitters and avoid the negative side effects of the drugs. Neurotransmitter testing is available and can help guide the treatments. Targeted amino acid therapy is a powerful tool for addressing a wide variety of mental health concerns and provides a safe and effective alternative to these medications.
Our hormones are produced and controlled by our endocrine glands and include chemical messengers such as thyroid hormone, cortisol from the adrenals, insulin from the pancreas, and estrogen, progesterone and testosterone from the reproductive organs. As parents of adolescents who are entering puberty know, hormonal change has a profound effect on behavior. Imbalances or disturbances in any of these interconnected systems can alter the way our brain functions. For example, thyroid dysfunction is an often-overlooked, underlying cause of depression, anxiety, poor memory and fatigue, and PMS is a well-recognized cause of mood swings, depression, anxiety and sleep disturbances. Helping the body regain its delicate hormonal balance can have far-reaching effects for the mind.
Detoxification / Heavy Metal Chelation
We are exposed to an extraordinary amount of toxins through our food supply, the air we breath, and even our tap water. Toxic exposures affect the health of our brains. When the body encounters more toxins than it can effectively process, it stores these chemicals in fat cells, and our brains are largely made up of fat. Some people are good detoxifiers. Others with autism, ADHD, Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, depression, chronic fatigue, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are often not. Supporting detoxification and the safe elimination of toxins can be a key component to mental health recovery. I assist patients with appropriate detoxification strategies whether that is a gentle cleanse, a more intensive detox protocol or heavy metal chelation.
Mind / Body Treatments
Mind/body treatments engage the power of your mind in your own process of healing. I use therapies such as breath work, meditation, memory reintegration, relaxation strategies, and Emotional Freedom Technique (www.emofree.com) to help patients move towards a state of awareness and peace. Reflecting on and connecting with one’s own spirituality can also be an effective stress-management tool. Learning to consciously calm the mind and relax the body has a powerful effect on our neurotransmitters, hormones and immune system, and ultimately our health and sense of well-being.
The use of complementary and alternative medicine treatments by children and adults with ADHD is the rule rather than the exception…more than half of parents who have children with ADHD treat their child’s symptoms with vitamins, dietary changes, and expressive therapies—but only a small minority tell their doctor. And roughly 8 out of 10 patients who use these treatments regard them as their primary therapy.