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Mental Illness Linked to Modern Diet
Mental illness is reaching epidemic levels. The World Health Organization claims that mental health problems "are fast becoming the number-one health issue of the 21st century". Clinical depression is the biggest international health threat after heart disease. At the same time, there is a growing dissatisfaction with the drug treatments available. In the UK, the number of prescriptions for antidepressants has more than doubled in 10 years, with 80% of GPs admitting they over-prescribe drugs such as Prozac because of the lack of alternative forms of treatment.
While medical science pins mental health problems on a combination of factors, including age, genetics and environmental influence, research reveals there might be a link between the modern diet and mental health problems.
Already in the 1930s, a dentist named Weston Price traveled round the world studying cultures still eating their traditional foods, and compared their health with those members of the same culture eating western foods. Those continuing to eat traditional diets enjoyed excellent physical and emotional health. But those who had changed to a western diet high in white flour, sugar, and canned goods suffered from a range of physical and mental health problems and were prone to infectious diseases. This huge deterioration occurred after just one generation of exposure to processed foods. His book Nutrition and Physical Degeneration is a landmark in the understanding of how food affects the mind and body.
"In the past 100 years, the American diet has shifted away from the diet of our human ancestors wild plants and game, including fish which was rich in omega-3 fatty acids to one relying on mass-produced and highly processed food," say Cory SerVaas and Patrick Perry in their article Good Fats for Mental Health. "By reducing our consumption of omega-3s in favor of another fat called omega-6 fatty acid, we have upset a delicate balance that may underlie the increasing rate of depression and other chronic diseases in contemporary American society. In cross-national studies comparing diet, scientists found that in countries where fish is still a large part of the diet, such as in Taiwan and Japan, rates of depression were lower than in American and many European populations."
A recent study in the UK by food campaigners Sustain and the Mental Health Foundation has also linked the increasing incidence of mental ill-health to changes in our diet. They say the last 50 years have witnessed significant changes in the way food is produced. In a nutshell, modern food production has altered the balance of key nutrients we consume, and this may hold the key to preventing (or at least delaying) mental health problems, including depression and Alzheimer's disease.
For example, chickens reach their slaughter weight twice as fast as they did 30 years ago, increasing the saturated fat content from 2% to 22%. The diet they are fed has also altered the balance of vital omega-3 and -6 fatty acids in chickens, which our brains need to function properly.
Increase in Autism Linked to Modern Diet
Autism is another mental problem that has reached epidemic proportions. Bernard Rimland, PhD, founding director of the Autism Research Institute, estimates that there are now a minimum of 250,000 autistic children in America, a 10 to 15-fold increase in the past 50 or so years. Dr. Rimland has publicly stated that the current childhood vaccine programs are one of the major causes for the current epidemic of autism.
Dr. Mary Megson, a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics, agrees. She suggests that autism may be caused by inserting a G-alpha protein defect, the pertussis toxin found in the D.P.T. vaccine, into genetically at-risk children. This depletes the children of their existing supply of vitamin A.
She has treated over 2,000 children for autism and uses under a teaspoon of cod liver oil every day. Cod liver oil is a rich source of vitamin A. Otherwise known as retinol, vitamin A is essential for vision. It is also vital for building healthy cells in the gut and brain.
The majority of Dr. Megson's subjects come out of the autistic spectrum within six months some within weeks, she says. She has seen children making eye contact for the first time in their lives after just three days of treatment.
The best sources of vitamin A are breast milk, organ meats, milk fat, fish and cod liver oil, none of which are prevalent in our diets. Instead, we have formula milk, fortified food and multivitamins, many of which contain altered forms of retinol such as retinyl palmitate, which doesn't work as well as the fish or animal-derived retinol.
Cod liver oil is also rich in vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. In particular, it contains two different omega-3 fatty acids called eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).
Omega-3 May Alleviate Bipolar Disorders
The fatty oil found in salmon, cod and other fish, already touted for its effectiveness in combating heart disease and arthritis, may also alleviate the symptoms of manic depressives, researchers say.
In what experts described as a limited but landmark study of how a naturally occurring dietary ingredient can affect the brain, researchers found that patients suffering from manic depression given capsules containing fish oil experienced a marked improvement over a four-month period.
"The magnitude of the effects were very strong. Fish oil blocked the abnormal signaling (in the brain) which we think is present in mania and depression,'' lead researcher Andrew Stoll, the director of the pharmacology research laboratory at Harvard University's McLean Hospital, said in a telephone interview.
The study, published in the American Medical Association's Archives of General Psychiatry, comprised 30 patients diagnosed with bipolar disorders, which are characterized by chronic bouts of mania and depression.
Roughly half the subjects received fish oil supplements and half got capsules containing olive oil, a placebo. They underwent psychological testing at two-week intervals during the four-month study.
The chemicals in the fish oil believed to be at work on the subjects' brains were omega-3 fatty acids.
The study suggests that omega-3 fatty acids may be effective in treating bipolar disorders, maybe equivalent to psychotropic agents. The drawback is that no drug company is likely to throw its resources behind studies of fish oil, because it cannot be patented and profited from.
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