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How's Your Mental Well-being?

The title is seemingly a tactless question, but intended to focus attention on a serious issue of our declining well-being.  Given the scope and extent of recognized mental health issues (e.g. hyperactivity, depression, hostility and aggression, dementia, schizophrenia, and so on), there are obviously a lot of people with such today.  A review [by this author] of multiple sources [CDC, NIMH, PHS, WHO, NCS] of recent estimates in the U.S. indicate a range of somewhere around 5% of adults with serious mental health disabilities, to somewhere around one in four adults overall when less severe mental health issues are included (children and adolescents much higher).  For one explanation of why estimates of mental health issues vary widely, see the 01/14/11 WSJ Blogs article "How Many People Suffer From Mental Illness?". 

Beyond the more recognized cases though, there is the highly probable, vastly larger population of those with varying degrees of mental health issues that aren't yet obvious enough to be recognized and/or dealt with.  This statement may seem questionable, but it's based on what we know of our physiology and biochemistry, in relation to our well documented dietary patterns today (as distinct from less common factors like genetic deficiencies and trauma).  A small sampling of the evidence is how nutrition has been found to have close links with overall educational success [e.g. 1,2], and  nutritional treatment has been found to be appropriate for mental health issues [e.g. 3,4,5]

At the chemical level, food is the brain's primary link to its evolution and its ongoing physiology (i.e. how well it functions).  It's scientifically established that diet is correlated with (among other physiological aspects) the brain chemicals that influence mood and behavior [e.g. 6,7,8,9,10,11,12,13,14,15].  That is, diet notably influences the thought processes and emotional reactions that ultimately guide us on our path through life.  Thus, if our diet is lacking, then at a minimum our brain is not functioning optimally. 

Ongoing research into how the human brain developed to its current state encompasses a number of theories and considerable conjecture.  Two aspects that can't be denied though, are genetic facilitation and diet including contributing nutrients our bodies can't synthesize.  Leaving genetic facilitation aside, there are various natural sourced nutrients important to our brain's physiology, such as B vitamins, antioxidants, electrolytes, amino acids, and fatty acids [e.g. 16,17]

The term "natural sourced nutrients" is an important distinction, because we likely don't yet know all the nutrients our body needs, and we for sure don't yet know all the necessary and optimal combinations, nor all the cofactors, applicable to our complex biochemistry.  An example is our less than complete understanding of the convoluted metabolism relative to brain chemicals.  What we do know, in the sense of natural foods being the foods our physiology and biochemistry evolved on, are that our current diets are mostly overly processed (destroys natural nutrients and cofactors), adulterated (unnatural chemicals, artificial nutrients, agrochemical residues, ...), genetically engineered foodstuffs, with a disproportionate emphasis on what industrial agriculture can produce most efficiently and profitability.  So we're talking about adequate combinations of the natural, whole, mostly raw foods our bodies evolved on, and the naturally packaged combinations of substances within such that promote homeostasis in maintaining our overall well-being.

With the obvious benefits of quality diet to our overall well-being, and more specifically to mental well-being, you'd think more would recognize such.  However, given our well documented dietary patterns, too many have fallen to the siren song of commercial manipulation, and addiction to excessive processed simple sugars, carbohydrates, and starches and/or their artificial substitutes (our industrial diets are laden with).  A question that begs to be answered is, how much do our inferior diets contribute to a dumbing down of the majority to further this commercial exploitation?  In turn, one might contemplate the role of personal responsibility in this situation. 

With the extent of more objective research, one could get into considerable detail on the relationship between diet and our mental well-being.  However, there is the bigger issue of how we can even source a quality diet given our deteriorating food chain.  

This article was written in contemplation of how much poor diet influences reduced understanding of the big picture and/or reaction to such.  Any comments on the connection? 


"Courage doesn't always roar.  Sometimes courage is the little voice at the end of the day that says I'll try again tomorrow."  ~ Mary Anne Radmacher


[1] Jere R. Behrman (1996). "The impact of health and nutrition on education". World Bank Research Observer 11 (1): 23–37. 

[2] Glewwe P, Jacoby H, King E (2001). "Early childhood nutrition and academic achievement: A longitudinal analysis". Journal of Public Economics 81 (3): 345–68. doi:10.1016/S0047-2727(00)00118-3.

[3] Lakhan SE, Vieira KF (2008). "Nutritional therapies for mental disorders". Nutr J 7: 2. doi:10.1186/1475-2891-7-2. PMC 2248201. PMID 18208598. http://www.nutritionj.com/content/7/1/2

[4] Joseph J, et al. (2009). "Nutrition, Brain Aging, and Neurodegeneration". The Journal of Neuroscience, 29(41): 12795-12801; doi: 10.1523/‚ÄčJNEUROSCI.3520-09.2009 http://www.jneurosci.org/content/29/41/12795.full

[5] Michael-Titus A. (2009) Omega-3 fatty acids: their neuroprotective and regenerative potential in traumatic neurological injury. Clin Lipid. 2009; 4(3): 343-353. http://www.medscape.com/viewarticle/712117

[6] USDA Agricultural Research Service (August 2007). Nutrition and Brain Function http://www.ars.usda.gov/is/AR/archive/aug07/aging0807.htm

[7] Uauy, R. and Dangour, A. D. (2006), Nutrition in Brain Development and Aging: Role of Essential Fatty Acids. Nutrition Reviews, 64: S24–S33. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00242.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.2006.tb00242.x/abstract

[8] Sandstead, H. H. (1986), Nutrition and Brain Function: Trace Elements. Nutrition Reviews, 44: 37–41. doi: 10.1111/j.1753-4887.1986.tb07676.x http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1753-4887.1986.tb07676.x/abstract

[9] Penland, J.G. (1998), The importance of boron nutrition for brain and psychological function. Biological Trace Element Research Volume 66, Numbers 1-3, 299-317, DOI: 10.1007/BF02783144 http://www.springerlink.com/content/01351l026155x911/abstract/

[10] Perkins, A.J., et al (1998) Association of Antioxidants with Memory in a Multiethnic Elderly Sample Using the Third National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Am. J. Epidemiol. (1999) 150 (1): 37-44. http://aje.oxfordjournals.org/content/150/1/37.short

[11] Duthie SJ, Whalley LJ, Collins AR, Leaper S, Berger K, Deary IJ (May 2002). "Homocysteine, B vitamin status, and cognitive function in the elderly". Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 75 (5): 908–13. PMID 11976166.  Erratum in: Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 77 (2): 523. February 2003.

[12] "The omega point". The Economist. January 19, 2006. http://www.economist.com/node/5407595

[13] Muldoon M.F., et al., (2010) Higher DHA Blood Levels Associated with Better Cognitive Functioning in Middle Age,  J. Nutrition, 140: 848-853. http://www.dhaomega3.org/Cognitive-Performance/Higher-DHA-Blood-Levels-Associated-with-Better-Cognitive-Functioning-in-Middle-Age

[14] Ivanovic D.M., et al., (2003) Head size and intelligence, learning, nutritional status and brain development: Head, IQ, learning, nutrition and brain. Neuropsychologia Volume 42, Issue 8, 2004, Pages 1118-1131 doi:10.1016/j.neuropsychologia.2003.11.022 http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6T0D-4BRSCGB-1&_user=10&_coverDate=12%2F31%2F2004&_rdoc=1&_fmt=high&_orig=gateway&_origin=gateway&_sort=d&_docanchor=&view=c&_searchStrId=1726535346&_rerunOrigin=scholar.google&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=55573f0ea052f29aab438400d3e59daa&searchtype=a

[15] Liu J, Raine A, Venables PH, Mednick SA. (2004) Malnutrition at Age 3 Years and Externalizing Behavior Problems at Ages 8, 11, and 17 Years. Am J Psychiatry 161:2005-2013 Department of Psychology, University of Southern California, Los Angeles, CA 90089-1061, USA. http://ajp.psychiatryonline.org/cgi/content/abstract/161/11/2005 and http://www.usc.edu/uscnews/stories/10773.html

[16] Broadhurst CL, Cunnane SC, Crawford MA (1998) Rift Valley lake fish and shellfish provided brain-specific nutrition for early Homo. British Journal of Nutrition, 79: 3-21 DOI: 10.1079/BJN19980004 http://journals.cambridge.org/action/displayAbstract?fromPage=online&aid=880996

[17] Leonard WR, Robertson ML (1994) Evolutionary perspectives on human nutrition: The influence of brain and body size on diet and metabolism. American Journal of Human Biology Volume 6, Issue 1, pages 77–88, 1994 DOI: 10.1002/ajhb.1310060111 http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1002/ajhb.1310060111/abstract


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