Nutrition and Mental Health

imagesThe phrase “mind over matter” has been going around for many years. The idea that the brain is who we are, and our bodies simply a machine that our brain controls. Mental illness, then, is seen as a problem of the mind, the brain going wrong. The belief in psychoanalysis has stemmed from this notion, where mental illness is seen as a problem with the abstract mind and not the physical brain. However this couldn’t be further from the truth; the brain and body are completely interconnected and interdependent. The brain is an organ of our body just like all of the other organs in our body.

Aspects of Mental Health

There are multiple influences on our mental health. The first being our environment which includes the nutrients or lack of nutrients that we ingest. Deficiencies in certain vitamins, minerals, essential fats, and amino acids cause mental health problems. Our genetics determine if we are more or less susceptible to brain chemistry imbalances or if we need more or less of an essential nutrient for optimum mental health. Levels of stress in our lives and how we cope with such stress and interpret life events can contribute to the development of mental illness. Practices such as meditation and psychotherapy help develop a more positive mind frame to promote mental well being.

Biochemical Imbalances

Mental health problems are incredibly common. Too few health practitioners test their patients presenting with mental illness for nutritional deficiencies, stimulant addictions, or hormone imbalances, all of which can cause symptoms of mental illness. Particular biochemical imbalances in the body can result in symptoms of mental illness. The brain is more sensitive to biochemical imbalances than any other organ of the body. All of these can be tested and a more accurate assessment of their contribution to a person’s mental health can be evaluated. Diagnoses can then be made on the basis of objective biochemical tests along with a subjective symptom assessment. Some of the common biochemicals that may be imbalanced are listed below:

– Hypoglycemia/Blood sugar problems (measured via glycosylated hemoglobin)
– Allergy, especially wheat gluten
– Under- or overactive thyroid
– Heavy metal toxicity – copper, lead, cadmium, etc
– Pyroluria and porphyria, resulting in zinc deficiency
– High histamine levels
– Low serotonin
– Dopamine/adrenaline imbalance
– Acetylcholine deficiency
– Faulty methylation and B vitamin deficiencies
– Essential fat and prostaglandin deficiency or imbalance

If you have mental health problems, it is important to investigate whether or not you have any of these common biochemical imbalances that can cause mental illness.

Examples of Biochemical Imbalances Causing Mental Health Problems, and how to fix them!

High-Histamine levels, or histadelia, is caused by an excess of the neurotransmitter histamine. It can cause malaise, hyperactivity, and irritability. Other symptoms include; white markings on finger nails, headaches or migraines, salivate easily, fast metabolism, depression, light sleeper, seasonal allergies, excessive body heat, and good tolerance of alcohol. Histamine levels can be tested directly or as part of a neurotransmitter screening test. Supplementing with vitamin C, zinc, and methionine may eliminate symptoms of histadelia.

Serotonin deficiency is a very common finding in people with mental health problems. Symptoms of serotonin deficiency include; depression, anxiety, aggressive thoughts, mood swings including PMS, low pain threshold, sleeping problems, craving sweet foods, and alcohol or drug abuse. Serotonin levels can also be measured directly or via a neurotransmitter screening test. Serotonin levels can be increased with the nutrient 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP).

Blood sugar imbalance is also a very common imbalance with those with mental health problems. Those with fluctuating blood-sugar levels, or hypoglycemia, crave sweet foods and other stimulants such as tea, coffee, and cigarettes, all of which affect blood sugar levels. The most common symptoms of hypoglycemia include; difficulty concentrating, palpitations, dizziness, excessive thirst, chronic fatigue, mood swings, forgetfulness, anxiety and irritability, and drowsiness after meals. Rather than measuring blood-glucose levels, glycosylated hemoglobin must be measured. Your Nutritionist can advise on how to stabilize blood sugar levels.

My Recommendation 

All of the biochemicals mentioned above can often be addressed with dietary changes or supplementation. If you are suffering from any mental health ailments such as fatigue, anxiety, depression, insomnia, headaches, irritability, and anxiety you may want to visit a Naturopath, Holistic or Integrative Nutritionist to obtain a biochemical profile blood test in order to rule out or address any biochemical imbalances that you may be suffering from. If an imbalance is present, your Nutritionist or Naturopath can advise on which dietary changes or supplements you can take to stabilize biochemical imbalances.


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1 Comment

  1. Wilson Belbin says:

    Quite an impressive Blog. You are on to something here. Our body is all made out of chemicals, so examining and understanding how they all work together and is expressed in the physical body, is a very worthwhile pursuit and following the right path can lead to a more healthy and fulfilling existence.

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