Therapist Blog

Nutrients That Affect Mental Health

As a therapist,I have clients ask about natural methods for mental health.

The first recorded nutritional experiment is in the Bible in the Book of Daniel. As the story goes, the king of Babylon captured Daniel and his friends during an invasion of Israel. When the king invited them to eat his rich foods and wine, Daniel and his friends declined. They explained that they preferred vegetables, beans and water in accordance with their Jewish dietary restrictions. The king agreed to allow them their diet on a trial basis. Daniel and his friends ate their diet for 10 days. Afterward, the king compared their health to that of his men who had been on the richer diet of heavy meats and wine. The king concluded that Daniel and his friends appeared healthier and were allowed to continue with their diet.

Over the course of time, scientists have continually investigated the effect diet and nutrition have on well-being. By the 20th century, scientists had used nutrition in the treatment of every major psychiatric illness. The following represents a small sample of the large body of research linking diet, nutrients and mental health.

Biotin, also known B7, stimulates the body to produce energy. Dietary research suggests that a substantial number of women develop marginal or subclinical biotin deficiency during normal pregnancy, requiring supplementation. This is significant to mental health as proper prenatal nutrition is thought to help prevent postpartum depression. A deficiency of biotin, and other B vitamins including B6, B9, and B12, can lead to other types of depression as well. In addition, biotin has been shown to help relieve the symptoms of chronic stress and fatigue.

Calcium, the most abundant mineral in our body, is important for the growth and maintenance of bones and teeth, blood clotting, muscle function, hormone secretion and heartbeat regulation. Calcium is especially important for people with a history of eating disorders, smoking, and addiction to alcohol or drugs. These behaviors are associated with bone loss and osteoporosis. Calcium has a positive influence on mood and can be helpful with depression. However, calcium supplementation by people with bipolar disorder should be taken with caution as manic symptoms have been reported. This means that bipolar patients at risk for osteoporosis who need calcium supplementation should be carefully monitored.

Choline is helpful for making acetylcholine, a brain chemical involved with memory and thought processes.In a clinical study of bipolar disorder patients, choline twice a day yielded remarkable results; with over 90% of participants having a substantial reduction in manic symptoms, while 80% had a reduction in all mood symptoms. Choline has also been associated with improving memory, preventing cognitive decline, and improving the functioning of brain cells in Alzheimer's patients.

Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs) play a major supporting role in brain function. The brain and the myelin sheath (that protects the neurons) are about 75% fat. If the brain doesn't get adequate essential fatty acids, it can't function properly. Research has shown essential fatty acid supplementation has a beneficial effect in children with attention disorder and learning difficulties.Essential fatty acids have also been shown to lessen the symptoms of depression, bipolar disorder, Alzheimer's disease, and schizophrenia. In a study of hospitalized schizophrenics, fish oil (a source of omega-3 fatty acids) led to significant improvement in symptoms over a six-week period.

Folic acid works with B12 to form new cells and is one of a number of nutrients that are considered helpful in preventing postpartum depression. Folic acid supplementation has been helpful in treating depression in general as well as schizophrenia, eating disorders, and obsessive compulsive disorder.

Inositol has been shown to significantly improve symptoms of depression,panic disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Inositol can be effective in the treatment of eating disorders, such as bulimia nervosa and binge eating.

L-carnitine, carnitine for short, is a nitrogen-containing compound that assists in fat metabolism. Carnitine can alleviate the symptoms of ADHD,86 chronic fatigue syndrome, and depression. Significant improvements in cognitive function have also been observed using carnitine supplementation in a number of studies investigating mental decline in the elderly.

Magnesium has a long history of being used to treat anxiety, stress, and sleep problems. A study in Germany revealed that magnesium helped to alleviate the symptoms of depression in patients with chronic pain. Magnesium has also been shown to help with insomnia, ADHD, and chronic fatigue.

Vitamin B6 can be helpful for autistic children, can help alleviate psychosis in schizophrenic patients,and attenuate depression associated with premenstrual syndrome.

Vitamin B12 is one of the most useful vitamins in the treatment of mental health. Observational studies have determined that as many as 30% of depressive patients are deficient in vitamin B12 and that subsequent supplementation alleviates the symptoms of depression Other clinical research with vitamin B12 realized an improvement in 50 to 80% of people with chronic fatigue syndrome.

Vitamin E has been used in the prevention or slowing of dementia and has slowed cognitive decline in patients with Alzheimer's disease.Studies have also shown vitamin E to be beneficial in relieving the symptoms of ADHD, schizophrenia, and chronic stress.

While nutritional therapy focuses on treating people using dietary supplements, it also focuses on diet. Whole foods are an important part of diet therapy, because they carry live nutrients that supplements do not. Supplements play a useful role when diet alone does not supply sufficient nutrients. However, dietary supplements should be the primary source of nutrition, particularly when treating mental health issues.

Dr. Randi Fredricks, Ph.D.

http://www.drrandifredricks.com

References

Fredricks, Randi. (2008) Healing & Wholeness: Complementary and Alternative Therapies for Mental Health. Bloomington, IN: Authorhouse.