Dr Tony Vendryes: Nutrition affects behaviour
In today's world more people are displaying mental instability. Depression, violence, suicide, homicide, abusive, irrational and anti-social behaviour has become all too common in our society. Did you know that there is actually a connection between our diet and our mental and emotional stability?Yes, foods can heal, and they can also harm.
Excess sugar: The brain needs lots of energy and its favourite energy source is glucose - blood sugar. Sudden shifts in blood sugar, up or down, can drastically disturb the brain's chemistry resulting in big changes in energy levels, behaviour and feelings.
The frequent consumption of sugar-laden drinks and foods has been shown to have a negative impact on schoolchildren's performance and social interactions. Hyperactivity, irritability, temper tantrums and violent actions are increased with high sugar intakes.
Bad fats: The brain is a fatty organ as over 60 per cent of the human brain is made of fats. A diet high in unhealthy trans-fats can disturb mental function because these substances can accumulate in the brain. Read food labels carefully and avoid foods with ingredients like hydrogenated or partially hydrogenated fats, even if these are vegetable oils.
Food additives: Some food additives can have a toxic effect on the brain. The most notorious of these is the flavour-enhancing chemical MSG (monosodium glutamate). MSG is what doctors call an excitotoxin: at the same time that it is stimulating your taste buds, it is stimulating your entire nervous system as well.
A short list of MSG-related problems include Alzheimer's disease-like symptoms, anxiety attacks, insomnia, asthma-like symptoms, irregular or rapid heartbeat, attention deficit disorder and hyperactivity, joint pain, mood swings, burning sensations, carpal tunnel syndrome, nausea, chest pain, numbness in the fingertips, depression, Parkinson's disease, disorientation, confusion, seizures, dizziness, shortness of breath, drowsiness, fatigue, slurred speech, tremors and headaches.
In addition, some researchers believe that MSG can cause brain damage in children, and can affect how their nervous systems develop, so that in later years they may have learning or emotional difficulties.
Omega-3 fatty acids: Over 60 per cent of the human brain is made of fats. A large portion of the fats in your brain is the same as the omega-3 fats found in fish oils. Your grandmother was right - fish is brain food. A deficiency of these essential fats can disturb mental function.
Major medical institutions are now using high doses of omega-3 fats to treat depression and other mental illnesses. Even if you are taking antidepressant drugs, omega-3 fats can often reduce or even replace them.
The B-complex vitamins: Research shows that low levels of B vitamins like B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12 may contribute to poor mood, anxiety and depression. Supplementing your diet with these B vitamins directly effect important neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Evidence also suggests that B vitamins are important cofactors that help break down chemicals toxic to the nervous system like homocysteine, linked to anxiety and depression.
B vitamins play a crucial role in how well you respond to stressful situations. Your nervous system needs these vitamins to function well. They are important for good appetite, healthy digestive function and for energy production by the cells. This is vital because your body's demand for energy increases during times of stress. As B vitamins cannot be stored in the body for long (except B12), a daily supply is needed. Good sources of B vitamins include wholegrains like brown rice, yeast, dairy produce, lentils, liver, green vegetables, seafood, lean meat, eggs, nuts and seeds.
Vitamin C: A recent study in the USA found that high doses of vitamin C reduced levels of stress hormones in the blood. Like the B vitamins, vitamin C cannot be stored in the body. Many nutritional experts believe that people under long-term stress requires this nutrient in much greater quantities than the RDA which is really only sufficient to prevent scurvy.
Vitamin C also helps to strengthen the immune system, which is weakened during times of stress. Foods rich in vitamin C include guava, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit) and berry fruits such as, blueberries, strawberries and cranberries. Other good sources include cantaloupe, melon, kiwi fruit, broccoli, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes.
Magnesium: Our muscles and nerves need magnesium in order to relax and this mineral is key to stress relief. It is excreted in larger amounts when you're under stress and a shortage of this mineral activates the stress response. Magnesium deficiency leads to muscle tension and cramps. Inside normal cells there is 10,000 times more magnesium than calcium. If the amount of cellular magnesium falls, more calcium flows into the cell and creates an imbalance that puts the cell into a hyperactive state. This can cause nerve and muscle irritability and lead to restlessness, agitation, pain and cramping. Magnesium is found in wholegrain cereals, nuts, pulses, sesame seeds, dried figs and green vegetables.
Calcium is also needed for nerve and muscle function and, like magnesium, is required in greater amounts during times of stress. Healthy low-fat sources of calcium include soy products, pulses, leafy green vegetables, broccoli, low-fat yoghurt and cheese and canned fish.
Zinc deficiency is common among those suffering from stress. It is essential for boosting the immune system and fighting infections. It is found in oysters, red meat, nuts, sunflower seeds, egg yolks, dairy produce and wheat germ.
Potassium also helps your nervous system to function properly.
Chromium helps to balance blood sugar levels and protect the brain from damaging shifts in blood glucose.
Iron is essential to make the red blood cells that transport oxygen around the body and combats fatigue.
- You may email Dr Vendryes at firstname.lastname@example.org or listen to 'An Ounce of Prevention' on Power 106 FM on Fridays at 8:15 p.m. Details of his books and articles are available at www.tonyvendryes.com.