Wed | Jan 27, 2021

Fight stress with food

Published:Tuesday | July 2, 2013 | 12:00 AM


It seems that more people than ever are mentally unstable. Depression, anxiety, violence, irrational and anti-social behaviour are escalating in our society. Research published in the medical journal, Biological Psychiatry, indicates that some foods may be better at treating mental problems like depression, than conventional medication. This provides further validation to the famous quote from Hippocrates: 'Let your food be your medicine and your medicine your food'.

But what healing nutrients in particular are we talking about in this study? The researchers found that omega-3 fatty acids and foods high in a substance called uridine reduced the symptoms of depression as well as, or better than three popular antidepressant drugs. Other research highlights the benefits of several other nutrients to mental health.

More than 60 per cent of the human brain is made of fats, and much of the fats in your brain are identical to the omega-3 fats found in fish oils. Your grandmother was right - fish is brain food. Major medical institutions worldwide are now using high doses of omega-3 fats to treat depression and other mental disorders. Even if you are taking antidepressant drugs, high doses of omega-3 fats make the drugs more effective and may often replace them. And remember there are many other health benefits that fish oils offer.

Fish, flax seed and walnuts are the best dietary sources of the omega-3 fats. In addition to regularly eating wholesome fatty fish, everyone should take fish-oil supplements, especially the mentally unstable and stress-prone individuals. I recommend taking a high quality, pure omega-3 fatty acid supplements - three or more grams daily, with food.

build your nervous system

Research shows that low levels of essential B vitamins like B1, B3, B6, B9 and B12 may contribute to poor mood, anxiety and depression. A diet rich in these B vitamins can directly affect important brain chemicals, such as serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine. Other evidence also suggests that B vitamins are important cofactors that help neutralise toxic chemicals that have been linked to anxiety and depression.

The B vitamins are necessary for a healthy nervous system and play a crucial role in how well you respond to stressful situations. They also help in energy creation within your cells, a crucial function, as your body's demand for energy is increased during times of stress. Most B vitamins cannot be stored in the body for long, and need to be replenished every day. I suggest taking a high-quality multivitamin containing the full spectrum of B vitamins three times daily with each meal. For those with mental, emotional and stress disorders, higher dosages of specific B vitamins may be indicated. Good foods sources of B vitamins include: whole grains, green vegetables, lean organic meat, eggs, nuts, seeds, yeast extract, lentils and other pulses.

A study in the United States revealed that high doses of vitamin C reduce the levels of stress hormones in the blood. Many experts believe that people under chronic stress require this nutrient in much greater quantities than the recommended daily allowance, which is barely sufficient under normal circumstances. Vitamin C also helps to maintain a strong immune system that is weakened in times of stress. Like the B-complex vitamins, vitamin C cannot be stored in the body. Foods rich in vitamin C include guava, cherries, citrus fruits (oranges, lemons, limes and grapefruit) and berry fruits such as, blueberries, strawberries and cranberries. Cantaloupe melon and kiwi fruit as well as vegetables like broccoli, cabbage, peppers and tomatoes are also good sources of the vitamin. Additionally, supplementing with vitamin C at 3 or more grams per day in divided doses will fortify your ability to deal with high stress.

magnesium a must

Magnesium is an important anti-stress mineral as it relaxes both nerves and muscles and is lost in larger amounts from your urine when you're under stress. A shortage of this mineral activates the stress response. The stress response causes the flow of calcium into cells, resulting in a drastic change in the cellular magnesium-to-calcium ratio. Normally, cells contain 10,000 times more magnesium than calcium.

A decrease in the magnesium inside the cells, creates an increase in nerve and muscle tension. Magnesium deficiency leads to painful muscle cramps and circulatory problems like hypertension and irregular heart beat. The body needs magnesium to relax, and the mineral is critical to stress relief. Magnesium is found in wholegrain cereals, nuts, pulses, sesame seeds, dried figs and green vegetables and green juices. Taking magnesium supplements, drinking spring water and soaking in Epsom salts baths will improve your magnesium status.

Calcium, like magnesium, is also needed in greater amounts during times of stress. Choose low-fat sources of calcium such as soymilk, low-fat yoghurt and cheese, pulses, leafy green vegetables and fish. Low levels of zinc are 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.

molasses - good waste

Uridine is a health-enhancing substance found in molasses, walnuts and many other foods. It has a crucial influence on the nervous system, where it acts as a nerve-growth factor and improves the energy levels in the brain. Research has already documented its usefulness in treating degenerative disorders of the nervous system.

Molasses is an excellent dietary source of uridine because molasses is produced as a waste product from the sugar industry. Sugar cane juice is refined to make white sugar, removing as much as 98 per cent of the nutrient, leaving behind as a waste product a thick, brown, syrupy liquid called molasses. Molasses contains most of the nutrition of the sugar cane, including the vitamins, minerals and various compounds such as uridine.

Research shows that this molasses can help prevent depression. The news that foods can treat 'bad nerves' and help depression may be new to conventional medicine, but it is old news to those in the fields of holistic nutrition and natural health. Yes, eating fish, nuts and molasses, getting good nutrition and taking supplements can greatly benefit your mental health.

You may email Dr Vendryes at or listen to An Ounce of Prevention on POWER106FM on Fridays at 8 pm. His new book, 'An Ounce of Prevention - Especially for Women' is available at local bookstores and on the Internet.