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Psychological Health & Nutrition

 Psychological Problems Related to Proper Nutrition

What a strange machine man is!
You fill him with bread, wine, fish, and radishes,
and out of him comes sighs, laughter, and dreams.
                        Zorba the Greek

How Our Nutritional Status Influences Our Psyche
            The fields of orthomolecular psychiatry, and psychoneuroimmunology are both making great advancements in our understanding of the relationships between nutrition, the biochemical milieu of the body, neurological function and psychological well-being. Dramatic improvements of many psychological disorders by nutritional health enhancement strategies are coming into the forefront of research as interest in these correlations grows. Depression, bipolar disorders, anxiety disorders, mood disorders, schizophrenia, and organic mental disorders have all shown improvement in well documented studies. Some of the most dramatic changes can be seen in work with children with attention deficit disorders and/or hyperactivity. 
In simple terms, nutrition affects our psyche in three ways: 
1.        It provides nutrients for brain function,
2.        energy for brain function,
3.        and influences our brain through toxicological or allergic reactions
            There are countless vitamins, minerals, trace elements, enzymes, coenzymes, hormones, fatty acids, amino acids, and polypeptides needed on a millisecond by millisecond basis for proper nerve transmission to take place in the brain. If they are not available, emotional centers and associated areas of the brain will not be able to function properly. This is why foods that have high nutritional content like vegetables, whole grains, and beans are to be preferred over nutrient poor foods such as processed foods, sweets, junk foods, fast foods, and fatty foods. Nutrient supplementation can help provide these essential components to psychological function. This may be particularly important in cases where the psychological problem is especially severe, persistent and/or resistant to correction via other approaches.
                Brain neurotransmitter related diseases such as Attention Deficit Disorders, Hyperactivity, Depression, Anxiety, Panic Disorders, Phobias, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, Insomnia, Impulsivity, and Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder are particularly helped with targeted amino acid nutritional therapy which restores normal neurotransmitter balance to the brain.  For more information go to the Health Article on Brain Neurotransmitter Balancing.
            The brain also needs its fuel---glucose, or blood sugar. Nerve tissue is very sensitive to the amount of this sugar in the blood. It must be maintained within certain narrow parameters for optimal function. Either too high or too low, and severe psychological, as well as physical disturbances, will occur. That is why the diet should compose the appropriate ratio of carbohydrate, protein and fat so that a slow, steady flow of glucose can always be available for the brain’s immediate usage. Sweet foods or use of stimulants like caffeine make the blood sugar skyrocket and plummet in a rollercoaster ride that takes our emotions along with it.
            The brain’s biochemistry can be disturbed by hidden food allergies, intolerances, and/or sensitivities. Multiple biochemical mechanisms can be involved including disturbed blood sugar levels from eating allergenic foods. Toxic contamination of our food can also severely disrupt brain function.
            Often using the improvements in diet mentioned in previous lessons plus the addition of important nutritional supplementation can restore psychological health. The more physical symptoms which accompany psychological problems the greater the likelihood that a nutritional approach will prove significant. The more severe the psychological problem, the more thorough the nutritional evaluation should be.  

How Our Psychodynamic Functioning Influences Our Nourishment
            Psychological stress impacts our nutritional health status in many ways. Stress can contribute to the cause or perpetuation of most of the illnesses that plague humans today. This then requires extra nutrients to restore the biochemical balance that has been disrupted. For instance, if stress causes ulcers or colitis in an individual less nutrients can be digested, absorbed, and assimilated. 
            Eating disorders such as bulimia, anorexia, and large weight gains are often caused by unresolved self esteem issues. Similar self worth issues can cause anorexic starvation in one instance and morbid obesity in another.
            Medications used to treat psychiatric disorders often deplete nutrient reserves. Psychological addictive behaviors such as smoking and alcoholism can seriously disrupt biochemical balance in the body and lead to enormous increases in the need for nutrients.
            During our early psychological development as an infant emotional support of the mother is very intimately connected to nutritional nourishment. Often when under stress our unconscious behaviors revert back to functioning in a groove developed at that time. We subconsciously feel the need for emotional support, don’t know how to get it appropriately from within or from our social supports, and then unconsciously reach for food as a substitute. 

Homework:
Note when you find yourself compulsively eating:
·         an extra, unnecessary portion,
·         when you are not really hungry,
·         as a reward,
·         after a stressful event,
·         when you are feeling insecure,
·         or snacking on unhealthy food.
Then ask yourself the question: What feeling am I really trying to get? or What psychological hole am I trying to fill?

Further Resources:
     Nutritional Influences on Mental Illness by Melvin Werbach, M.D.
     Managing Your Mind and Mood Through Food by Judith Wurtman
     Nutrition and Mental Illness: An Orthomolecular Approach to Balancing Body Chemistry by Carl Pfieffer
     Brain Allergies: The Psycho-Nutrient Connection by William Philpott, M.D. and Dwight Kalita
     Depression: Cured At Last by Sherry Rogers, M.D.  
 
Websites:
     Dr. Slagle's website on improving emotional health through wise nutrition: The way up.com 
     The Online book--Bad Behavior and Illness Are Caused by Biochemical Imbalances: Nutrients such as Vitamins,Minerals,Amino Acids, and Enzymes Give Biochemical Balance by Ronald C. Dishinger:
 

 



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