How Nutrition Affects Mental Illness
Attention deficit disorder, depression, anger miss-management, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia and Alzheimer’s – the connection between these mental illness is more simple and easy to approach than you might ever have guessed! All of these conditions exhibit distinct essential fatty acid deficiencies in the body. Essential fatty acid deficiency and imbalance appear to play an important role in these mood and brain disorders. Since brain tissue has the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids in the body, and the omega 3 fatty acid designated "DHA" in particular, it makes sense that dietary conditions which limit the availability of these essential nutrients in the body are likely to have significant impacts upon mental conditions. Also, those factors which limit the conversion of omega-3 fatty acids into DHA in the body are also important, very important in fact, since the brain needs its omega 3 fatty acid in the DHA form.
Bipolar Disorders and Omega-3’s
Direct experimentation with omega-3 oils as a nutritive supplement with patients suffering bipolar disorders have yielded positive results in Harvard Medical School research. Accordingly, Harvard Medical School researchers believe that omega-3 fatty acids may inhibit problematic neuronal signal pathways in the same sort of way the lithium carbonate and valproate pharmaceuticals do. These are the pharmaceuticals that have been used to successfully treat bipolar patients.
In trials with four months of supplementation at just under 10 mg of omega-3 per day, patients had “significantly longer period of remission than had the controls group that was simply given a placebo”. Also, in epidemiology studies, greater seafood consumption was used to successfully predict lower lifetime prevalence rates of bipolar disorders in large scale populations.
10 mg of omega-3 is really a small amount of omega-3 to ingest each day. The researcher’s observations of a positive response by their patients to this relatively low level of supplementation with omega-3 oils is very encouraging, to say the least. What if much larger amounts of omega-3 fatty acids were made available to the patients? What would be the results then? This is entirely feasible. Omega-3 fatty acids are simple nutritives. Persons can safely consume very high levels of this naturally occurring nutrient.
Schizophrenia and Omega-3’s
Different studies in schizophrenic patients have seen very significant improvements in the mental health and quality of life of schizophrenics when omega-3 supplementation was used. In a small study, which also included the addition of other nutritional supplements, more than half of the patients treated were able to go on to function normally in the world. In other studies, in India, treating patients for just 4 months very simply with supplementation of 300mg EPA and DHA along with supplementation of E and C vitamins, significant and lasting effects were brought about in the patients studied. The omega-3, omega-6 balance itself appears to be of importance in schizophrenia cases.
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Alzheimer’s and Omega-3’s
Just as in the case with the other mental conditions that are discussed in this article, plasma and blood cell levels of essential fatty acids are abnormally low in Alzheimer’s patients. It appears that pro-inflammatory compounds which cause damage to cerebral blood vessels are a major factor at the onset of this disease. Arterial plaque was previously believed to be the cause.
Now it is established that Omega-3 fatty acids have been shown to slow the onset of the disease. It is also notable that Alzheimer’s has a low incident of occurrence among the Japanese who traditionally consume a diet high in fish (which is naturally high in the omega-3 fatty acid DHA) along with other foods high in omega-3.
Treating Mood Disorders
In deficiency situations the cell membranes throughout the entire body are deplete in the much needed omega 3 essential fatty acids. Reversing this situation will take time and care. Attention needs to be given to the entire diet. More omega-3 fatty acids need to be brought into the body, omega-6 fatty acid consumption needs to be controlled, as does the consumption of saturated fats. Trans fats need to be ferreted out, and removed from the diet. Since trans fats are hidden in all kinds of foods and are frequently and incorrectly labeled as not being present (even when they are) a proper understanding of just what trans fats are and where they actually come from is a must in this case.
Fatty acid metabolism and nutrition are evidently of great importance in mental health. The fact that essential fatty acid deficiency is implicated in every type of mental illness looked at here is very informative. Any regime that is intended to address mental illness or mood disorder obviously needs to very carefully address the essential fatty acid status of the patient’s body, and of the patient’s diet. Rectifying the fatty acid status of the body is a long term proposition and the understanding of essential fatty acid relationships must be studied in depth in order to accomplish a balance of essential fatty acids in the bodily tissues. It is not that difficult to improve the essential fatty acid levels in the body (particularly the omega 3 levels) but more than one factor is at play. The interference of omega 3 by omega 6 oils and by the trans fatty acids need to be properly understood and accounted for in the nutritive approach.
Natural foods to treat mood disorders will primarily address the need for and balance of the essential fatty acids in the body.