When faced with mental illness most people do not know how to react or what to do. In many cases they feel helpless themselves. For example what would you do if your five year old was running around with a knife chasing his older brother due to an argument they had just had? This was not in any way playful; there was a very real unconscious intent to cause injury. As hard as it is to face mental illness in an adult loved one imagine the difficulty in trying to understand and cope with mental illness in your five year old child. Scientifically, it has been shown that most mental illness is due to a chemical imbalance for which psychiatrists and doctors prescribe heavy pharmaceuticals, most with the risk of serious side effects, as the normal course of treatment and completely overlook a more natural approach, with no side effects, based on nutrition and food based vitamins that can in some cases correct the underlying chemical imbalance.
In a society that subscribes to a “take something” approach as a cure all for almost anything, the idea of a fast remedy is far more appealing than a course of treatment with a delayed result even if it could almost completely eradicate the underlying cause of the symptoms. When an individual enters a doctor’s office for anxiety or depression the first course of action taken by the physician is the prescription pad with almost no testing. While if the same individual entered a doctor’s office with the symptoms of diabetes the first action taken by the physician would be a battery of tests most likely followed by a treatment plan consisting of diet control and exercise. Part of the reason for the disparity in the initial treatment plans could be that mental illness is less understood by the medical community than most other illnesses. Most medication regimens for mental illness are based on a trial and error approach to correct the chemical imbalances.
When discussing diabetes, we know this is an imbalance with sugar and insulin. To gain a further understanding of mental illness we must first take a look at some of the chemicals involved. There are a number of chemicals or neurotransmitters that can contribute to a chemical imbalance resulting in mental illness but for our purposes we will focus on one. If you have heard anything about mental illness and depression you may have heard of serotonin. This is a chemical produced naturally by our bodies just like insulin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is found in the intestines, blood and central nervous system. It helps regulate pain, affects mood, learning and social behavior, etc. One class of medications prescribed for mental illness is selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Essentially this means the drug affects the reabsorption of serotonin into synaptic vesicles where it is usually stored for later use. These vesicles are tiny storage sacs. When the storage is blocked by an SSRI, the serotonin remains free floating in the bloodstream.
One of the most common medications currently prescribed for a chemical imbalance involving serotonin is Lexapro. Lexapro is an SSRI commonly used to treat adults and adolescents (ages 12-17) for both major depressive disorder (MDD) and generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). It has been found to be very effective but comes with the risk of side effects including but not limited to: fatigue, worsening depression, decreased libido, nausea and insomnia, just to name a few (Laboratories).
Well, if the medication does not introduce serotonin into the system but is merely designed to keep serotonin in the bloodstream, wouldn’t it stand to reason that eating foods which help produce serotonin could increase the serotonin levels so that a larger amount would stay free floating in the bloodstream naturally. To naturally increase serotonin levels you could eat low-fat dairy products, legumes, soy, chicken, white fish and high-carbohydrate vegetables.
In 1968, Linus Pauling coined the phrase Orthomolecular Medicine (Pauling). Orthomolecular Medicine is based on megavitamin therapy which simply means that certain vitamins are given in high doses, most specifically B vitamins which help with brain functions. This form of treatment has been steadily gaining in popularity but has yet to be accepted by the professional medical and psychiatric communities (Theories). With orthomolecular therapy the chemical imbalance can be addressed through nutrition and diet coupled with increased vitamin B intake. There are 11 B vitamins and the following few are especially important for mental health:
- Niacin amide (B3)
- At 50-100 mg helps increase energy and is needed for DNA repair
- Pyridoxine (B6)
- 10-15 mg is needed for neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
- Cyanocobalamin (B12)
- May improve memory and reverse mental fogginess at 20-1000 mcg
- 50-200 mg is needed for normal brain and memory function
- 50-200 mg is helpful for depression and anxiety attacks
Foods that are rich in B-vitamins consist of dark green vegetables, protein from animal sources, and whole grains (Living). You can also find these in natural supplements such as vitamin-B complex.
The 5 year old mentioned earlier is my son who is now 9. He was diagnosed with ADHD and mood disorder otherwise unspecified and he was put on medication. We didn’t know what else to do and of course you try to have faith in your doctors. After still struggling with the effects of the disorders and side effects, we started to do more of our own research and decided to take a different approach. We had him allergy tested and discovered that he is allergic to milk, soy, and a few other things. After modifying his diet, we have seen a notable difference and are in the process of eliminating medication.
Our bodies are chemistry based machines. Each is individualized and works differently. Taking a medication which treats a broad spectrum of symptoms treats only those symptoms with the possibility of unpleasant side effects. It does nothing to eliminate the underlying problem causing those symptoms. If these medications actually “fixed” the problem there would be no need for continuous use. It’s similar to going to the doctors and saying, “My feet are swollen,” and the doctor prescribing a diuretic to relieve the swelling but doing no other testing. A diuretic will not help the possible heart condition that may be causing the swelling of the feet. You don’t have to be a doctor or dietitian to develop a healthy eating plan. The internet is filled with food journals and calculators and some even tell you about different foods and their benefits such as the one at http://fitday.com/. Check it out and start living healthier and happier. Remember, side effects or no side effects, our bodies already NEED food!
Laboratories, Forest. Lexapro. 10 July 2011 <http://www.frx.com/products/lexapro>.
Living, Whole. Whole Living.com. 2011. 12 July 2011 <http://www.wholeliving.com/artical/the-benefits-of-b-vitamins>.
Pauling, Linus. Foundation For Alternative Medicine. 05 November 2010. 12 July 2011 <http://www.faim.org/orthomolecularmedicine/>.
Theories, Elsevier’s Dictionary of Psychological. Credo reference. 14 July 2011 <http://www.sunysccc.edu:2059/entry/estpsyctheory/orthomolecular_theory>.