You Are What You Eat – Nutrition, Depression, and Bipolar


A 2003 issue of Time International reports on 41-year-old Amanda Jodhpuria, who had bad luck with lithium, and sought out a nutritionist who diagnosed a B vitamins and fatty acids deficiency, which prompted her to change her diet – no coffee, sugar, or salt, and more fish. She told Time: “My mood has leveled out, and the depressions are much shorter.” The same article reports a survey from the British mental health group, Mind, which found that 80 percent of those who followed a diet low in sugar, caffeine, chocolate, and alcohol and high in water, vegetables, fruit, and oil-rich fish reported improved moods, with 26 percent citing major improvements.

Scientists are coming up with new findings all the time now. For starters, there are clear connections between mood and foods rich in folates (green leafy vegetables). A 1997 Harvard study supports earlier findings that show: 1) a link can be made between folate deficiency and depressive symptoms, and 2) that low folate levels can interfere with the antidepressant activity of the SSRIs. A Tufts University study of nearly 2,948 individuals found that those who met the criteria for a lifetime diagnosis of major depression had lower serum and red blood folate concentrations than those who had never been depressed. Those with dysthymia had lower red blood cell folate only. The authors of the study recommend folate supplementation during the year following a depressive episode. (See article for more on nutritional supplements.)

An eight-week Harvard study of 322 outpatients with major depression on 20 mg/day of Prozac found that those with high cholesterol levels were “significantly more likely” not to respond to the drug than patients with low cholesterol.
Toxic Foods for Depression and Bipolar Disorder

Some people can’t eat wheat, others are sensitive to the artificial sweetener aspartame, either of which can alter mood. The list goes on and on and on.

Patients can take food allergy tests, though they are expensive and their reliability has been called into question. A more labored but failsafe means is to eliminate a suspect food from one’s diet to see what happens. These would include: dairy, wheat, corn, eggs, citrus, caffeine, alcohol, refined sugar, honey, maple or barley syrup, tap water, or any food one eats more than three times a week.

One is advised to read labels carefully, as hidden allergens are frequently found in packaged foods.

An article by John Stegmaier on the New Hope Foundation website reports of Illinois psychiatrist Thomas Stone MD who is committed to seeking out any food sensitivities that may be causing or contributing to an individual’s mental problems. New patients are put on a strict spring water fast for several days, then tested one food at a time for psychological reactions while being monitored for pulse and other functions. John’s 23-year-old daughter, who had endured nine years of failed treatments, erupted into a psychotic episode after eating a test course of brussels sprouts. The article fails to report his daughter’s outcome, which was presumably for the better, but does mention he and his wife got the cold shoulder from the honchos at NIMH when they tried to pass on the good news.
Sugar and Carbs

Meanwhile, the average American eats more than 125 pounds of white sugar a year, comprising 25 percent of our daily calorie intake. (See article.)

According to Diana Lipson-Burge, a nutrition consultant and co-author of “Un-Dieting”, speaking at the 2003 DBSA conference, carbs release serotonin to the brain, which is why we crave the stuff. But we’re not addicted to carbs, as we would just be eating sugar. You’re addicted to the serotonin, she stressed.

Carbs are the first thing your body turns to for energy. Simple carbs include sugar and white flour while complex carbs include fruit and vegetables. To avoid sugar crashes, says Ms Lipson-Burge, one needs to buffer carbs with proteins and fat, say 40-50 percent carbs to 20 percent protein and 20 to 30 percent fat. Think bagel with eggs or egg beaters.

In the 1990s, food experts came up with the glycemic index to show how some foods raised blood sugar higher than others, but which failed the stupid test by not accounting for the total carbohydrates in a particular food. Thus carrots equated to sugar and potatoes to hard candy. A team from Harvard University then developed the glycemic load, derived by multiplying a food’s glycemic index by grams of carbs in a serving of food. Using glycemic load as an index, carrots are restored to good standing, and potatoes conditionally so.

The glycemic load affirms what most of us already knew: Opt for brown rice over white rice, enriched pastas over plain ones, peasant breads over white and whole wheat (commercial whole wheat and dark breads are basically white bread with coloring), fresh fruit over commercial fruit juice (which is basically sugar water), oatmeal over corn flakes, whole grains over processed grains, plenty of beans and vegetables.

Restoring the Messed-Up Food Chain

A 2003 review article in the International Journal of Circumpolar Health by biologist Able Bult-Ito and associates of the University of Alaska, Fairbanks offers an excellent case study on what happens when various populations change from their traditional means of procuring and consuming food to steak and Crisco and a lot of junk.

Though the traditional diets of circumpolar people vary from region to region, the menu generally draws from marine mammals, fish, hoofed animals, fur-bearing animals, birds and their eggs, plants, and berries. These foods are rich in nutrients, with high levels of protein, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants, while low in carbohydrates. Until contact with westerners, obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease were virtually unknown to the frozen north. That changed with the introduction of a western diet, which is high in carbs and saturated fats and low in essential nutrients such as omega-3. Bad physical and dental health followed like six-month night after six-month day. Mental health also headed south as a result, contend the authors of the article.

Omega-3 is crucial to neuronal and brain development, function, and health, and is available from fish, grass-fed mammals, and certain plants. Lower levels of fish consumption and omega-3 have been linked to increased rates of depression and possibly suicide. Deficiencies in omega-3 can affect serotonin and dopamine transmission in the frontal cortex and hippocampus (see article for more on omega-3 supplements).

Studies have found that rates of depression, seasonal affective disorder, seasonality, anxiety, and other mental illnesses are on the rise in circumpolar regions, especially among non-isolated populations. Suicide rates have increased seven-fold in many northern populations over the past several decades. The suicide rate for the Canadian Inuit from 1987 to 1991 was 3.9 times higher than that of the general Canadian population.

The authors of the article acknowledge that the mental distress of the Inuit and their brethren can be attributed to social, cultural, and lifestyle upheaval, as well as increases in chronic physical diseases, but they argue that “the combined decline in mental health and the disappearance of traditional diets in circumpolar peoples makes a direct connection between diet and mental health in these people a very real possibility.”

Before you go out and buy salmon to load up on omega-3, be advised that the salmon you find in most outlets is farm-raised and fed on grain, which does not contain omega-3, plus fish meal to artificially boost omega-3, but to nowhere the levels found in more expensive ocean-caught salmon, where the omega-3 travels up the food chain from algae. According to the FDA, salmon has low mercury concentrations compared to some other types of fish, and should be considered safe when eaten in moderation. Oysters, whitefish, sea bass, freshwater trout, and sardines are also high omega-3-low mercury sources. Fresh tuna and more expensive canned and albacore tuna contain nearly the same amount of omega-3 as salmon, but three times as much mercury, while canned light tuna is low in omega-3 and mercury. A two-ounce serving of canned albacore, according to one manufacturer, has 2.2 grams of omega-3.

Carnivores may want to consider switching to grass-fed beef, which is much higher in omega-3 and lower in saturated fats than the grain-fed, hormone-injected marbled slabs that end up on our tables. Grain-fed beef has a 20 to one ratio of omega-6 to omega-3, while grass-fed beef is about three to one. The ideal diet is considered to comprise equal parts omega-3 and omega-6. New Zealand and Australian beef come from grass-fed cattle, as do certain meats from various parts of Europe. US producers are beginning to fill a high-priced niche, and buffalo is another option. The French feel their organically raised Charolais and Limousin cattle superior in taste to grain-fed US Angus, but for grass-fed beef in general there tends to be a sacrifice in taste and texture, though a good cook will relish this as a culinary challenge.

Eating Smart

Fortunately, one can eat smart with little sacrifice to old habits and good taste. Preparing dishes yourself allows you considerable control over what goes into your system. That “heart attack on a plate” served up by a restaurant or in a frozen food package can be a very healthy and tasty dish when prepared yourself with different ingredients. Entering “low fat” or “no fat” plus a dish you like will bring up dozens of recipes on Google.

I once told a member of my family that anyone can be a good cook using lots of fat and sugar and salt. The real test of a great cook is knowing how to strategically combine small amounts of these ingredients with healthy ones to produce an outstanding result. (I’m sure she still resents me for that.) A few tricks I have picked up over the years:

1. Smart cheese: Cheese on a beef burger is an invitation to a heart attack. Cheese, even the low-fat or no fat varieties, on a veggie burger with lettuce and tomato makes a pretty decent sandwich. The low or no-fat ricotta and mozzarella work well in a lasagna while only a gourmet can tell it’s no-fat cream cheese in a cheese cake. Low or no-fat mozzarella on top of a store-bought pizza crust with olive oil and tomato sauce takes the cardiac risk out of watching football on TV. Sprinkle with a bit of Parmesan and you won’t miss Pizza Hut. Zapping relatively tasteless but good for you dishes such as white fish with Parmesan makes you forget you’re not eating steak.
2. Ground turkey: Use this in pasta sauce, lasagna, and chili instead of ground beef, and you won’t know the difference. For an outstanding pasta sauce, add one or two sliced links of Italian sausage, which will flavor the ground turkey, as well as the sauce. Burgers and meat loaf demand a compromise of mixing equal parts ground turkey with ground beef. For those of you lucky enough to live in places like New Zealand where they don’t meddle with the food chain, you can beef it up to your heart’s content (within reason). The rest of us need to eat wisely or find beef from grass-fed cattle.
3. Fat-free hotdogs: There is no significant taste difference. Fat-free sausages are another story, but the 1/2 fat is a good compromise.
4. Smart meat: Meat should be part of an ensemble production rather than a star vehicle. That way you eat less of it. This means meat and pasta, meat and rice (Chinese, Indian, paella, gumbo, Cajun, etc), meat and beans (Mexican), meat with rice and beans (Latino), meat and couscous (Middle East), meat and veggies (Chinese, etc). If you must use cheese or sour cream, use less of it and go for low or no fat.
5. Smart sauces: Go with stock-based rather than cream-based sauces. A little cheese in stock gives it a creamy texture. If you must opt for cream, use low fat or no fat half and half.
6. Watch out for the little things: It’s the extras that can do you more harm than the main course. Poultry stuffing cooked in the bird is soaked with fat – cook it in a separate dish with stock. Count to ten before you reach for that guacamole for your fajitas.
7. Low fat versions: Most foods these days come in no fat or low fat versions. Much of the no fat involves considerable sacrifice in taste and texture, but not so much with low fat. The message here is that dieting need not be an all or nothing choice. Between the one extreme of depriving yourself and the other of gorging on an Entenmann’s ultimate super cinnamon bun (680 calories) lies a range of admittedly less tempting but decidedly less menacing alternatives.
8. Smart sugar: This may be an oxymoron. There are no perfect solutions, but there are choices: a) Consume less foods with added sugar; b) Replace with healthy alternatives (eg a fruit-yogurt smoothie instead of a milkshake); c) Consume foods with sugar substitutes (but beware of the potential dangers – see article): d) When preparing food, use less sugar or use sugar substitutes.
9. Smart desserts and comfort foods: On one hand, no or low fat and no sugar alternatives may be invitations to fill ourselves with food of no nutritional worth. On the other, I suspect even the most outspoken food advocates sneak the occasional chocolate cake when no one’s looking. You won’t miss the fat in no fat crackers. There is no substitute for Ben and Jerry’s, but low fat or no fat ice cream and frozen yogurt won’t make you feel a Somalia poster child, either. Unfortunately, dessert manufacturers tend to shy away from no sugar and low or no fat in one product. Thus, if you really want an almost zero-fat, zero-sugar dessert you have to make it yourself. I managed to do this with cheesecake using two different recipes. Otherwise, choose your desserts wisely. There may be no perfect choice, but you have the power to make a lot of sensible ones.
10. Smart oil: Liquid oil good, solid oil bad. Liquid oil is converted to solid oil by a process of hydrogenation, resulting in transfats that go into artery-clogging margarine, death-defying commercial peanut butter (stick to natural peanut butter) and unsafe at any speed commercially-baked goods. Transfats are the poison of choice for deep-frying by restaurants. Animal oils, tropical oils, and butter are also solid and high in saturated fats. Saturated fat raises both good and bad cholesterol while transfat lowers good and raises bad cholesterol. The liquid vegetable oils (olive, peanut, canola, corn) also contain saturated fat, but are much higher in monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats. Corn oil, however, is very high in omega-6 as opposed to omega-3. Monounsaturated and polyunsaturated fats raise good cholesterol and lower bad cholesterol. Olive, canola, and peanut oils have the greatest abundance of monounsaturated fats, regarded as the healthiest fat.
11. Smart substitutions: Health food advocates tend to advise, “Instead of having a slice of triple layer chocolate fudge cake with mocha ice cream, try instead a nice piece of uncooked broccoli.” What these people don’t get is that even a whole wheat English muffin seems like a way out choice to people accustomed to their donut fix. And giving up a Snickers bar for an orange sounds as crazy as trading Manhattan for .00. If the prospect of diabetes or open-heart surgery has somehow struck the fear of God into you, then by all means go for broke-oli. More realistic, however, is starting with some of the substitutions suggested above and working your way in stages toward a sensible diet. It is advisable to consult a nutritionist.
12. Finally, you’re entitled to occasional indulgences.

SOURCE:- McMan’s Depression and Bipolar Web

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