A Missing Link: Mental Health and Nutrition

Let’s Talk —About Mental Health


Two years ago, Bell Canada announced an initiative to support mental health. This year, their “Let’s Talk” campaign is designed to get people talking about mental illness and help reduce the stigma surrounding it.

So, in response to the “Let’s Talk” campaign, here’s what we want to talk about:

First, it’s important to understand that mental illnesses such as depression, ADHD, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and the huge range of other mental health problems are, in fact, biological illnesses—not the result of being merely lazy or crazy or weak-willed. Mental illness has its roots in a person’s biology, and people with mental illness truly are ill. They deserve our respect and care, not ridicule or threats.

Second, we want to talk about mainstream medicine’s failure to address the nutritional needs of the brain when mental illness strikes. Time and again, the mainstream medical system recommends cognitive behavioural therapy, drugs, exercise, hospitalization, and even electric shock therapy, but the system gives very little consideration to the brain’s huge nutritional needs—even though this organ is energy intensive and highly sensitive.

Ignoring the brain’s nutritional needs happened again at least once this week: On his daily talk show, Anderson Cooper interviewed a young woman struggling with obsessive compulsive disorder. A therapist who specializes in this debilitating illness explained that the patient’s brain is not working properly and is telling the patient to do things that she doesn’t want to do (completing various rituals over and over again until the patient becomes exhausted and debilitated). The therapist went on to explain that this patient’s brain was genetically pre-disposed to the illness; genetics were the loaded gun and life circumstances pulled the trigger. The therapist advised that intensive cognitive behavioural therapy is needed. However, not a word was spoken about supporting the brain with proper nutrition.

Certainly, therapy will be needed to help this young patient recover her life, but it’s just not enough. She needs targeted nutritional support, too. After all, if a person’s brain can be genetically predisposed to an illness, her brain has genetically predetermined nutritional needs. One of the factors that pulled the trigger of that genetically loaded gun most certainly is the unique nutritional needs of that person’s brain.

Why does the medical system continue to ignore mentally ill patients’ nutritional needs? Well—it’s a centuries-old problem: Mainstream medicine hasn’t made the connection between food and health.

This failure occurs partly because doctors and nurses trained in mainstream medicine get little (if any) education in nutritional science and partly because those physicians who dare to undertake extra study in nutrition and recommend nutritional remedies face the real possibility of being trounced out of university research departments, removed from their medical practices, and losing their medical licences. In addition, psychiatry (which can be a wonderful field of medicine in so many ways) often tends to be one of the most conservative of the medical specialities. Nutrition typically just is not on their radar, and those few psychiatrists who dare to make the food-health connection often face severe reprisal if they recommend nutritional remedies.

Over the years, several of our friends and clients have suffered terribly with mental health problems. Despite decades of drugs and counselling, these patients could not recover—at least not until their unique nutritional needs were met. However, when therapy was combined with sound nutritional support (including food and food supplements that feed the brain) these patients recovered and were able to wean off their medications, return to work and school, and recover their lives.

So here it is: The thing we want people to know is that mental illness has a strong biological component—a chemical imbalance that affects the brain. Therefore, an effective treatment protocol must include nutrition that corrects that imbalance and supports the brain.

Nutritional things to consider include: avoiding sugar (very hard on the brain), junk food and junk beverages containing damaging sugars and chemicals, shellfish (too toxic for the brain because shellfish feed on ocean floors where heavy metals settle), and pretty much all packaged food because it tends to contain too many sugars, salts, fillers, and toxins while delivering up too little nutrition. Even foods sold as “healthy” should be eyed with skepticism and labels thoroughly assessed before being consumed.

Foods to support the brain include certified-organic fresh vegetables and fruits, lean meats from grass fed animals, free-range poultry and eggs, fish from cold deep oceans, and (especially) healthy fats that support the fatty structure of the brain. Food supplements to consider include an excellent multi-supplement made from certified organic plants and containing vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients.  In addition, it’s important to consider essential fatty acids that are DHA-rich, probiotics, gentle detoxification herbal remedies, vitamin D3 (ask your doctor for a 25(OH)D blood test to check your vitamin D levels), B-complex vitamins, extra B vitamins such as B1, B6, folic acid, and B12 (best taken together with a good B-complex supplement), calcium, magnesium, and possibly other minerals that support the endocrine system (thyroid and adrenal glands).

Our book provides much more information about nutrition and brain health than we can offer in this short blog, and it also offers Ten Totally Terrific Questions to help you choose the best brands of supplements when you make a purchase at the health food store. As always, consult a healthcare provider knowledgeable in issues surrounding nutrition and brain health before beginning a supplementation regimen.

For more information about nutritional issues, read our book EAT TO SAVE YOUR LIFE, here.

Here’s to your good mental health,

Jerre and Gloria



Search Posts

Eat to Save Your Life BookEat to Save Your Life answers the hard nutrition questions.

Buy it now!