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Can the right Food Improve your Mental Health?

The story of how Julia and Guilia transformed our understanding of the brain, gut and mental health forever.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

In 2014 two women, introduced two eye-opening pieces of research. Dr Julia Rucklidge spoke about her studies on mental health and Dr Guilia Enders spoke about the Gut.

Julia, who is a clinical neuropsychologist introduced the world to her work, through a TED talk which currently has over 1.5 million views. For over six years she had been studying the benefits of micronutrients to treat children who were mentally unwell suffering from illnesses like bipolar disorders, anxiety, PTSD, ADHD.

Gut-Brain Connection

She basically wanted to know if what we eat could impact our mental health.

Yes, Minerals and Vitamins(micronutrients)! Her work claimed that people who made necessary changes to their diet were showing greater recovery from mental health issues than people who were on medications.

But the idea that your food can change your mental health. Feels overly simplified… doesn’t it? We want to hear complex, interesting ways that doctors and scientists have come up with ways to help us solve an issue that has plagued us for so long. And you’re not the only one who feels this way.

Most scientists across the world are uncomfortable simple solutions, they want the simplest solutions to be extensively researched. Academia has a history of refusing to accept simple solutions to persistent problems.

Photo by Natasha Connell on Unsplash

This where Guilia comes into the picture, while Julia studied the brain. Guilia studied the Gut. Her book Gut: The Inside Story of Our Body’s Most Underrated Organ, speaks about this phenomenon as well.

Guilia who is a scientist and doctor had done some extensive research on this organ which is completely independent of mental health research. And came across some astonishing connections between the gut and the brain during her journey.

Guilia states “The gut has not only a remarkable system of nerves to gather all this information, but also a huge surface area. The gut, by contrast, is a huge matrix, sensing our inner life and working on the subconscious mind.”

She said — Anyone who suffers from anxiety or depression should remember that an unhappy gut can be the cause of an unhappy mind. Sometimes, the gut has a perfect right to be unhappy, if it is dealing with an undetected food intolerance, for example. We should not always blame depression on the brain or on our life circumstances — there is much more to us than that.

Most healthcare systems in the world work in a systematic method to cure Mental Illness. They start with therapy and counselling sessions, followed by antidepressants, antipsychotic drugs and if none of this helps they just increase your drug dosage. When we see people around us on these drugs we assume they’re getting better because the symptoms begin reducing.

But does reduced symptoms mean the person is cured? Symptoms are always a consequence of a disease. Not the disease itself. Just because a person is no longer hallucinating, or trembling does it mean he or she recovered?

This is what Julia’s work looked into.

Julia performed 10’s of researchers over short spans of time usually 8weeks to months. Most of her studies showed that patients who were given the micronutrients were showing phenomenal improvement.

Her 8-week study on ADHD adults showed a 200% improvement as compared to children who were given no medication. These people had lowered Hyperactivity and impulsivity into the normal social range. One year later people who stuck to the medicine were improving, while those who switched to medication or went of the micronutrients saw worsening of symptoms. She saw an improvement of Bipolar disorder by 50% in children over 6 months, along with a reduced dosage of medicines. Reduced PTSD from 65% to 18% by giving micronutrients. These studies have been replicated across the world, and the results are positive.

Not only are the results positive. Currently, there are plenty of researches which show that people on medications are weaned off the drugs due to the micronutrients, as a matter of fact, its recommended to reduce the drug dosage to ensure less toxicity in the body.

The brilliance of this is — it never looked at alleviating mental health symptoms like sleeplessness, or addiction, or trembling, hallucination. Instead, it looked at the problem as a whole. Instead of looking at the brain as a machine, which needs oiling in the form of drugs. This method nourishes the body and mind as a whole. It provides nutrients which not only alleviate symptoms but created a long term solution to fight mental illness.

Now if you do have a look at the studies or the TED talk, an underlying academic concern that was raised was these studies aren’t long enough.

Except for recent research in 2019, was performed on a small sample of children and adults suffering from ADHD, anxiety, depression was given micronutrients for an average of 2.66 years. The results were safe, effective and positive.

Photo by Brooke Lark on Unsplash

Should you change what you eat?

Now you may be considering changing your diet to make it more vitamin and mineral-rich. But these micronutrients were administered in the form of 15 pills consisting of a wide range of 36 nutrients the most important being — vitamin B12, vitamin D, zinc, copper, folate, potassium, sodium, calcium many more.

The kind of broad range micronutrients that were administered would never be available over the counter at a drug store. As a matter of fact, most multivitamin pills are not this broad range. But yes maintaining a healthy diet, does significantly reduce your chances of suffering fro mental disorders. Of course, the nutritional requirements vary from person to person, which is why the exact same supplements would not work on two different people, but would still be effective in making them feel better.

That is a huge learning for us as a society which is progressing towards processed food, refined oils, fast food. Every second we try to save in the kitchen will cost us our health. And its no longer just our physical appearance. The cost is our mental health. Which is absolutely irreplaceable.

While there is still plenty of ongoing research in this field. We are not far from the day when your therapist might administer you micronutrients instead of a drug to help you take care of your mental health.

Apart from these researches, I came across several articles and podcasts from people who switched to healthier diets. They shifted from processed foods to food rich in protein, vegetables, image fatty acids present in fish. These are some irreplaceable nutrients and minerals very easily available all around us.

Tim who runs the Mind podcast said

“I’d always thought of food as obviously nutrition, but also probably without realising it also as a kind of comfort thing and as an emotional support.”

“Changing my diet made EVERY BIT OF DIFFERENCE IN THE DAMN WORLD TO MY MENTAL HEALTH. Nothing has been as effective. I’d probably be dead by now if I hadn’t done so. Raw plant-based diet for almost 9 years and no medication.” commented Lorra Fae

The stories of all these people further served as precedence, that while these researches may not be complete to get you a micronutrient prescription from your doctor.

You certainly can try and change your diet, making it more nutritious, taking dietary supplements and seeing the effect it has on your body. This research is presenting facts, while it may not be perfect in the world of academia. It might be just what you need. So consider the lifestyle and dietary changes suggested here and by so many people who have been able to improve their mental health with just their food.

This does not mean that you stop taking your medication. It just means that maybe over time with the right dietary changes you might not even need to take your medication.

After looking through her studies it became.

Can the right Food Improve your Mental Health? was originally published in ILLUMINATION on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.

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