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The Diet Connection to Anxiety, Depression and other Neurological Disorders
October 31st, 2012 by Dennis McInerney

Despite the number of neurotropic drugs introduce over the past three decades, there has been an astonishing increase in neurological disorders in the United States. An article in “Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry”, Volume 7, Number 1, Spring, 2005, written by Robert Whitaker, states that “The number of Americans disabled by mental illness has nearly doubled since 1987, when Prozac-the first in a second generation of wonder drugs for mental illness-was introduced.” Mr. Whitaker also documents that in placebo controlled studies involving anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders, relapse was significantly higher in the pharmacotherapy groups as compared to those taking a placebo.

Maybe it’s time for a paradigm shift in the way we address anxiety, depression and other neurological disorders. A number of published studies have looked at the connection between diet and mood, as well as, how the availability of neurotransmitter precursors and other metabolic co-factor impact the synthesis of neurotransmitters.

A 2010 study published in the American Journal of Psychiatry looked at the association of Western and traditional diets with depression and anxiety in women. “The study examined the extent to which the high-prevalence mental disorders are related to habitual diet in 1,046 women ages 20-93 years randomly selected from the population. A diet quality score was derived from answers to a food frequency questionnaire, and a factor analysis identified habitual dietary patterns. A 12-item General Health Questionnaire (GHQ-12) was used to measure psychological symptoms, and a structured clinical interview was used to assess current depressive and anxiety disorders. After adjustments for age, socioeconomic status, education, and health behaviors, a "traditional" dietary pattern characterized by vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains was associated with lower odds for major depression or dysthymia and for anxiety disorders. A "western" diet of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer was associated with a higher GHQ-12 score.”

Adequate amounts of dietary amino acids and metabolic co-factors are necessary for hormonal and neurotransmitter balance. The neurotransmitter serotonin requires adequate amounts of tryptophan for synthesis. Low Serotonin levels are associated with depression. The rate of serotonin synthesis is affected by insulin levels and meal ingestion. The chronic ingestion of a tryptophan-poor diet, such as corn or highly processed food can negatively impact serotonin levels and mood. The synthesis of the catecholamine neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine vary with the availability of the precursor amino acid L-Tyrosine. The neurotransmitter, acetylcholine depends on the availability of the B-Complex vitamin, choline, for synthesis. Availability of nutritional co-factors can also affect mood. Depression and anxiety are associated with low levels of essential fatty acids, magnesium, and Vitamin D, as well as Vitamins B6 and B12, and folic acid. The affinity of many Americans for quick fare meals made with highly processed food puts them at risk for not having the building blocks necessary for neurotransmitter synthesis and the potential for mood disorders.

Dr. David Brownstein, in his book “Drugs That Don’t Work & Natural Therapies That Do” offers natural alternatives to neurotropic medications. The first step is to “clean up the diet”. Begin with a whole food diet that includes fresh vegetables, fruit, meat, fish, and whole grains as a source of the vitamins, minerals, essential fatty acids, and amino acids necessary for neurotransmitter balance. Second, address any digestive dysfunction to assure assimilation. Third, work on stress reduction. And finally, if needed, supplement with neurotransmitter precursors such as 5HTP (L-5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan), L-Tyrosine, L-Theanine, and Phosphatidylcholine, and/or the inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA (Gamma Aminobutyric acid).

References:

“Effects on the diet on brain neurotransmitters”, Fernstrom JD, Metabolism, 1977 Feb;26(2):207-23.

“Magnesium-deficient diet alters depression- and anxiety-related behavior in mice–influence of desipramine and Hypericum perforatum extract”; Singewald N, Sinner C, Hetzenauer A, Sartori SB, Murck H; Neuropharmacology. 2004 Dec;47(8):1189-97.

“Anatomy of an Epidemic: Psychiatric Drugs and the Astonishing Rise of Mental Illness in America”; Whitaker R; Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry”, Volume 7, Number 1, Spring, 2005.

“Drugs That Don’t Work & Natural Therapies That Do” by David Brownstein, MD

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