I am passionate about health, but most importantly people, and their ability to live meaningful lives. Good health is necessary to enjoy a good life, and diet is essential because of its enormous effect on the health of people as a whole. I am a proponent of eating a nutrient-dense diet, consisting mainly of raw and cooked vegetables and fruits, in addition to legumes, nuts, and animal protein in smaller amounts. Eating in this manner assures that the body is receiving necessary nutrients to nourish its cells, not merely staving off hunger. A diet consisting of whole nutrient-dense foods provides a more stable release of fuel to the system. Maintaining blood sugar at a more constant level appears to be one of the keys to mental stability; better mood, better brain function.
It is noted that in 1971, Americans were already consuming more than half their food consumption in unhealthy food, in the form of junk food; and thousands of additives were found in the food system. Later in the 1970s, researchers interested in food’s effect on behavior attempted to demonstrate a correlation. Research conducted at California State University concluded that hypoglycemia, caused by a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates, could account for most of the antisocial behavior. They found that hypoglycemia causes the brain to secrete neurotoxin glutamate, which leads to agitation, depression, anger, anxiety, panic attacks, and violent behavior.
Unfortunately, people are often too rushed to eat before they leave the house in the morning, and unable to prepare a lunch for later in the day. When hunger sets in, available food choices may not be the best options.
Planning ahead and taking a little cooler with something for breakfast and lunch could make the difference between a successful or challenging day at the office or school. Many physicians and dietitians recommend a few pieces of cut-up fruit with an ounce or two of raw nuts for breakfast. I do this myself and find it keeps me well fueled until around noon. Then, I have a container of fresh veggies for lunch. You may say, “How do you get your protein?” A stalk of broccoli alone has 4.26 grams of protein, and a cup of green peas has 8.5 grams of protein. I bet you didn’t know that every serving of fruit has a small amount of protein, so adding a small number of nuts is an excellent balanced fuel for the body.
Since 1983, at least nine separate institutions in three states found that the overall mental health of their juveniles, demonstrated in their behavior, improved significantly after the elimination of high-sugar junk foods. If diet can have such a positive impact on the most challenging cases, isn’t time we give ourselves, our society as a whole, a better chance. Is it entirely possible that those who are institutionalized, say in prison or psychiatric facilities, may be there because of adverse reactions to food; such as hypoglycemia, or severe allergies or sensitivities to foods or chemicals. This line of thinking may seem like a cop-out or an oversimplification of a problem to excuse bad behavior, but it may not be. Much data, collected over time, reveals nutrition’s powerful effect on various life-skill areas from school performance to parole violations. Several research studies have demonstrated nutrition’s powerful impact on the brain and overall health and how it is ultimately reflected in one’s mental health status.
Hippocrates is thought to be the Father of Medicine, and a well-known quote attributed to his work is, “Let Food be thy Medicine.” Unfortunately, in today’s world, patients are rarely instructed about diet unless they have diabetes, heart disease, or are overweight. I regularly ask patients what dietary guidelines they have been given by the doctor they have seen with when I begin to work with them. Most patients report being told to count calories (some people are starving and don’t lose a pound), avoid fat (not so good), and eat more fruits and vegetables (which isn’t all that bad). However, my perspective about food is a little different. Dietary guidelines I recommend are based on food value, and what the food provides in terms of fuel and its ability to maintain and restore healthy tissue. After searching for years for the best resources to give my patients, in terms of foods that support and improve organ function, I unearthed information that is not often found in mainstream medicine. Unfortunately, over the years, much research has unveiled problems with unhealthy foods that are basic to the American diet, making it very difficult for patients to change how they eat. However, I have witnessed that it is often lifesaving to break the habit of eating many of these foods that a person may be allergic to or have a sensitivity to, or one that contains problematic chemicals. I follow the work Dr. Russell Blaylock, a Board Certified Neurosurgeon. Dr. Blaylock has devoted years to researching the positive and negative effects of nutrients and chemicals on the nervous system. Blaylock is just one of many medical specialists who had a hunger for explanations to why patients weren’t getting better when receiving the best medical treatment. In his quest to uncover these reasons, Dr. Blaylock stumbled on research linking diet and some chemicals found in food to some of today’s most troubling neurological conditions. I first became familiar with Dr. Blaylock over 10 years ago when I read his book Excitotoxins, The Taste that Kills. In this groundbreaking book, Blaylock demonstrated how MSG and Aspartame were often culprits, somehow linked to neurological disorders. In a more recent lecture titled “Nutrition and the Brain,” he unveils a mass of statistics and clinical findings relating the over-consumption of sugar and hypoglycemia to ADHD, alcoholism, violence, and ultimately whether or not one in the criminal system can be rehabilitated. Dr. Blaylock does not only expose the problem, he offers solutions, dietary solutions. I encourage you to visit his website www.russellblaylockmd.com to be directed to lectures and books he has written on this subject. Dr. Blaylock sites many studies and correlates many deficiencies to outcomes, which I have included in this blog. I invite you to listen to his lecture “Nutrition and the Brain” on YouTube to find out for yourself. Some of the findings Dr. Blaylock reports are similar to studies I reviewed years ago while preparing a lecture on the “Effects of Nutrition on ADHD and Behavior.” Them studies I examined were conducted in the 1980s, in New York City, California, and a suburb of Milwaukee. All three studies involved providing healthier school lunches, primarily by decreasing the sugar content markedly and eliminating red and yellow food dyes, as well as food additives like BHA and BHT. In California and New York, the results of the studies revealed improved overall test scores, as well as enhanced sports outcomes in California. In Wisconsin, the drop-out rate decreased to zero during the time the study was conducted, and teenagers were no longer bringing guns to school.
It appears that most vitamin deficiencies can result in some issue affecting one’s mental health, from insomnia to depression to hyperactivity. But the effects I found most riveting were the effects of hypoglycemia on overall behavior, most specifically criminal or violent reaction. A University of Florida study conducted in 1980 was the first to study the impact of sugar on children. The kids that consumed the most sugar in their diets, those in the top 25%, had high measures for inattentiveness when being evaluated for hyperactivity. Another sugar study conducted at the University of Connecticut in 1986 revealed that mental performance declines within 30 minutes when consuming the amount of sugar equal to a coke. The participants in this same study made twice the number of errors as usual after one hour of consuming the same amount of sugar. A college male study conducted in 1982 screened subjects for psychiatric history, drug use, and medical conditions. The results of the study showed a strong relationship between aggressive answers on a questionnaire and hypoglycemia. I have always known that sugar was wrong for the immune system and that it may indirectly cause hyperactivity; I just never knew about the correlation of reactive hypoglycemia and aggression, but it does make sense. When we talk about sugar, we include white foods like flour, rice, noodles, and potatoes; all foods that break down quickly to sugar. If you struggle with depression, aggression, or have trouble concentrating, decrease, or eliminate these foods entirely from your diet. I would love to hear what you notice. Alexander Schauss, the author of the book Diet, Crime and Delinquency (1980), used case studies to show that a high intake of sugar, processed foods, junk food, food additives, lack of nutrients, as well as food allergies, and lack of exercise, can all contribute to criminal behavior.
Furthermore, Finnish researcher Matti Virkkunen conducted a series of studies involving violent male prisoners. Abnormal glucose tolerance results were found in subjects with antisocial personality, and increased insulin levels as a result of intake of excessive sugary foods, especially in alcoholics. He confirmed the fact that violent male homicidal offenders had much lower cholesterol levels than other offenders, and that impulsive violent offenders and fire setters have low serotonin levels in the brain. As a result, Virkkunen hypothesized that the lower cholesterol levels in the violent offenders could be a consequence of enhanced insulin secretion (most often in response to a high sugar intake) and that high insulin levels (most often resulting in hypoglycemia) are responsible for violent behavior. It is interesting to note that Finland suffers from one of the highest suicide rates in the world, along with a high incidence of alcoholism.
Tragic! I believe eating a nutrient-dense diet with adequate protein to balance carbohydrates could provide the needed nutritional support when trying to handle stress at any time of the day. Pioneers in Orthomolecular Medicine have demonstrated over the years that patients with various forms of mental illness do better when the diet is improved, and proper nutrients included. In some instances, patients were able to get off medications, some reduced dosages of drugs, and others just did better on the medications they were prescribed. Sounds like a win-win to me. This is Food For Thought, but I am convinced that food is truly the Best Medicine.