Changes to diets over the last 50 years may be playing a key role in the rise of mental illness, a study says.
Food campaigners Sustain and the Mental Health Foundation say the way food is now produced has altered the balance of key nutrients people consume. The period has also seen the UK population eating less fresh food and more saturated fats and sugars.
They say this is leading to depression and memory problems, but food experts say the research is not conclusive. Dr. Andrew McCulloch, chief executive of the Mental Health Foundation, said: "We are well aware of the effect of diet upon our physical health.
"But we are only just beginning to understand how the brain as an organ is influenced by the nutrients it derives from the foods we eat and how diets have an impact on our mental health."
And he added that addressing mental health problems with changes in diet was showing better results in some cases than using drugs or counselling. The report, Feeding Minds, pointed out the delicate balance of minerals, vitamins and essential fats consumed had changed in the past five decades.
Researchers said the proliferation of industrialised farming had introduced pesticides and altered the body fat composition of animals due to the diet they are now fed. For example, the report said chickens reach their slaughter weight twice as fast as they did 30 years ago, increasing the fat content from 2% to 22%.
The diet has also altered the balance of vital fatty acids omega-3 and omega-6 in chickens which the brain needs to ensure it functions properly.
In contrast, saturated fats, consumption of which has been increasing with the boom in ready meals, act to slow down the brain's working process.
The report said people were eating 34% less vegetables and two-thirds less fish - the main source of omega-3 fatty acids - than they were 50 years ago.
Study links modern diet to "depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer's disease."
Such changes, the study said, could be linked to depression, schizophrenia, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer's disease.
The two groups urged people to adopt healthier diets, with more fresh vegetables, fruit and fish, and called on the government to raise awareness about the issue.
Report researcher Courtney Van de Weyer said: "The good news is that the diet for a healthy mind is the same as the diet for a healthy body.
"The bad news is that, unless there is a radical overhaul of food and farming policies there won't be healthy and nutritious foods available in the future for people to eat."
Rebecca Foster, a nutrition scientist at the British Nutrition Foundation, said: "The evidence associating mental health and nutrient intake is in its infancy, this is a very difficult association to research and in many cases results are subjective.
"Therefore, it is difficult to draw conclusions about the association between mental illness and dietary intake at this point.
"However, the nutrient recommendations outlined in this report are in line with recommendations for good health, which should continue to be advocated by all health professionals."
By Ruth Waterman, B.Sc. (reprinted with kind permission of the author)
Low-fat diets weaken your immune system.1
Low-fat, low-cholesterol diets are associated with depression, psychological problems, fatigue, violence and suicide.2,3
Low-fat diets cause dry skin and wrinkles.4
Low-fat foods sometimes have more calories than the regular ones.5
Low-fat products often hide the most sugar.6
When food manufacturers take out the fat, guess what they use to replace the taste factor?7
“Low-fat” and “fat-free” foods: cutting fat means that more sugars and carbohydrates have been added.”8
Cut sugar to trim fat.9
“We see people in their 30s with their cholesterol around 100, and they look like prunes! Extremely low-fat diets suck the oils out of the skin. You need a certain amount of fat in the diet for skin to look healthy,” says Richard Ellenbogen, M.D., a plastic surgeon.10
Fat is one of the three main nutrient molecules, along with protein and carbohydrate.11
In our diet, fat is required for the metabolism of vitamins A, D, E and K, as well as for the production of hormones.12
Cholesterol plays a key role in the formation of sex hormones (estrogen and testosterone), skin oils, digestive juices, vitamin D, and the sheaths that protect our nerves.13
Says Walter Willett, M.D., “The important message is not to eliminate fat, but to replace the bad fat with the good.”14
A growing body of medical evidence suggests that trans fatty acids are just as bad as -or maybe worse than - saturated (animal) fats.15
Trans fats are created during hydrogenation, in which liquid vegetable oil is altered so that it hardens and resists spoiling.16
The anti-spoiling properties of (hydrogenated) trans fats make them ideal for a variety of packaged (processed) foods, permitting them to stay fresh for longer on store shelves.17
(Hydrogenation) is the way many margarines are made.18
Long-lasting hydrogenated oils are used by many fast-food chains to deep-fry everything from potatoes to doughnuts.19
“It’s (hydrogenation) a nutritional nightmare,” says Bruce Holub, a professor of nutrition sciences at the University of Guelph.20
This is ironic because consumers usually choose foods made with cholesterol-free vegetable oils rather than animal fats, because they think they’re more healthful. They don’t realize, Prof. Holub explains, that trans fats may clog the arteries even more.21
“It’s not appropriate - it’s even fraudulent - to have foods that are high in trans fats that are labelled low in saturates,” says Christina Zehaluk, a nutritionist with the Health Protection Branch of Health Canada.22
Look on labels for “non-hydrogenated” oils because some brands of margarine use them.23
“Younger people are progressively consuming much more trans fats than older people,” Prof. Holub notes. “If we have problems with heart disease now, where are we going to be in 20 years?”24
The way fats are processed – by adding hydrogen molecules – also gives them unhealthful properties.25
Reducing overall fat intake has little effect on the risk of coronary disease. (from a 14 year study involving some 80,000 female nurses.)26
"...athletes perform better on a higher-fat diet"
“Since we have shown that athletes perform better on a higher-fat diet than on a low-fat diet, it was important to determine if the higher-fat diet would further compromise the immune system. We found that it did not, but the very low-fat diet did,” says Jaya Venkatraman; associate professor of nutrition at the University of Buffalo.27
For years, nutritionists largely ignored sugar as they pursued its notorious companion, fat. That's finally starting to change. Scientists are taking a new look at our addiction to sweeks, and wondering exactly how giant cokes and oversize candy bars are related to our high rates of chronic disease.28
Researchers at the University of British Columbia have released a report that concludes cholesterol tests are an extremely poor predictor of heart disease in otherwise healthy people, reports The Medical Post.29
“There’s this notion out there that if you have high cholesterol, you’re automatically going to develop heart disease, when in fact most people with high cholesterol who are healthy now, won’t actually develop heart disease,” says Dr. Isabelle Savoie.30
In Yugoslavia and Poland, the development of high heart disease rates in the middle of this century was concomitant with a quadrupling of the sugar intake and occurred despite a fall in animal fat intake.31
What about cholesterol-lowering medications? The manufacturers of simvastatin, for example, warn of side effects including kidney damage and memory loss, among many others.32
"What about cholesterol-lowering medications?"
Refer to the Compendium of Pharmaceuticals and Specialties (The Physicians’ Desk Reference in the U.S.) for information on drugs and their side effects. Public libraries have copies for reference purposes. This is also available on-line.
Says Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., “A large number of my clients have reported a significant drop in cholesterol count after they have minimized sugar intake for six months.”33
A neurologist at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, Dr. E. Thomas Price, says, “It’s time to take a more sophisticated point of view than simply saying eat more fats or eat no fats.”34
Dr. Price and Dr. Robert Sherwin suggest that emphasizing more monounsaturated fats such as those in olive oil and nut oils would increase neither stroke nor heart attack risk and may be the most sensible approach.35
Bravo! That, Drs. Price and Sherwin, is common sense!
1 Fat can help your immune system; The Globe and Mail, May 25, 1999; p. A11.
2 The Myths of Vegetarianism, by Stephen Byrncs, M.D., C.N.C.; Health Naturally, April/May, 1999; p. 6.
3 Cholesterol and Violence; Winnipeg Sun, March 16, 1998; p. 2.
4 Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, by Robert C. Atkins, M.D.; M. Evans & Company, Inc., New York, 1992; p. 154.
5 To burn fat, turn up the heat; The Globe and Mail, January 6, 1999; p. A15.
6 Potatoes not Prozac, by Kathleen DesMaisons, Ph.D., Fireside Books, New York, 1999; p. 138.
8 Dr. Atkins’ Quick and Easy New Diet Cookbook, by Robert C. Atkins, M.D. and Veronica C. Atkins; Fireside Books, New York, 1997; p. 22.
9 Sugar Busters! By H. Leighton Steward, Morrison C. Bethea, M.D., Sam S. Andrews, M.D., Luis A. Balart, M.D.; Bantam Books, New York, 1995; front cover.
10 Good Fat, Bad Fat, by Michael Tennesen; Living Fit, August, 1997; p. 75.
15 Trans fatty acids are stealthy health hazard, by Paul Taylor; Globe and Mail, May 5, 1998; p. 1.
25 Healthy fat facts, Winnipeg Sun, November 22, 1997; p. 2.
27 Fat can help your immune system, op: cit.
28 In Sugar We Trust, by Laura Shapiro; Newsweek, July 13, 1998; p. 72.
29 Medical watch, Globe and Mail, March 31, 1998; p. A26.
31 Dr. Atkins’ New Diet Revolution, op. cit., p. 158.
32 Where will you be when your grandson gets his first taste of the ocean? Advertisement – Newsweek, July 12, 1999; p. 18.
33 Potatoes not Prozac, op. cit., p. 109.
34 Fat lowers stroke risk: study, by Jane E. Brody; Winnipeg Free Press, December 26, 1997; p. B1.