Several of my posts have discussed research that shows childhood trauma can profoundly influence the biochemistry of the brain and that these biochemical changes can, and do, lead to problems with the individual’s psychological state and behavior.
Fortunately, however, research has also demonstrated that these adverse biochemical changes and their negative effects may be, at least in part, reversed by the individual adopting an appropriate diet and lifestyle.
The brain is able to naturally produce its own mood-benefitting neurochemicals (technically known as ENDOGENOUS neurochemicals).
One way to do this (which many of us are already familiar with) is through EXERCISE – research suggests that regular and mild exercise causes the brain to produce ENDORPHINS which work in a similar manner to prescribed anti-depressants (eg Prozac, Setraline etc).
BODY MASSAGE, too, has been shown to be helpful; indeed, a study by Field (2001) revealed that it can REDUCE STRESS HORMONES in the body.
Furthermore, a study by Jevning et al (1978) demonstrated that MEDITATION can be of great benefit. Indeed, more and more therapies are integrating meditative techniques (eg the therapy known as MINDFULNESS) to help alleviate patients alleviate their anxiety. It has been shown that meditation works by reducing the levels of the stress hormone CORTISOL in the body (which is of particular importance as high levels of cortisol can physically harm the body).
The brain is a physical organ so it should come as no surprise to us that what we eat affects its NEUROCHEMICAL BALANCE. Research shows that FATTY ACIDS are VITAL TO EMOTIONAL WELLBEING. In particular, LOW LEVELS OF OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID have been shown to be linked to DEPRESSION, ANXIETY and ANTISOCIAL BEHAVIOUR.
OMEGA-3 FATTY ACID can be purchased as a supplement in most pharmacists. It has been used to treat ADHD in children; also, a study by Gesch et al (2002) showed that giving young offenders OMEGA-3 supplements reduced their offending rate by 37%.
Another neurochemical which ENHANCES MOOD and helps to COMBAT ANXIETY and DEPRESSION is SEROTONIN. Many prescribed medications work by increasing the availability of serotonin in the brain, but SEROTONIN LEVELS CAN ALSO BE RAISED THROUGH DIET; research suggests that a diet RICH IN PROTEIN can help to achieve this and that research remains ongoing.
NOTE: One GP, who became so ill with bipolar depression that she had to be sectioned in a psychiatric ward and featured in an award winning documentary on mental illness, recovered sufficiently to return to her profession as a doctor. She has remained symptom free for 15 years (most people with bipolar disorder frequently relapse) and ATTRIBUTED THIS TO TREATING HERSELF BY CHANGING HER DIET. THE MAIN FEATURE OF THE DIET WAS THAT SHE TOOK 3 GRAMMES of COD LIVER OIL (a source of fatty acids) per day. Because this evidence, if it can be deemed as such, comes from just one individual it is obviously very far removed from providing a proper scientific sample or study. Nevertheless, I felt it to be of sufficient interest to make reference to it here. For those who are interested, the documentary is entitled ‘The Secret Life of a Manic Depressive‘ and, in my view, makes compelling viewing.
David Hosier BSc Hons; MSc; PGDE(FAHE).