HJ: There is nothing more misunderstood than food. And yet, therein lies one of the keys to radiant health and wellness. Our health is a combination of the beliefs we have about ourselves, our emotional state, the condition of our bodies and the food we choose to put in it, among a few other things. It is complex, but certainly the role of food cannot be overstated. The body thrives when it is supplied with ample nutrients and healing substances and falters when fed nutrition less garbage, especially if you believe the body is susceptible and inherently flawed (which, I would add, it is not).
But perhaps that’s straying off point. The fact is that proper nutrition can be a huge factor in your health and wellness and in this fantastic, detailed article, Dr. Mark Hyman breaks down just what exactly your brain needs to heal and thrive. Enjoy.
Comfort Food For Your Brain
What you feed your body, you also feed your brain — sometimes to its detriment. Learn how to nourish your gray matter for more balanced moods, clearer thinking and a more fulfilling life.
By Maky Hyman, M.D. | Experience Life
I call myself the “accidental psychiatrist." I never set out to be a brain or mood expert. In fact, my focus was more on how the body works as a whole system. And people came to me not to treat brain disorders like depression or autism or Alzheimer’s, but to deal with chronic complaints and illnesses of the body.
Over the years, as I worked to correct the fundamental imbalances that cause all disease, I discovered that mood and brain disorders would often magically disappear as I treated patients’ physical problems. I began to investigate, for example, how treating digestive problems could cure depression, or how detoxifying a patient from mercury could bring back his or her memory.
As it turns out, the body and the mind are one interacting, interlocking, networked system. And imbalances in the body’s seven basic core systems — nutrition, hormones, immune function, digestion, detoxification, energy metabolism and mind-body — can cause brain disorders resulting in altered mood, memory, behavior and attention.
The upshot? Fixing your body may be the best way to fix your broken brain — and improve the quality of your life as a result.
Our society is experiencing an epidemic of brain problems — depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, attention-deficit disorder (or ADD), autism, and dementia, to name a few — and yet almost no one is talking about it. Unlike obesity, which you can’t hide, psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety (as well as brain dysfunctions that fall on the lighter side of the broken-brain continuum, such as mood swings, anger or just feeling a bit anxious or depressed most of the time) are often suffered silently, hidden from view. Yet such problems touch nearly everyone, either personally or through family members and friends.
The numbers tell the story: An estimated 40 million people in the United States experience some sort of anxiety-related disorder. As many as 20 million suffer from depression. The use of antidepressants has tripled in the last decade.
Most psychiatrists and neurologists focus solely on their favorite organ, the brain, using medications and psychotherapy, and ignore the rest of the body. But what if the cure for many brain disorders lies outside the brain? What if mood, memory, attention and behavior problems, and most other “brain diseases" have their root cause in the rest of the body — in treatable imbalances in the body’s key systems? (To learn more about therapeutic and lifestyle alternatives to prescription drugs in treating anxiety disorders, see “High Anxiety," in this issue.)
I’m not suggesting that nutrition is the only effective approach in treating mood and mental-health disorders. If the body is in balance and brain or mood problems still persist, then working with the psycho-emotional and spiritual dimensions of these problems — through therapy, for example — is critical. And yet only about 10 percent of us are nutritionally, metabolically and biochemically balanced enough to fully benefit from psychotherapy. What’s more, years of psychoanalysis or therapy will not reverse the depression that comes from profound omega-3-fatty-acid deficiencies, a lack of vitamin B12, a low-functioning thyroid or chronic mercury toxicity.
The bottom line is that nutritional influences affect mood through the body, and they do so powerfully. So optimizing nutrition through mood-calming foods and supplemental nutrients is one of the most important factors in keeping your brain healthy and your mood steady.
In fact, when it comes to dealing with anxiety, moodiness, depression and memory problems, certain healthy foods — including a wide array of fats, proteins, carbs and special nutrients — help heal and comfort your brain in ways that no drug or other intervention can. And chances are good that you could benefit from eating a whole lot more of these foods more often.
Do you gather wild plants to eat? Do you hunt wild game for your meat? If not, you are likely one of the 99 percent of people who are deficient in the most important ingredient bodies need for normal cell and brain function — omega-3 fatty acids.