For episode 16 of “Let’s Talk About..” I chat about Nutritional Psychology and the new research being done in this realm.
I want to delve into something close and personal to my heart and that is the research around nutritional psychology. My older sister experienced a psychotic episode a few years ago resulting in her being diagnosed with psychosis, depression and PTSD. She was quite heavily medicated to start with but over the last 4 years she has been working on getting well and is now on the lowest dose possible of anti-psychosis medication possible. Angie (my sister) has just written a book about her experience and her journey to recovery – (download it here). Angie talks a bit in the book about my role in her road to recovery.
Angie spent a week at my house doing a juice cleanse and I took her to numerous healers to attack her illness from multiple perspectives. She attributes part of her healing to this time and to the other things we did.
Watch the Vlog here-
There was a general message from the medical community that was that Ang would suffer from psychosis for the rest of her life. To start with, she didn’t know if she could still work, whether she could go back to living a ‘normal’ life. Also, Ang says that one of the most awkward conversations that she can have is talking to someone about the illness. There is a lack of understanding and knowledge of what this illness is and does and also a lack of understanding about how someone ends up suffering from psychosis. When Ang first had an episode, I had no idea what to do. The thing is, it could happen to you or it could happen to someone you know. So below is some of the things that I have learned about nutrition and mental health which is just one aspect of this illness.
Listen to the podcast here –
In our gut, we have an enormous amount of neurons that respond the same as our brain’s neurons. We also have a huge amount of bacteria, viruses and yeasts in our body. These microbes can influence our moods and psychology. There is a strong link between our gut microbiome and depression, anxiety and other types of mental complaints. According Psychobiotic Revolution: Mood, Food, and the New Science of the Gut-Brain Connection, bacteria secrete neurotransmitters that can both positively and negatively influence your moods. These neurotransmitters can rival prozac on the good end while bad bacteria is strongly linked to autism and anti-social behaviours on the bad end. It is really profound what your gut microbiome can do to you without you even realising it.
There is also a very strong link between nutritional deficiencies or the malabsorption of nutrition and risk factors for developing psychiatric disorders. It is now been seen as a way to prevent the onset of psychiatric disorders particularly if you have other risk factors. It shows how powerful food really is. There is a role of fermented foods in this picture. There is a lot of talk about fermented foods and drinks these days and a push to bring these foods back into our diet particularly in a typical Western diet. In ancient cultures, people were eating fermented foods so they could have food throughout the year. There has been research around our ancestral dietary practices that shows that this traditional way of eating did not inflame our gut. It is the consumption of convenient, highly processed, high fat, high sugar foods with flavourings and colours added that are the things that actually inflame our gut that effects the lining of our gut that in turn influences the incidences of irritable bowel and leaky gut. These disorders weren’t even know of a hundred years ago. Also the medications that are given for mental illness, depression and anxiety have sever side effects and doctors are not taught about nutrition and they are not taught how to support their patients on how to have a better quality of life if they do have to take these medications.
Often people who have to take these medications can often resist taking them or take themselves off the medications because of the side effects. From Ang’s experience, she took herself off her medication because she felt like “a big fat lazy zombie”. The result of this was a relapse into psychosis. For some people, this puts them at high risk of self harm or suicide. There has to be a way to start looking at how to get people on this medication well, and how to bring back good nutrition into their diet so they can handle the medication better. There is a huge amount of resistance in the medical industry to include nutrition as a part of the picture. I believe that this is mainly driven by ignorance and a downfall in our education system. However, there is no a massive movement right now towards understanding food as medicine and an alternative or supplement to our current medical system. This is being driven by an understanding that our medical system right now is failing us.
So what to do if you are in a position of having to take these types of medication. First and foremost, increase the amount of fresh fruits and vegetables you eat every day, drink water, exercise and get out into the sun. These are really basic steps that I know are really hard for some people to bring into their daily routine. If you are the type of person who doesn’t include these things in your daily routine, these simple things can vastly improve your quality of life.