Are you eating yourself into misery?
Eating processed foods with little nutritional value may be making us mad as well as sick, new research shows.
Canterbury University psychologist Julia Rucklidge says the decreasing nutritional value of our food may be contributing to an “epidemic” of mental illness, with one in every eight NZ adults now on anti-depressants.
Research has shown that eating more fresh foods consistent with a Mediterranean-style diet, and eating less Western foods, could reverse spiralling rates of conditions such as attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), anxiety and depression.
Eleven years ago, when Rucklidge started using vitamins and minerals to treat mental illness, she says people were “completely uninterested”.
“Many didn’t believe there was a possibility that nutrition can influence your mental health,” she said.
Somewhat odd really, because just about most of the chemicals you draw into yourself comes in via your mouth.
Rucklidge has conducted a randomised controlled trial of adults with ADHD which found that 64 per cent of those who received extra vitamins and minerals showed significantly fewer ADHD symptoms after eight weeks, compared with 37 per cent of those who received an inactive placebo.
But her most remarkable study was done with 91 Christchurch people with high stress levels immediately after the February 2011 earthquake. Symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder dropped from 65 per cent to 19 per cent among those who received extra vitamins and minerals, compared with a slight increase from 44 per cent to 48 per cent of a control group that did not get the supplements.
She believes governments should consider issuing nutritional supplements to everyone in any future area affected by an ongoing disaster like the Canterbury quakes – or at least make sure food handouts are nutritious.
“A lot of the food that may be given out is not food that is actually going to nourish the individual and sustain them in order to get through this,” she said.
She says our shift from natural wholefoods to packaged processed foods and takeaways has likely played a vital role in the increasing rates of mental illness that have coincided with an increase in patients on Pharmac-funded anti-depressants from 8.4 per cent of all adults in 2006 to 12.7 per cent this year.
“Our diet has changed so rapidly over 50 years that it’s hard not to believe that it’s having some impact on our mental health,” she said.
Diet, exercise and fresh air get you a long way.
– Simon Collins, NZ Herald