What is Mental Health Nutrition?
When I was in school, 30 odd years ago, I was taught that if any of my client’s symptoms were organic or biochemical in nature, I had to refer to a psychiatrist for medication. There was no grey area. I was not taught how to determine if a medical condition, such as a thyroid disorder was possible, and I was certainly not taught to assess for dietary contributors, such as too much caffeine, B vitamin deficiency or low blood sugar. My current colleagues, more recently out of school, tell me that they are being taught the same.
This is tragic! We now know, and knew even 30 years ago, that there are many dietary, lifestyle and nutritional factors that can cause or contribute to emotional and behavioral symptoms. These symptoms cannot be relieved by talk therapy, EMDR or hypnosis! They are not caused by trauma, stressful life events themselves or lack of emotional management skills. However, they LOOK the same! So how do we tell the difference? How do we know what questions to ask, or what tests to run to distinguish the causes of these symptoms? And to whom do we refer our clients to actually identify and effectively treat the true underlying physiological factors which can’t be treated by psychotherapy?
Unfortunately, many medical doctors and psychiatrists are not trained in this area either. They are taught to look for the most effective medication or medication cocktail to treat the symptom, NOT to identify and treat underlying causes. So, many of our clients are in a no-win situation. We aren’t taught how to help them, and the doctors have very limited toolboxes.
This is where a working knowledge of Mental Health Nutrition, or holistic and integrative approaches to mental health, can make an enormous difference.
What are mental health nutrition’s underlying beliefs?
- Our brain is the Master Control Panel. It mediates all our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, perceptions and skills. If it is out of balance, so are we!
- It is our brain’s job to help us cope with stress gracefully, but to do that, it must be fed optimally. If our brains are not being fed optimally, they will not function optimally, and we will not be able to fully engage in and make use of therapy and the healing process.
- For it to be fed optimally, we must eat enough of the right foods, drink enough water, and optimally digest and absorb the food we eat. Gut issues impact mood and behavior.
- Because of genetic and epigenetic individuality, one size does not fit all! Different people have different nutrient needs.
- Stress, addiction, illness, inflammation and toxicity deplete our brains and bodies of these key nutrients, negatively impacting mood and behavior, and interfering with our ability to fully engage in and make use of therapy.
- Mental Health Nutrition seeks to understand, identify and support all of these processes, utilizing symptom charts, lab tests, diet and targeted nutrients, such as amino acids and fish oil to achieve these ends.
- Orthomolecular psychiatry, which is one of the foundations of mental health nutrition, has been studying this for over 60 years. It was founded by pioneers like Dr. Abram Hoffer and Dr. Carl Pfeiffer. References can be found in the Resource section.