Increasing rates of anxiety, depression and irritability could be due to a poor diet that lacks the essential chemicals to keep the brain healthy, according to a leading mental health charity. A report out tomorrow describes the links between the less severe forms of mental disorder, such as anxiety, and the nation’s increasing reliance on ready meals and processed food, which are heavy in pesticides, additives and harmful trans fats. Eating a diet without fresh fruit and vegetables, fish, pulses or nuts deprives the brain of the essential vitamins and nutrients needed to regulate it.
The report, ‘Feeding Minds’, was produced by the Mental Health Foundation and Sustain, two charities which are launching a campaign that argues that dietary changes could hold the key to combating problems such as depression and ADHD (attention deficit hyperactivity disorder) in children. Celebrity chef Antony Worrall-Thompson has also provided recipes for the charities that show how the ingredients can be combined to help combat the disorders.
Over the past 60 years, there has been a significant decline in the consumption of fruit and vegetables in the UK, with only 13 per cent of men and 15 per cent of women now eating at least five portions each day. The number of pesticides and additives in food has risen sharply over the same period. The brain relies on a mixture of complex carbohydrates, essential fatty acids (EFAs) – particularly Omega 3 and Omega 6 – vitamins and water to work properly. Highly processed food contains high levels of trans fats – unsaturated oils that have been refined – which can assume the same position in the brain as the EFAs, without delivering the proper nutrients.
Nutritional deficiency could seriously hamper the body’s production of amino acids, which are vital to good psychological health. Neurotransmitters, made from amino acids, are chemicals which transmit nerve impulses between the brain cells. Serotonin, a key neurotransmitter made by the amino acid tryptophan, helps to regulate feelings of contentment and anxiety, as well as playing a role in regulating depression. Many adults do not have sufficient levels of tryptophan because their intake of nuts, seeds and whole grains is too low.
Brian Godfrey suffered from depression for 40 years.
“I would say that the things you most like are what most cause you harm.” ‘Diet change helped cure me of depression.”
Brian Godfrey suffered from chronic depression for about 40 years. He first started having trouble when he was a teenager and over the years tried everything from drugs to psychotherapy. By the 1960s the situation had got so bad that he was thinking about suicide. “It was terrible, I would wake up in the morning with a fuzzy head and just could not get going. I felt tired and depressed. “Some days it would be so bad I would lay in bed crying.” Mr Godfrey said it was only when it became clear the advice doctors were giving him was not going to work that he decided to look for something else.
“I went to the library and found a book about food intolerance.” The 71-year-old then cut out wheat and diary and within three weeks was feeling better. “It was a miracle. I just woke up one morning and my problems had gone.”
In time, Mr Godfrey, from London, also stopped eating grains, eggs, chocolate, coffee, tea and his favourite drink, Guinness. “I used to love to have a drink of Guinness after a meal, but that had to go. It was hard. “I am very careful what I eat now, especially when I go out for a meal. My main diet is meat, fish, vegetable and fruit and I only eat organic food.”
And Mr Godfrey, who is now completely free of the severe depression which plagued him during the first half of his life, said other people should consider altering their diets if they are having problems. “It is becoming clear food is linked to mental illness. I would say that the things you most like are what most cause you harm. It is worth trying to cut them out.”
Jo Revill, health editor