You feel at the end of your rope -- foggy, tired, irritable, flat, and constantly worried. About. Everything. It seems like the world is coming at you, every pixel of it, at 1 million miles per hour, and you just need to press pause, but you can't. Your internist recommends that you see a psychiatrist, you make an appointment, and after 45 minutes, you leave with a Lexapro prescription. Before you walk it over to CVS, try these three dietary changes for 2-4 weeks. See what happens:
1. Eliminate GMOs
Genetically-modified foods are chemical/biological products that are laced and saturated with complex toxic herbicides, and because they are largely unstudied by objective researchers, we are only now beginning to understand how they do their damage, and the relevance of the gut to mental health. We know that the modification of plant genes using animal, insect, and bacterial DNA is a highly unpredictable process that:
-- Disrupts that plant's natural development (lowers its nutritional content and raises its allergy content).
-- Introduces novel proteins, antibiotic resistance genes (built into "Bt corn!") and the potential for transfer of genes to our own gut bacteria.
-- These plants are modified, not for any reason that would ever benefit you or the planet, but so that they can better withstand more and more glyphosate-containing Roundup herbicide (produced by the same company that modifies and sells the patented seeds). This chemical has the following undesirable effects as reviewed in this seminal paper.
- It kills beneficial bacteria through its interference with the "shikimate" pathway.
That is a long list and just the beginning of what we are learning about these Frankenfoods. Opt out of the experiment with a GMO purge. My patients typically report global improvement by the second week if not sooner.
2. Eliminate Gluten
Often processed with genetically-modified oils, gluten is a brain and body poison. It begins in the gut, where it promotes intestinal permeability through a compound called zonulin. Local gut inflammation precedes more systemic inflammatory responses accompanied by antibodies to the different components of gluten (gliadin, glutenin), complexes with enzymes called transglutaminase, and to tissue in the brain, gut, and thyroid through a process called molecular mimicry.
The neurologic effects of gluten intolerance include depression, seizures, headaches, multiple sclerosis/demyelination, anxiety, ADHD, ataxia, neuropathy as discussed here and here. Independent of the brain effects already discussed, gliadin peptides may travel through the blood stream and can stimulate opiate receptors in the brain, resulting in their being termed gliadorphins, accounting for temporary withdrawal symptoms! Get the full scoop in my anti-gluten missive.
3. Eliminate Sugar
Often, this is the second or third ingredient on a package destined to bring you into that psychiatrist's office. We simply were not built to manage the 22 teaspoons daily that many of us ingest daily, and the havoc wreaked on our immune systems and hormones is evidence of its toxicity. Clinically, dysglycemia or sugar imbalance can look like depression, panic disorder, and even bipolar. Here's what it does:
-- Triggers insulin surges that drop sugar low and leave you feeling jittery, edgy, tired, foggy, and anxious.
-- Binds to proteins forming inflammatory compounds called glycation products.
-- Promotes insulin resistance in the body and brain, which means that sugar can't be used for fuel and instead it hangs outside the cells doing damage.
-- It's addictive. This recent study demonstrated that rats preferred it to cocaine!
Here is a great guide to pesticide-free shopping, and a guide to avoiding genetically-modified foods, and one for gluten free-living. Look for sugar in all labels (or better yet, ditch the packaged foods) and know that it can masquerade as cane sugar, crystalline fructose, high fructose corn syrup, and that flour can have the same blood sugar effects as sugar-added foods.
These are my top three brain sabotaging concerns, and there are more where these came from. Do not underestimate the power of your diet to influence your mental health and to lead you down a path of psychiatric care you may struggle to return from. My mission is to help establish, in the minds of all those suffering from mental illness or even mild symptoms of low mood and persistent worry, that we can start with the body to heal the brain. Then you can sit back and enjoy the feeling of empowerment, of change you can make yourself, and you can throw that prescription in the trash.