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Lisa Best, MBA, PhD Holistic Nutrition, is a Certified Clinical Nutritionist (CCN), Registered Dietitian (RD), Licensed Dietitian Nutritionist (LDN), and CEO at Healing With Nutrition in Hillsborough. She believes that excellent individualized nutrition is the key to longevity and wellness, and that proactive adjustments to diet and lifestyle may mean the difference between sickness and dynamic health.

Is Mental Health a Dietary Issue?

By Lisa Best, MBA, PhD, CCN, RD, LDN

In my holistic nutrition practice, I find an increasing number of patients presenting with symptoms of mental distress including attention deficit disorder, anxiety and depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Lisa Best

There is no question about it, according to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), anywhere between 18 to 25 percent of US children and adults are likely to experience some form of mental disorder at some time in their lives, and almost half are untreated.

But why are so many of us experiencing mental health issues, and is there anything holistic we can do about it without resorting to a lifetime of prescription drugs?

Diet and Inflammation

According to my good friend and mentor, Dr. Keith Scott-Mumby, there is a dynamic connection between the foods we eat, our digestive processes, and our subsequent physical and mental health.

Based on his 30 years’ experience in clinical practice, Dr. Scott-Mumby’s main premise is that inflammation in the intestine (he calls it “fire in the belly”) caused by environmental toxins and foods toxic to us, can also cause inflammation throughout the body, including the brain. Foods themselves might create intoxicating or anxiety-producing effects, or they might create inflammation that has associated psychological effects.

The form this inflammation takes varies based on one’s unique genetic predispositions and prior environmental exposures. A toxic reaction for me might look like a migraine headache and anxiety but for you may present as asthma, joint pain, or depression. Vulnerable areas in each of us are most prone to inflammatory reactions. The trick becomes connecting the dots between foods we eat and resulting symptoms.

Toxic Foods

Dr. Scott-Mumby has established a complete protocol—revealed in his book Diet Wise—for identifying and eliminating problem foods to help reduce toxicity and resulting inflammation. I have incorporated his protocol into my own practice to help patients discover foods that might be causing or contributing to their disease symptoms.

Antibiotics, GMOs, pesticides, food additives, heavy metals, environmental toxins, and food itself may each play contributing roles in creating gut inflammation and resulting inflammatory symptoms. And even foods normally considered “healthy” can be problematic. It is possible to react adversely to literally any food: apples, potatoes, wheat, corn, soy—you name it.

The worst part is that most people are unaware that they have gut-related inflammation, or that gut problems could be contributing to inflammatory symptoms throughout the body.

Remove Toxins, Then Supplement

Many of us focus on adding supplements or superfoods to improve our health, but are unknowingly thwarted by the overpowering damage done by inflammatory foods or toxic exposures. It is vital to identify and remove toxic foods first to get optimum efficiency from the healthy nutrients we consume.

But once problem foods are identified and removed, many clients see a dramatic improvement in disease symptoms, including brain-related illnesses and mood disorders. While certainly not all emotional and mental disorders are rooted in toxicity, a surprising number of patients show symptom improvement when inflammation is reduced.

Then the healthy body is ready to receive beneficial nutrients known to improve mood and brain function. Foods like EPA and DHA found in purified fish oil have been shown to affect brain function and vastly improve mood disorders. These foods may be key elements for preventing inflammation throughout the body—especially in brain tissue. B Vitamins and even exercise and light therapy have shown positive results in reducing anxiety and depression.

The “Perfect Diet”

The good news is there are multiple strategies you might employ to improve your mood and mental outlook, ranging from improving diet and exercise to finding foods that may be toxic to your gut biome.

Since each of us has a unique combination of genetic propensity, environmental exposures, and personal preferences, each of us also requires a unique “perfect diet” that minimizes inflammation and maximizes nutritional support for all systemic functions. While there is not a perfect diet for everyone, there is a perfect diet for you.

The secret is taking the time to explore the range of possibilities that might be the root cause of your health issues. Where will you start to improve your mental health today?