Brain Food

Brain Enhancing Food and Brain Enhancing Behaviours

Back in 1994, I had the privilege of working with a nutritionist who specialised in working with severely mentally ill patients. In his private practice, his approach is entirely nutritionally based and he claimed that for some patients, 90-100% of their mental health problems could be alleviated once they had made the appropriate dietary changes. I believe him.

So when I take histories from my chronically mentally ill patients, I examine closely their dietary intake – the patterns are consistent: high caffeine and nicotine intake, high salt, high sugar, low amounts of fresh foods, high levels of processed “foods”, poor fluid intake, minimal physical exertion and exercise.

Recently, I took a chronically impaired paranoid schizophrenic and began with a single dietary change to his nutritional intake. So far, in the past 6 months, he has only had a single brief psychotic break. The observable change in his everyday behaviour has been phenomenal.

The very simple and obvious details that follow go entirely unendorsed and unreferenced but outline my own dietary preferences. As such I make no professional claims and all the usual disclaimers apply. The following list is intended only as a prompt for further research. Use Google. Google is your friend.

– Reduce caffeine intake. Caffeine is horrendously addictive. I didn’t realise I was a caffeine addict until I was without it for a weekend. Headache, serious irritability etc. became severely problematic until a caffeinated beverage was found. Now, I only have caffeine drinks (tea) in the morning. After 1pm, I have “decaff” drinks only. My quality of sleep has improved tremendously.

– Increase water intake. Caffeinated drinks (tea, coffee, colas), sugar drinks (fizzy pops) are not hydrating. You need water. I drink two pints of water after lunch regardless of whether I feel I need it or not. My energy levels increased, my skin is clearer, I feel better as a result.

– Fish Oil. The studies on the effect of fish oil on mental functioning are very persuasive. Not to be confused with Cod Liver Oil. The quality of the fish oil seems to be important. I take 1 gram a day.

– B Vitamin Complex. I don’t believe in “mega-dosing” at all. However, I take a quality B vitamin complex daily. Important for brain functioning and nerve cells. I find that if I take it before bed, I get some very interesting dreams indeed.

– Wholesome foods. I never buy any form of prepared or pre-packaged food in my grocery shopping. My diet consists largely of fresh fruit and vegetables, lean meats, pasta etc. Ready-Meals are not food, but are food-like-substances that are generally laden with salt, fat and chemicals to make them palatable.

– Reduce sugar intake. Refined sugars create the classic highs and lows associated with energy rushes and subsequent hypoglycaemia.

– Reduce alcohol intake. Alcohol is associated with so many health problems it seems to have very little positive actually going for it. Those prone to depression can easily get caught in a cycle where they drink too much and then experience subsequent alcohol induced depression. Then they drink more to feel better about themselves and so on. Interestingly, a recent study demonstrated that the majority of depressives reporting to their GP’s for continuation of anti-depressant treatment experienced total relief from their depression within 6 weeks of total alcohol abstinence, without medication or other treatment.

– Aerobic Exercise. I go for a ten minute run a day. I run up the end of the road and back. I hate it, but my levels of fitness have increased tremendously. My quality of sleep improved, my body felt and moved better, my energy levels have rocketed. Those who never exercise always seem to complain that they “never have time” or “don’t have the energy.” Sheer baloney.

– Sage. I grow my own. Maybe it’s autosuggestion but I find that when I take about 2 grams of dried sage I feel really quite happy the following day. Periodically taken at night, it gives me some of the wildest dreams imaginable!

– Television. If you watch daytime TV or TV is your main form of leisure activity then it is time to throw it out with the rubbish. DO something!

– Reading. Use the library. Read books, forget newspapers. Learn more about the world.

– Learn to juggle. Activities that use both hemispheres of the brain have some interesting benefits. For example, recent research demonstrated the significant benefit of knitting for those suffering from anxiety.