Eating real healthy food, supplying the body with needed nutritional supplements, appropriate use of herbs and essential oils, exercise, adequate sleep and stress management all are effective and natural ways of treating mental health conditions.
The Standard American Diet (SAD) has developed over the past 50 years to include many “pseudo-foods” that are highly processed, have many chemical additives and few natural nutrients, and often are high in sugar, unhealthy fats, and salt. These foods also frequently are exposed to herbicides, pesticides, hormones and antibiotics due to conventional farming techniques. People almost always improve if they remove the processed foods from their diet and instead replace them with real, whole foods that have no additives or other ingredients other than the actual vegetables, fruits, healthy fats, and proteins. Grains can also be a part of a healthful diet, as long as the person does not have a reaction to that grain. ALthough organic and GMO-free foods are ideal, many people cannot afford to eat solely organic food due to the cost; in this case use www.EWG.org’s Dirty Dozen to guide which foods really should be eaten organic. Foods that are different colors contain different important nutrients; therefore, eat the RAINBOW of foods.
Unfortunately, our bodies have not developed to be able to handle these chemicals, and appear to be at least partially related to both the increasing development of physical and mental conditions – and especially those that are autoimmune and/or inflammatory in nature. People have been experiencing more food allergies and sensitivities than ever before. These allergies include immediate reactions that are due to IgE antibodies and cause swelling, hives, and can affect breathing and even result in death. This type of allergy is often very easy to discover, both because of the immediate dramatic effect but also through skin prick testing or blood RAST testing as done by Allergists. a second type of food allergy/sensitivity is due to IgG antibodies and have delayed reaction, at times as long as 3 days after eating that substance. Examples of these reactions can include irritability, anxiety or depression, hyperactivity, abdominal or other body pain, headaches, skin problems such as eczema or acne, asthma, and even autoimmune disorders. The most common foods that people react to include wheat/gluten, dairy, egg, soy, peanut and tree nuts, corn, sugar and artificial sweeteners. Using an Elimination Diet is the Gold Standard to determine which foods are the problem but IgG food allergy testing can also help determine the foods to avoid.
There are special diets that can be useful for people depending on the conditions they are experiencing; there is no single diet that is best for everyone. Generally, a modified Mediterranean Diet is helpful for most people. A Paleo Diet or Anti-Inflammatory Diet, Mito Diet or Ketogenic Diet can be helpful for people with Autoimmune Disorders. Cardiometabolic Diets are helpful for people with Insulin Resistance or Diabetes, or other cardiac or metabolic problems. If someone has deficiencies or insufficiencies of nutrients, sometimes this can be improved by improving the diet but often the person requires additional nutritional supplements. Having adequate nutrients in the body is critical for production of adequate neurotransmitters and enzymes in the body that enable the body to function well. Food is truly medicine!
Other lifestyle factors that affect brain function, emotions and behavior include movement (another term is “exercise”), sleep, sunlight and stress management. Research has proven that exercise and sunlight both act as antidepressants, and can be as effective as prescription medication. Light Boxes using full spectrum light at 10,000 LUX in the morning for 30 minutes can improve not only Seasonal Affective Disorder (Winter Blues) but Major Depressive Disorder as well. Exercise causes our bodies to produce endorphins, which are “feel good” hormones, as well as increases blood flow and oxygen to the brain and the rest of our bodies, and results in improved function. Sleep is critical – children require 8-12 hours of sleep, adolescents 8-10 hours and adults 7-9 hours nightly in order to repair the body, organize memories and rest the brain. Healthy sleep hygiene includes having a regular routine bedtime and wake time, dark quiet sleep place that is not used for any activity other than sleep, limit exposure to bright and blue light (such as from screens) within 1-2 hours before bedtime, and exercising regularly but not too close to bedtime nor eating within several hours of bedtime. Stress management techniques are critical in this stressful world we live in – there are many and vary according to individuals’ preferences but can include possibilities such as meditation, yoga, Tai Chi, Qi Gong, gardening, reading, walking, hiking, Heart Math among many others.