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Comfort Food for Your Brain

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Comfort Food for Your Brain

By Mark Hyman, MD. Experience Life

Silent Suffering
Our society is experiencing an epidemic of brain problems depression, anxiety, memory loss, brain fog, attention-deficit disorder (or ADD), autism, and dementia, to name a few and yet almost no one is talking about it. Unlike obesity, which you can’t hide, psychiatric disorders like depression and anxiety (as well as brain dysfunctions that fall on the lighter side of the broken-brain continuum, such as mood swings, anger or just feeling a bit anxious or depressed most of the time) are often suffered silently, hidden from view. Yet such problems touch nearly everyone, either personally or through family members and friends.

The numbers tell the story: An estimated 40 million people in the United States experience some sort of anxiety-related disorder. As many as 20 million suffer from depression. The use of antidepressants has tripled in the last decade.

Most psychiatrists and neurologists focus solely on their favorite organ, the brain, using medications and psychotherapy, and ignore the rest of the body. But what if the cure for many brain disorders lies outside the brain? What if mood, memory, attention and behavior problems, and most other brain diseases have their root cause in the rest of the body in treatable imbalances in the body’s key systems?

I’m not suggesting that nutrition is the only effective approach in treating mood and mental-health disorders. If the body is in balance and brain or mood problems still persist, then working with the psycho-emotional and spiritual dimensions of these problems through therapy, for example- is critical. And yet only about 10 percent of us are nutritionally, metabolically and biochemically balanced enough to fully benefit from psychotherapy. What’s more, years of psychoanalysis or therapy will not reverse the depression that comes from profound omega-3-fatty-acid deficiencies, a lack of vitamin B12, a low-functioning thyroid or chronic mercury toxicity.

The bottom line is that nutritional influences affect mood through the body, and they do so powerfully. So optimizing nutrition through mood-calming foods and supplemental nutrients is one of the most important factors in keeping your brain healthy and your mood steady.

In fact, when it comes to dealing with anxiety, moodiness, depression and memory problems, certain healthy foods including a wide array of fats, proteins, carbs and special nutrients help heal and comfort your brain in ways that no drug or other intervention can. And chances are good that you could benefit from eating a whole lot more of these foods more often.

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Megan, selected from Experience Life

Experience Life magazine is an award-winning health and fitness publication that aims to empower people to live their best, most authentic lives, and challenges the conventions of hype, gimmicks and superficiality in favor of a discerning, whole-person perspective. Visit experiencelife.com to learn more and to sign up for the Experience Life newsletter, or to subscribe to the print or digital version.

27 comments

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12:13PM PDT on Aug 27, 2014

Many thanks!!

6:08PM PDT on Jun 9, 2013

thank you

10:25PM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

yep low thyroid can wreck havoc and cause depression go get yours tested symptoms include very dry skin hair loss and cold body temp

10:07PM PDT on Apr 24, 2013

good advise :)

6:04AM PDT on Oct 24, 2012

A year ago, I found out I have type 2 diabetes. We ate pretty heallthy before, but more so now!!

I went to my doctor yesterday, and he told me my A1C test came back great and to keep doing whatever I am doing because it is working!!

I take some of the vitamins listed above, but now I will look for a few others and try to eat a little more fish!!

8:22AM PDT on Jul 31, 2012

For many depression is not just down days but a disorder and not to be painted over by some of the commentators here.

So many of the refined foods we eat do not help and with so many chemicals and additives in our foods these days it is often better to cook from scratch and beware of some of the sources, especially if one mainly eats canned and frozen microwaved dinners.

Many people with low incomes cannot afford a lot of healthy foods especially if living far from rural areas where one can buy from a small family farm.

With gas prices soaring finding food within a good price range gets even more difficult.

10:31PM PST on Jan 4, 2011

I'm thrilled to see one more medical doctor who advocates addressing the source of so many of these problems -- so few even see the connection. Every one counts! Sadly, Dr Hyman says "all [these factors] create a minefield of obstacles for anyone trying to find the right supplement, vitamin or herb" yet fails to mention even one resource for navigating this minefield. I found "The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) is a non–governmental, official public standards–setting authority for prescription and over–the–counter medicines and other healthcare products manufactured or sold in the United States". On the USP website is a list of supplement manufacturers which have the USP test their products to ensure their quality -- eg. the product has the ingredients it says and it has no contaminants. The only manufacturer whose products I can find locally is NatureMade, which appears expensive, except our local pharmacy chain has them on sale 2-for-1 about twice a year, which makes them a best-buy.

Like Donna M and Laurie Walsh, I've struggled with SAD and severe depression since my teens. I've taken antidepressants for years and only recently found out the EXTREMELY important role Vitamin D plays in our health (physical AND mental/emotional). Check out: Also, check out The Alliance for NAtural Health . The FDA promotes meds and suppresses nutrition info. The FDA needs a colon cleanse NOW.

3:53PM PDT on Apr 27, 2010

This is a really great article, and I completely agree. Your mind and body are connected, and you have to take care of both in order to be balanced.

4:10AM PST on Mar 10, 2010

I have suffered severe depression on and off since I was fourteen (twenty years now), and was diagnosed as bipolar in September '08. I have taken a variety of anti-depressants and mood stabilisers, and endured a variety of side-effects including: insomnia, weight gain, hair loss, panic attacks, severe tremors, severe brain fog, nausea, dizziness, and plenty more.
In January I went off all of my medication and started using nutrition and lots of brain work (learning about the power of our thoughts and emotions, and our ability to choose them) to heal myself instead. I read a huge range of books on these subjects and learn new things every day.
I've discovered that I can't eat red meat (makes me crazy), for example.
I have been happier and more stable in the past two months than I have been for as long as I can remember. I'm not saying that in the future I might not need a bit of chemical help - who knows? - but for now I'm doing just fine :)

3:52PM PST on Jan 11, 2010

Finally, an article on nutrition that makes sense. Thank you so much. I am a firm believer that basically most disease and un-wellness comes from the foods we supply the body. We can avoid all those drugs (esp. prosac) if we feed the body and brain properly. We are so used to not question what goes in our bodies and than run to the doctor to get symptom treatment in the form of drugs or other intervention. Why not prevent disease? It's so natural and simple, where is people's responsibility to take care of themselves? Have we become brain fogged from a nutrient deficient diet? We need to think for ourselves, take charge and eat right.

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