Are Your Children Adequately Nourished?
In our book The Focused Child, Chapter 10 deals with some aspects of nutrition and children’s well-being. The following article updates some of that information with new work that has been done on the importance of good nutrition for mental well-being.
Recently I was seeing a man who had a serious psychiatric condition but did not want to take drugs because of the side effects. I was concerned about him so I looked at the research to see if there was any medication he could take that might be more tolerable. I found a 2010 Cochrane review that looked at a large number of published and unpublished research studies to assess the evidence for treatments used for this severe mental health condition, which included antipsychotics, mood stabilizers and anti-depressants. To my surprise, omega three fatty acids also had a significant body of evidence for their effectiveness.
I pursued it a bit further and found a number of other studies in which omega 3s had been used to deal with improve mental health conditions.
Another review published in the British Journal of Psychiatry in 2005 explained that changes in our diet away from consumption of essential fatty acids parallels the large rise in psychiatric disorders seen over the last century. Essential fatty acids comprise 15-30% on the brain’s dry weight and are components of nerve cell membranes and are precursors of a number of signaling molecules throughout the nervous system. “The modern Western diet has evolved into a meat and saturated fat diet, with falling consumption of fresh vegetables and fish. This has been coupled with a staggering rise in the consumption of seed oils (such as sunflower and soybean), whose poly-unsaturated fatty acid content is predominantly omega 6, at the expense of omega 3 EFAs.”
A very recent study reports that as part of the emerging field of nutritional mental health, treatment with micronutrients has been found to be effective for many types of psychiatric conditions. Back in 2000 Dr Michael Lyon published his book Healing the Hyperactive Brain, in which he details his protocol for assisting children diagnosed with ADHD. It involves probiotic supplementation, immunotherapy and optimizing micronutrients, especially essential fatty acids, amongst other aspects of holistic treatment. Other work has reported that EFAs are helpful at stabilizing aggression, reducing self-harm and improving antisocial behavior.
If, as the evidence suggests, psychiatric illness is associated with depletion of fatty acids and other micronutrients, then we as parents needs to ensure that our children’s diet is rich in all those factors that are going to contribute to their mental health. EFA’s are largely found in oily fish and some vegetarian sources. Children can often be picky eaters so supplementation may be the way to go. If your child already has symptoms consultation with a naturopath or a doctor trained in nutritional medicine would be wise.