We all want to live the best possible life, regardless of whether we have diagnosed neurological conditions like ADHD, or OCD, or conditions in the physical realm such as diabetes or acne.
As human beings, we tend to feel more content with life when we are contributing to the world, and this often involves self-improvement. Yet this can be challenging if we are experiencing distress. Pain, emotional or physical, that interferes with daily functioning is pain that treatment would be deemed appropriate.
A critical area that can significantly improve quality of life for individuals is diet and nutrients.
In recent years, there has been a growing body of evidence to support the idea that nutrition plays a role in the prevention, development and management of conditions including ADHD, dementia, depression and anxiety.
Food intake affects a person’s mood, behaviour and brain function. The effects of food are almost immediate as well as contribute to long term health.
“Brain cells have energy and nutrient needs. They are also susceptible to damage through poor diet, nutritional deficiencies, inadequate liver function, drugs, heavy metals and chemicals. Over time this can alter a person’s brain chemistry and consequently lead to affected mood and brain function.”
As a nutritionist, I have seen first hand that changes in a person’s diet can make significant improvements to mental function. I have furthermore experienced it myself, e.g. taking N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) improves my focus. This does not suggest I no longer have ADHD, and it does not say I no longer need medication. I do, sometimes take ADHD medication, but what it does mean, is that all the things I do day to day contribute to better days.
“taking N-acetyl cysteine (NAC) improves my focus”
Key ways diet can affect brain function:
Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers passed back and forth within the brain. They allow brain cells to communicate information to one another. Neurotransmitters are made from amino acids, i.e., protein. Therefore eating adequate protein and ensuring you digest the protein adequately can affect your mood. For example, serotonin is the neurotransmitter that is associated with feeling content. To make serotonin, you need tryptophan which is an amino acid (1).
Blood sugar levels spiking can cause a person to be anxious, irritable and nervous. Imbalanced blood sugar levels can occur if you eat simple carbohydrates such as sugars, processed foods and sweets (2).
Nutrient deficiencies can alter mood. For example, a lack of B6 is associated with irritability, while low folate levels are associated with depression. Omega 3 healthy fats play a role in nervous system function too. Low levels of omega 3 are linked to poor mood, cognitive decline and memory issues (3).
Inflammation can contribute to brain cell death and depression. Inflammation can start in the gut from the food we eat and make it’s way to the brain. Too much sugar and unhealthy fats, not consuming enough fresh fruit and vegetables, lack of sleep and nutrient deficiencies all can contribute to inflammation (4).
Iron, zinc, fatty acids and magnesium supplements have all been shown to improve brain function in children with ADHD (5, 6, 7, 8).
I believe in a synergistic approach to optimal health. Everything we do each day contributes to a better way of life or may have a negative role. Nutritional supplements may help you manage stress more effectively by 20%, exercising another 10%, reducing your toxic load another 20%, seeing a phycologist another 20% and so on.
There’s never going to be a quick fix for anything in life. Most things in life are more complex, including health.
If you’d like to understand more how nutrition can help you, please seek the advice of a qualified nutritionist or your health care practitioner. It is vital to never self prescribe as supplements can have adverse effects and interact with medications.
Elizabeth Pattalis is a fellow neurodivergent, and clinical nutritionist with a special interest in assisting people holistically with their mental health challenges.
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