Psychonutrition: Supplements for Mental Health
I saw the word psychonutrition in a magazine article recently and thought it was a great term to use for the discipline of optimizing mental health using diets and supplements. In a previous article in this series it was pointed out that that natural medicine only uses anecdotal evidence for proof of it’s efficacy. However, having thought about it since, this is not exactly true. Some people who use natural health remedies compile their own data quite comprehensively with statistical evidence.
Examples of this can be found in the work of Patrick Holford in the U.K.His background is in psychology but he has sidetracked into a very convincing natural medicine school of thought. One of his books The Optimum Nutrition Bible gives the reader a fascinating insight into his prescription of supplements for particular ailments. A major principle outlined in this book which applies in natural medicine is that of synergy,i.e. the complementary effect of two or more supplements on each other.. For example, the use of vitamin C to aid the absorption of iron.
This is in complete contrast to conventional medicine where drugs are considered to interact with one another possibly causing side effects.
Anyway, back to psychonutrition which basically is the study of vitamins,minerals and oils on the brain and the mind and consequently on behaviour.
The B-complex vitamins have a well-known role recognized in conventional medicine on the mind and are referred to as a “nerve tonic”.Omega 3 oils have been in vogue for all sorts of reasons since their value was discovered about a decade ago and this applies especially to mental health.
Choline is a B-vitamin which is credited by Holford as aiding regeneration of brain tissue following a stroke and there is plenty of conventional medical evidence to support it's value in neurological health.
Thiamine,another B-vitamin is said to have a positive effect on mood.
In another book by Patrick Holford Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, the value of different prescriptions of supplements is outlined. It is very interesting reading. He has chapters on specific disorders affecting the brain as well as the mind and the types of supplements to take for each. The benefits of psychonutrition for each of these ailments is well documented in this book in separate chapters. For example, he even suggests that the progress of Alzheimer’s disease can be arrested with the use of the right supplements.
Although these claims are not rigorously tested in the laboratory as in conventional medicine, the anecdotal evidence is very credible indeed.
In more general terms, advocates of psychonutrition propose that behaviour, mental states motivation and energy levels can all be affected by deficiency in particular vitamins, minerals and supplements.
There is wide belief in the use of such supplements for physical health but the development of psychonutrition as a school of thought in itself is testament to the value of natural medicine in mental health too.
Finally,let me point out the value of conventional medicine and psychonutrition being used in tandem.Natural medicine in general and psychonutrition in particular put the emphasis on maintaining wellness. Conventional medicine has it’s emphasis on curing disease. In this context, they are not in conflict with each other so each school of thought can learn from the principles and teachings of the other. The result would be a more comprehensive and wholistic approach to the management of physical and mental health.
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