I am blessed to be able to help many clients affected by mental illness. It is amazing to see how powerfully food and behavior are linked.

People are led to believe that mood disorders are idiopathic, meaning that there is no cause and that the solution is to be prescribed one, or even a cocktail, of prescription medication.

The first thing to understand is that depression is not caused by a deficiency in Prozac, the same way ADD is not caused by a deficiency of Adderral or other psychostimulants.

While there can be a place for psychotropic drugs, treatment should always include nutritional support and psychotherapy.

According to the CDC “nearly 20% of our adult population is on some kind of Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor, or antidepressants. Even scarier, is the fact that the use of these same medications in on the rise among teens and pre-teens. Up to 10% of American children suffer from mental illness and up to twice as many show symptoms of depression”.

Currently, kids are put on antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications for all sorts of behaviors. I have seen kids on xanax because they were showing signs of unruly behavior and hyperactivity at school. The nutritional aspect is sadly too often ignored. By doing so some medical professionals may be moving away from the Hippocratic oath’s primary tenet, “first do no harm”.

Our brain needs appropriate amounts of specific amino acids, as well as the essential fatty acids EPA and DHA, and other cofactors. Vitamin B6, for example, is extremely important for the conversion of the amino acid tryptophan to serotonin and the conversion of tyrosine to dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine and melanin.

Tryptophan is found in turkey, chicken breast, tuna, beef, lamb, halibut, shrimp, salmon, and snapper. Abundant sources of tyrosine are chicken, turkey, fish, dairy products, peanuts, almonds, avocados and bananas.

Take a second look at this list. How often do you, or your child, eat these foods?

Nutrient deficiency can lead to mental illness and behavioral issues. And while psychotropic drugs may play a key role in one’s recovery, they should never substitute for nutritional therapy.

Psychotropic medication (SSIRs, anti-anxiety meds, mood modulating drugs, sleeping pills, and so on) should be prescribed for short periods of time, while the person is working with a counselor/psychologist, nutritionist, hypnotherapist, etc. Unfortunately this is not the case, I know people who have been on anti-depressants for years, with no therapy, and no chance to be able to get off the drugs.

Let’s talk about serotonin, our feel good neurotransmitter. The Standard American Diet is rich in foods that deplete serotonin levels. Every time you ingest aspartame, refined bread, corn, caffeinated soda, breakfast cereal, and white pasta, you are depleting your body of this important neurotransmitter.

Since the precursor of serotonin is the amino acid tryptophan, it makes sense to raise amino acid levels in the diet. Amino acids are supplied by protein foods, and one of the most common nutritional deficiencies that I see in my practice is an insufficient intake of good protein in the diet. Protein is the best source of amino acids for our bodies. And proteins from animal sources contain the largest amount of amino acids of any food group.

It is necessary that we understand that the source of our protein will have an effect on the quality of the amino acids provided. If the animals are fed low-tryptophan containing foods such as corn, the resulting food products will contain suboptimal levels of tryptophan. On the other hand, animals fed and raised in an organic environment will produce more tryptophan in their food products. When animals are fed a healthier diet, the end product (e.g., meat, egg, milk, etc.,) will contain much healthier nutrients.

Grass-fed, free-range, organic sources of protein contain a larger and more diverse content of amino acids as compared to conventionally raised animals. Eggs are the best source of protein as they are the only food that contains a full complement of all of the essential amino acids necessary for our bodies. Organic eggs have a better supply of nutrients for our bodies than conventional eggs. The same holds true for nearly all food products; organic foods have a more favorable nutrient profile when compared to conventional food products.

If you or a loved one is struggling with mental illness, please know that there is hope yet and that recovery is possible.

Contact me for a free 15-minute consultation today!

In health,

Francesca Orlando, NTP, CGP

Board Certified in Holistic Nutrition®