October 7, 2011

True Hope (Part I)

“Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food” – Hippocrates

It is possible to use micronutrients to treat mental illness.  This is a topic that I will come back to frequently as it is something in which I strongly believe and cannot emphasize enough.  Especially when it comes to first line remedies and our mandate to “first, do no harm.”   If we can use vitamins and elements that our body already naturally runs on to heal someone’s illness, rather than inserting some foreign chemical to block or alter a receptor  (the reality is we that we don’t really know how most psychotropics really work), it would be a far healthier, safer, and natural means of treatment, in spite of supposed industry standards of care.   Especially as a first line remedy, as we can always move on to the industry standard of care next if need be.

We are ignorant when it comes down to how the body really works. For all of our vast knowledge and scientific know-how, we remain in the dark when it comes to the complexities of this biochemical symphony.  Our body is truly amazing and has evolved to run on a few essential ingredients, which come mainly from our food. Our body really functions like a microcosm of the world we live in, perhaps because we are intimately and intricately connected to it.  Just like the modern food industry that has evolved to take whole foods, break them down into their constituent elements, and then process those elements into other food-stuff, like high fructose corn syrup* , our  personal biochemical factory breaks down food into  it’s basic elements through digestion to be absorbed and re-used to build our body. The degree of complexity is staggering when you look at what the body needs to function and how intricate, integral, and integrated the function  each element has.

The basic elements of our nutrition can be divided grossly into macronutrients and micronutrients.  Macronutrients are protein, fat, and carbohydrates.  The micronutrients are vitamins and minerals.  There is some controversy as to whether omega 3 fatty acids and amino acids should be included in the micronutrient category.   The micronutrients have multiple roles, including helping modulate gene expression, acting as cofactors and enzymes in neurotransmitter synthesis, altering neurotransmitter metabolism, and transforming receptors,  to name just a few.  It is safe to say that we need micronutrients for vital biochemical processes and that some of these process will effect our mental states.     It stands to reason that shortages in these nutrients will alter their functions.  According to Dr. Bonnie Kaplan in the article “Vitamins, minerals, and mood.” (Psych Bulliten, vol 133(5), Sep 2007), mood symptoms might reflect inborn errors of metabolism, deficient methylation reactions, alterations of gene expression by nutrient deficiency, and/or long-latency deficiency diseases.   So some mental illness might be malnutrition,  some mental illness might reflect an inborn genetic mutation that would need higher nutrient requirements to run efficiently.

When it comes down to our nutrition, in spite of an obesity epidemic (or likely because of it), we as whole are malnourished.  It is estimated that 92% of children do not get their basic, daily nutrients.  Part of the problem is that we tend to fill up on the bad fats and carbs instead of the more important vitamins and minerals.  But another major factor is that our food doesn’t yield the same nutrient content as it used to (more on this later). This micronutrient deficiency has been referred to as a “hidden hunger.”

To be continued in Part II.

*For a fascinating history of this evolution (devolution?) of the food industry, please delve into the Michael Pollan’s The Omnivore’s Dilemma.