October 27, 2011

True Hope (Part II)

As I said previously, about 92% of children do not get their basic, daily nutrients.  When looking at the population at large, most Americans do not meet their recommended daily allowances.   According to the USDA, the percentages of US population not getting the RDA for a given micronutrient is as follows:

  • Calcium                     72.9%
  • Folate                        75.1%
  • Iron                             34.3%
  • Magnesium                68.0%
  • Niacin                          24.2%
  • Phosphorus             21.7%
  • Riboflavin                  21.8%
  • Selenium                    14.8%
  • Vitamin A                     54.7%
  • Vitamin B6                   35.3%
  • Vitamin B12                 29.9%
  • Vitamin C                    48.3%
  • Vitamin E                    85.9%
  • Zinc                             42.0%
  • Copper                       30.7%

(Data borrowed from a presentation by David Hardy, cofounder of Truehope, at the Micronutrients in Mental Health conference 2011).

It might just be that the Happy Meal doesn’t provide enough, or that almost every single children’s menu across the land contains the same generic, nutritionally-devoid junk:  chicken nuggets, mac&cheese, grilled cheese,  hot dog.    We know that processed foods do not contain the same nutrients as whole foods, and sadly, processed foods make up the majority of the Standard American Diet (or SAD-  an apt acronym that I first learned from Dr. Mark Hyman- and right on target regarding it’s causal association with depression- but more on this later).

But it may be more than just the processing that bankrupts our diets.  The modern industrial farming process has depleted the soil of nutrients.  In “Historical Changes in the Mineral content of Fruit and Vegetables” from the British Food Journal (1997), Dr. Mayer documents a significant decrease in key minerals over the 50 year period from 1947 to 1997.  For instance, Copper content dropped by 81%, Magnesium by 35%, Calcium by 19%, Potassium by 14%, Sodium by 43%.    So even if we well and focus  on fresh foods, we still might not be getting our evolutionary requirements for heath.

We know that single nutrient deficiencies cause mental health problems, like thiamine and psychosis.  Unfortunately, we are also likely past the age of single deficit models.  The interactions between these nutrients are profoundly complex, and as you can see above, multiple deficiencies are the norm.  The triage theory by Bruce Ames delineates some of these interactions and the consequences of subtle deficits.

So in tackling really complex questions of health, and any mental health issue is truly complex- way more complex than a single neurotransmitter deficiency,  a great place to begin is by restoring these nutritional deficits.   An old adage from a class on traumatic brain injury was ” it’s not just the type of brain injury, but the type of brain” that determined the outcome.  The same might be said for these subtle micronutrient deficiencies and mental illness, whereby the individual’s genetic makeup determines the psychological repercussions, from bipolar and unipolar depressions  to ADHD, and likely anything in between covered by the DSM.  Not so long ago, it was common to eschew vitamins as excessive so long as you were eating well.  That was also during a time when nutritional courses in medical school consisted of essentially one sentence -  “eat a balanced diet.”   Unfortunately, not all individuals have the same nutritional requirements, think pregnant women’s need for iron.  And our RDA quotas are based on models of deficiency as correlate with illness, but not on optimum health and wellness.  That area is much grayer….like charcoal.  Fortunately,  there is also a wide margin of safety in terms of vitamin supplements before toxicity is reached.  So a logical place to begin with almost any mental illness might just be in addressing these potential deficits with a broad based micronutrient to restore optimum physiological functions- which would ultimately also lead to the synthesis and restoration of the neurotransmitters touted to be behind most theories of mental illness.


(To be continued).