September 6, 2011

You are what you eat

In the documentary “Super Size Me,” Morgan Spurlock explores the ramifications of a 100% fast food, super-sized diet on his physiology and psychology over the period of one month.  Although it is not a new movie, his message is still worth reiterating.

In one telling scene, he visits an “alternative” school in Wisconsin for kids with behavior problems who couldn’t function in a traditional school setting.  The school was alternative in another major way as well.  It provided a healthy lunch program and removed the school’s vending machines.  The school noted improvements in focus, behaviors and mood.  The changes were astounding.  And, at least for the movie, the supposed troublemakers and delinquents walking the halls were calm, polite, and in control.   The change was likely not entirely attributable to diet, but certainly worth a consideration, especially when you consider the amount of trouble our nation’s youth face in terms of obesity, diabetes, depression, anxiety, ADHD, and the whole cadre of other mental and medical ailments that, in all seriousness, might just have a root in the standard American diet- or SAD diet as Dr. Mark Hyman calls it. According to the surgeon general’s 1999 report on mental health, “biological abnormalities of the central nervous system that influence behavior, thinking, or feeling can be caused by. …poor nutrition.” Our body is designed to break down what we eat into its constituent ingredients and to rebuild everything that we need from this, including all of our neurotransmitters, like serotonin and dopamine. Aside from our notoriously bad eating habits, there is also a disturbing trend in agriculture whereby our fruits and vegetables are being depleted of micronutrients like magnesium.  Since magnesium functions a lot like a mood stabilizer, deficiencies in magnesium might lead to mood instability.  From a nutritional standpoint, we also know that single mineral deficiencies in zinc, iron, magnesium, or boron can lead to attention problems that look like ADHD.   Since nutrient deficiencies likely occur in concert, where does that leave us but struggling?  If one takes the premise that you are what you eat seriously, which we all should do, it makes sense that eating junk will make us feel junky.  To reiterate a phrase by Dr. Hyman- there is food, and there is junk- there is no junk food.   Proper nutrition is essential for proper health. So when you think about this trend occurring in America, the land of plenty, it becomes very disheartening to realize that impoverished nations must be suffering exponentially more.   Not such a far stretch to see how mental illness, psychotic level fanaticism and paranoia find their fertile ground.