Mental Health

We hear all too frequently about the stresses and strains of living in these modern times, youngsters who are so desperate and unhappy about the world in which they live that they become addicted to drugs and often take their own lives. Depression and anxiety are common and the increase in anti-depressants and sleeping pills prove that although we have so much to be thankful for, something certainly is missing.

It is sad to know that our Psychiatric Departments are brim full of patients suffering with a host of emotional problems, the demands on the National Health Service are becoming such a burden as patients seek a little pill to make them feel happier, more relaxed, more positive. Most young couples have a lifestyle that is comparative to the stage their parents reached in their 40’s and still there is so much discontent and depression. I remember when I worked as a Personal Assistant in a Psychiatric Department of a large local hospital, we had just two Psychiatrists and one Psychologist and just one ward. Today the same hospital has built on a block just for the treatment of emotional conditions and have a very large staff to support the need for treatments, involving the states of people’s mental health.

Years ago when families lived in a small village, problems that arose in a marriage, or with the raising of children, or just poor communication in a relationship were managed within the family unit. With ‘granny’ up the road and an elderly aunt around the corner there was always somewhere to go when you had a young baby who would just not stop crying. Someone who could take the baby for a few hours and give you a much needed rest, or may be your relationship with your husband or wife had some ‘uncomfortable cracks surfacing’ that you could not deal with. The advice then of an older family member who had a lifetime of experience in coping with life’s ups and downs was of tremendous benefit. In fact the old adage of the saying “You have made your bed now go down and lie on it” was a rather blunt statement but maybe better advice than ‘opting out’ when the going gets tough which is the general rule today.

Depressive illness is on the increase and in early February 1991 it was announced, via the media, that the end of the search for a magic bullet that would successfully treat depression and anxiety that affects an estimated one in four women and one man in eight at some time in their lives, was at an end as a leading drug Company had launched a new drug that was claimed to be free of the unpleasant side effects of other anti-depressant drugs, called Serotax, and was more effective than Prozac which was launched in 1989. Since those times many other drugs have been launched in an attempt to lift depression and anxiety and return people to a ‘happy state’. However as with every other drug there are penalties to be paid and the side effects of anti-depressants are many. Most common are visual disturbance, digestive and cardiovascular problems including cardiac arrhythmia, back pain, rashes, nausea, diarrhoea, loss of sex drive. You need also to be aware of hypotensive effects, that is a sudden drop in blood pressure that occurs on standing. These drugs are a poor substitute for the loving care of friends, professional counselling and a personal effort in looking into ways to improve general health before resorting to drug therapies.

Depression and Diet

The state of your emotional health relies on a good diet, this is just as important as other bodily needs. Many depressives have no appetite and eat very little and what they do eat is of poor quality. Tea and toast is a favourite, with a McDonalds and chips thrown in when they have the energy to go out and buy one. So depression causes a lack of appetite and poor eating habits can contribute towards depression.

We hear all too frequently about the need for a low fat diet, low cholesterol intake is a must, but what we fail to understand is that the body, the brain in particular needs cholesterol to fuel every single brain cell and when the brain does not receive this, depression and all the dementias are more likely to occur. Research has revealed that men with low cholesterol levels are

three times are likely to commit suicide, particularly those who have their cholesterol levels lowered by statin drugs. Further research has discovered that the main cause for depression following birth (post natal blues) were caused by changing cholesterol levels which are unnaturally high during pregnancy (BMJ 1996.313.664)

Besides too much or too little fat, caffeine and sugar can make you depressed. Drinking more than 700mg of caffeine a day) which translates into four or five cups of coffee a day) can cause depression, and so can a diet that is high in refined sugar. Just look at the huge increase in the consumption of refined sugar since the war years, every tin of coco-cola contains 16 teaspoons of sugar, plus artificial sweeteners.

Other causes of depression and anxiety are ‘food allergies’. Indeed we have literally hundreds and hundreds of artificial colourings and preservatives in our diets to-day. Colourings to maintain an attractive ‘glow’ to foods, additives to maintain a longer shelf life, flavourings to enhance taste, sprays to prevent insects invading our fruit. Most of these ‘additions’ should have never arrived on our planet, let alone be ingested into our stomachs.

A patient of mine suffered for years from depression and anxiety, she also had a long history of bloating, diarrhoea and abdominal pain. She was treated with anti-depressants to cheer her up as the consultant was sure that her digestive problems were “all in her mind”. Nobody linked up the digestive problem and the emotional stress. When she eventually, in desperation, went to be treated ‘holistically’ she was placed on an elimination diet and it was discovered that all milk products were causing her digestive problems. Once she went on a milk/dairy free diet, and with the addition of vitamins and minerals, not only did her ‘gut’ problem disappear but so did her depression. Sad to think that she had been suffering from these symptoms for over 10 years. Depression can be caused by a deficiency of folic acid which is one of the B vitamins, a powerful enhancer of mood. The reason for this is that folic acid deficiency lowers the brain hormone serotonin (Br J Psychi 1967; 113:1237-64).

One of the classical symptoms in sailors several centuries ago, who suffered from scurvy was depression. Vitamin C was the solution to the scurvy and it also appeared to play an important part in maintaining mood.

Another potential culprit is low levels of blood potassium which is particularly common if you take diuretics. Blood-cell or brain potassium is often low in suicides and seriously depressed people (psychosomatics, 1981;22(3): 199-203) Underpinning all these deficiencies may well be an inadequate digestive system, Besides food sensitivities, it is important to rule out a deficiency in hydrochloric acid). We need this acid to enable our digestive systems to absorb the vitamins and nutrients from our foods. As we age our digestive enzymes tend to become less prolific and less efficient. Hydrochloric acid and vitamin B supplement will help the stomach and intestines to absorb. Another tip is to take a small glass of apple cider vinegar with warm water before you eat.

There are however occasions in our lives when there is need for a short term support from drugs, as with the case of those suffering from a devastating life experience which makes them unable to cope with their day to day needs, and of course many sufferers of schizophrenia need drug therapies in order to be able to continue with some quality of life.

A growing number of studies suggest that some of the behaviour that we label ‘schizophrenic’ may be caused or exacerbated by food allergies or nutritional deficiencies. He well known advocate of this approach is the late Dr. Carl Pfeiffer of the Brain Bio Centre in Princetown, New Jersey. Dr. Pfeiffer has found that most psychotic patients have either abnormally high or abnormally low levels of histamine. He also found that they were likely to have too much copper and deficiencies in zinc and other nutrients. By adjusting their diet and adding supplements Dr. Pfeiffer has achieved notable improvements in many patients.


One of the biggest growth areas in medicine in the Western world in the difficult child. It seems that we are producing ‘a new race of child’ who is impossible to manage, upsets the whole family, drives mother in particular to a breakdown and is, it seems, totally disruptive and unpredictable. There probably are a few children who following a difficult birth, forceps delivery in particular, experience some of these symptoms and as a matter of interest cranial osteopathy has proved extremely effective in dealing with this problem.

However much of these bizarre behavioural problems are still caused by what we are putting down our children’s throats and indeed the diet of the average child leaves so much to be desired.

In 1973 the late American paediatrician and allergist Ben Feingold introduced the then ground breaking theory that foods containing salicylates, aspirin-like substances such as artificial colours and artificial flavours were mainly responsible for hyperactivity. He found that concentrating on these aspects as a cause for behavioural changes were certainly better than reaching for the prescription pad and sentencing a child to many years of potentially addictive medication, Ritalin being the most popular. One study (Lancet,1985;1:540-5) showed that 62 out of 76 overactive children (that is 82 per cent) treated with an elimination diet improved and that the behaviour of ‘more than a third’ became entirely normal. It seems that the intake of high sugar foods on their own, i.e. a bar of chocolate or a bag of sweets or a lolly which gives a high insulin boost to the body has the greatest detrimental effect on ‘mood changes’. It is therefore well worth doing some ‘detective work’ before approaching the medical profession for a solution which will be drugs and more drugs.

Another problem in both young and old to-day is constipation. It seems that we are a very constipated nation and children suffer to. The main cause is lack of exercise. A good bowl of porridge to start the day which was quite the norm 50 years ago and then perhaps a three mile walk to School certainly stimulated the bowel. Today many children do not eat breakfast at all and are driven to school by car, so do not receive the muscular stimulation that exercise gives to the bowel.

Apart from the irritants in foods, colourings etc, there is also a great swing towards children ‘expressing themselves’ whenever and where ever they are, and the media is responsible for this. We view aggression and bad behaviour every day. Gone are the days when children who were taken into a restaurant were asked to keep their voices down for fear of disturbing others!! and when as a youngster going to school you would be severely reprimanded for not wearing the correct school uniform. When boys were given ‘the slipper’ for bullying and girls the ruler on their hands for causing distress to other pupils, it certainly was a deterrent in repeating similar behaviour. Maybe what is needed is a change of ‘boundaries’ in all respects.