Emotional, non-rational, even explosive statements in public discourse have escalated in recent years. Politicians endure insults at law debates; Scientists receive emails and tweets containing verbal abuse and threats.
What’s happening? This escalation in angry rhetoric is sometimes attributed to social media. But are there other influences that change the communication style?
As nutrition and mental health researchers and authors of The Better Brain, we know that many in our society suffer from hunger, which affects their cognitive function and emotion regulation.
Junk Food and the Brain: Highly Processed Products
Obviously, we’re not lacking in macronutrients: North Americans tend to get enough proteins, fats (though usually not the best fats), and carbohydrates (usually not the good complex carbohydrates). But we are being cheated of micronutrients (minerals and vitamins), especially among those whose food choices are dominated by highly processed products.
Ultra-processed items include things like soft drinks, packaged snacks, sweetened breakfast cereals, and chicken nuggets. They usually contain negligible amounts of fewer micronutrients unless fortified, but even then, few in higher amounts.
Highly processed products contain negligible amounts of vitamins and minerals. Shutterstock
Three published analyzes of the Canadian Community Health Survey from 2004 and the US National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey from 2018 found these sobering statistics: In Canada in 2004, 48 percent of calorie intake across all age groups came from highly processed products; In the United States in 2018, 67 percent of what children ages two to 19 consumed and 57 percent of what adults consumed were highly processed products.
Most of us know that food intake is a major problem for physical health as the quality of diet has been linked to chronic health conditions such as obesity, diabetes, and cardiovascular disease. The public is less aware of the effects of diet on brain health.
Micronutrients and Psychological Symptoms
Given that our society’s food choices have shifted so much towards ultra-processed products, we need to learn the substantial scientific evidence to show that micronutrient intake affects mental health symptoms, particularly irritability, explosive anger, and unstable mood.
The scientific evidence for this statement is now vast, although it is so rarely mentioned in the media that few people know about it in public.
A dozen studies from countries like Canada, Spain, Japan, and Australia have shown that people who eat healthy, wholesome meals have fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety than people who eat poorly (mostly high-quality products).
Correlation studies cannot prove that dietary habits are the cause of mental health problems: To do this, we turn to some compelling prospective longitudinal studies in which people with no apparent mental health problems are included in the study, examined for their health status and eating habits, and then followed over the course of the study Time. Some of the results were amazing.
In a study of about 89,000 people in Japan with a follow-up of 10 to 15 years, the suicide rate among those who ate wholesome meals was half that of those who eat less healthily, highlighting an important new direction im Current suicide is not yet covered in prevention programs.
Here in Canada, too, strong results show how children’s dietary patterns and other health guidelines on exercise and screen time predicted which children ages 10-11 would be referred for a diagnosis of a mental disorder in the next two years. It follows that nutritional education should be one of the first lines of treatment for children in this situation.
A Mediterranean diet is usually high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seafood, and unsaturated fats like olive oil. Shutterstock
Irritability and unstable mood are often characteristic of depression, so it is relevant that several independent studies have found that teaching people with depression who ate relatively poorly how to switch to a full Mediterranean diet resulted in significant improvements.
A Mediterranean diet is usually high in whole grains, fruits, vegetables, nuts, legumes, seafood, and unsaturated fats like olive oil.
In one such study, about a third of people who switched to whole foods in addition to their regular treatment found that their depression was in remission after 12 weeks.
The remission rate in the control group with regular treatment but no dietary change was less than one in 10. The whole foods group also reported a cost saving of about 20 percent in their weekly food budget. This last point helps to dispel the myth that dieting high in processed products is one way to save money.
Important evidence that irritability, explosive anger, and unstable mood can be resolved with improved micronutrient intake comes from studies examining micronutrient supplements for treating mental health problems. Most public awareness is limited to the ill-fated quest for magical spheres: studies of one nutrient at a time. This is a common way of thinking about causality (you need Drugs Y for Problem X), but that’s not how our brains work.
To support brain metabolism, our brain needs at least 30 micronutrients to ensure the production of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine and to break down and remove metabolic by-products.
Many studies of multi-nutrient treatments have found improved mood regulation and reduced irritability and explosive anger, including in placebo-controlled randomized trials of children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and affective dysregulation.
The evidence is clear: a well-fed population can cope better with stress. Hidden brain hunger is a modifiable factor that contributes to emotional outbursts, aggression, and even the loss of politeness in public discourse.
This article was originally published on The Conversation by Bonnie Kaplan and Julia J Rucklidge at the University of Calgary and the University of Canterbury. Read the original article here.