Seven years ago our youngest son, Brandon, had a piece of cake at a neighbor’s home. Within minutes, he was hyperactive and uncontrollable.
It was the first time I noticed what I suspected. Refined sugar impacts Brandon’s behavior.
Since then I have continued to study the relationship between diet and mental health.
A World Health Organization fact sheet estimates that more than 350 million people suffer from depression, making it the number one cause of disability worldwide. Drugs used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders have therefore entered the spotlight. These medicines, while offering hope for some, provide serious side effects for others—including a propensity toward self-inflicted and homicidal violence. According to Dr. David Healy, psychiatrist, author, and founder of the website RxISK:
“Violence and other potentially criminal behavior caused by prescription drugs are medicine’s best-kept secret.”
RxISK offers The Violence Zone, a page devoted to the issue of prescription drugs and violent thoughts and behavior. The Violence Zone also helps individuals identify these feelings before acting on them.
With the established epidemic of mental illness, coupled with the link between psychotropic drugs and acts of violence, the question must be asked: Why do we see this trend? Why are so many suffering from depression and anxiety?
There are many possibilities: Isolation due to technology. Urbanization. Sedentary lifestyle. Heightened social pressures.
What about the role of food? Is it possible our modern diet of processed and chemically modified food is contributing to the prevalence of mental illness? Drugs, taken orally, clearly impact the body and brain through the digestive tract. Why not consider the potential for artificial dyes, GMOs, trans fats, high fructose corn syrup, and other alterations to impact our emotional well-being?
Ascribing a connection between digestive health and mood is not a new idea. In the late 18th century, Philippe Pinel, the father of modern psychiatry, concluded:
“The primary seat of insanity is in the region of the stomach and intestines.”
In the 1860s, German physician Hermann Senator suggested a link between melancholia and intestinal self-infective processes.
In the early 1930s, Cleveland dentist Dr. Weston Price traveled the globe asking why primitive people groups subsisting on traditional, whole-food diets were maintaining their good health while those introduced to an extremely refined diet were experiencing physical and mental degeneration. Price noted the reduced incidence of crime among these primitive groups.
In more recent years, researchers discovered that 90-95% of the “happy” neurotransmitter, serotonin, is located in the gut—a finding with significant implications.
No doubt the issues surrounding the mass shootings, suicides, and other acts of violence are complex. There are no simple answers. However, let’s consider all possibilities as we seek to make sense out of these senseless crimes—including the impact of our modern diet.