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You can eat yourself well

What we eat influences enormously how we feel, and adopting a healthy and highly nutritious diet can vastly improve our health. Brenda Duffin explains how food affects mood


According to the World Health Organisation, mental health problems are fast becoming the number one health issue this century. Over 10% of people worldwide are suffering from mental problems at any one time, and 25%, or 1.5 billion humans, will suffer from them at some point in their lives. (1) These are frightening statistics but we are not helpless. By creating the right balance in your life through eating the right foods and exposing yourself to fewer chemicals, pollutants and stress you can be one of the exceptions to this rule — you can put yourself outside this statistic.

Feeling depressed can lead to a series of bad habits fed by low energy. These are hard to break. The only way we can change the fast release, high blood sugar, mood rollercoaster cycle is to eat well, exercise well, treat the body with respect and watch your mood lift. Your negative thoughts will decrease naturally and your ability to maximise your good days will increase. Eating the right foods for you will enhance your energy and so increase your ability to make changes in your life.

Our brain uses up to 30% of all energy from the foods that we eat. In the brain there are cells called neurons, which form a complex network allowing communication with other neurons and chemical messengers. The chemical messengers are known as neurotransmitters e.g. dopamine, adrenaline (epinephrine in US), noradrenaline (norepinephrine), serotonin, acetylcholine. If this finely tuned mechanism becomes imbalanced due to external trauma or stress, or perhaps by self-imposed disturbances such as excessive alcohol, it can result in problems such as depression, schizophrenia, hallucinations, anxiety, panic attacks, insomnia, lack of concentration, or poor coordination, to name but a few of the possible signs and symptoms.

Dr Carl Pfeiffer, an American doctor and biochemist, was a pioneer in the field of mental health and nutrition. He identified how types of psychological difficulty could be corrected by particular nutrients and diet, and so came up with the ‘Four Pillars of Mental Health':

  • Blood sugar balance
  • Allergies/intolerances
  • Pollution (toxic metals)
  • Optimum nutrition


Blood sugar balance

Nutritionist Patrick Holford estimates that "over 50% of people with mental health problems, from depression to schizophrenia, have blood sugar problems as a major underlying cause". (2) Clearly, the most important factor from a mental health point of view — and for everyone — is to keep your blood sugar balanced. This can be achieved with some effort, but it pays off.

Keeping your blood sugar balanced is very important. Signs of blood sugar imbalance include depression and crying spells, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, excessive sweating (especially at night), excessive thirst, blurred vision, lack of concentration, forgetfulness and drowsiness after meals, unexplained fatigue, and craving specific foods (such as sweets, chocolate). Certain foods, for example junk foods such as sweets, chocolate, fizzy drinks, and fast food (burgers and fries), and white bread have little or no nutrients in them. They are like a poison to the cells in your body and can lead to mineral imbalance.

Blood sugar balance is important so that our brains and body are receiving the right amount of sugar (glucose) to function at its full potential. The following foods or substances may upset this balance:

Chocolate, sweets, biscuits and cakes can contain cocoa, caffeine, sugar, fats, additives, colourings and preservatives. Cocoa is a source of the stimulant theobromine, which increases the neurotransmitters dopamine and adrenaline. It can also be a mood enhancer. Caffeine is very addictive and can over-stimulate the nervous system leading to irritability, insomnia, and elevated and imbalanced blood sugar levels.

Sugar found in sweets, cakes, buns, biscuits and some bread depletes the body's store of B Vitamins. The B vitamins are very important for mental health and performance. They also are used up rapidly in times of stress.

Fizzy drinks have been linked with robbing the body of important nutrients and with kidney problems. They also contain sugar and caffeine, which can have detrimental psychological effects on some susceptible individuals, especially drinks containing aspartame, which can over-stimulate the brain. During a double blind control challenge on patients with depression in the US in 1993, the trial had to be halted as the ‘adverse reactions to aspartame' were very disturbing, including memory loss, nausea, anger attacks, nightmares and worsening of depression. (3)

Tea, coffee, alcohol and cigarettes are classified as stimulants. However, when taken in large enough quantities they can have a sedative affect. Coffee contains not one but three stimulants, caffeine, theobromine and theophylline. Caffeine blocks adenosine (a brain chemical) whose function is to stop the release of motivating neurotransmitters, dopamine and adrenaline. With less adenosine the levels of dopamine and adrenaline rise leading to over-alertness and motivation. Too much caffeine can lead to symptoms similar to those of schizophrenia and mania. Each cigarette contains many chemicals (it's estimated some 4,600) - this can't be good for either our bodies or our minds. Cigarettes are one of the hardest drugs to give up because of their addictive ingredients and nature. In the body carbon monoxide, which is also found in cigarettes, competes with oxygen for entry into the lungs. Carbon monoxide is a stronger molecule and so gets rapidly inhaled and absorbed into the body.

Alcohol, depending on the quantity consumed, can be both a sedative and a stimulant. Alcohol can upset the neurotransmitters in the brain. Alcohol and drug abusers also turn out to be low in serotonin.(9) Some alcoholic drinks contain ingredients such as wheat and yeast. Some individuals may have an intolerance or an allergy to these, which can lead, in some cases, to an episode.

In my clinic I had a client who used to drink a bottle of wine a night and would always feel very down after it. She didn't want to give up her wine as it was the only comfort she had in life (again, this is choice) and wondered why she was feeling like this. I asked her to observe her mood as she was drinking the bottle and she suddenly realised that she was feeling happy at the half way mark and once over half way her mood changed. This lady now has her half bottle of wine each night and is a very happy lady.

In Patrick Holford's book, Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, he describes the case of a woman with a wheat intolerance who tried to kill her husband after eating a salad which contained wheat in the dressing. Another case cites a man who shot 22 people (wounded, no deaths) because of a wheat intolerance. The man was acquitted because it was proved that it was a wheat intolerance that triggered this behaviour.

The general rule of thumb is, the more you crave a certain food or a drink, the greater the chances that this food or drink does not have a positive affect on you or you have an intolerance to it. A way to find out is to schedule an appointment with a nutritionist and have a food intolerance test carried out.

Keeping your blood sugar balanced is achieved by having three regular meals (breakfast, lunch, dinner or tea) and three snacks throughout the day. Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. Try the healthier option, and if that means changing your diet do so gradually so you don't feel it's a burden.

Start your day with a slow release cereal such as porridge, organic puffed rice, spelt puffs (unsweetened or sweetened with cinnamon), buckwheat, millet, rice or quinoa flakes.

Never go to bed hungry as you are stressing the body. A cereal at night is good, especially one such as porridge, but avoid the likes of cornflakes, rice crispies and the like, which are full of sugar and have very few nutrients, if any. You may reduce your chances of getting Type 2 diabetes in later life.

Tryptophan, an amino acid, is commonly found to be lacking in cases of depression, and especially in schizophrenia. The following are good examples of meals high in tryptophan:

  • Oat porridge, soya milk and two scrambled eggs (breakfast)
  • Baked potato with cottage cheese and tuna salad (lunch)
  • Chicken breast, potatoes au gratin and green beans (lunch or dinner)
  • Wholewheat spaghetti with bean, tofu or meat sauce (dinner)
  • Salmon fillet, quinoa and lentil pilaf and green salad with yoghurt dressing (dinner) (10)


Allergies and intolerances

Allergies to foods such as wheat, dairy, egg, rye and barley have been linked with problems such as depression, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Many studies support this (see statistics section below).


Pollution — toxic metals, heavy metals

Lead (exhaust fumes), aluminium (cookware, water, toothpaste, antacids), mercury (fillings, pesticides), copper (water [copper pipes], chocolate, the IUD, OCP (contraceptive pill), and cadmium (cigarettes) are classified as toxic metals. They can predispose an individual to mental health problems ranging from mood swings to depression and schizophrenia.

In the last 50 years alone, 3,500 new chemicals have been added to food. A further 3,000 have been introduced into our homes. Heavy metals like lead and cadmium are so commonplace in our 21st century environment that the average person has body levels 700 times higher than those of our ancestors. Most of our food is sprayed with pesticides and herbicides. In fact, up to a gallon of them may have been sprayed on the fruit and vegetables consumed by the average person in a year. (10)


Optimum nutrition

To optimise your individual nutrition and needs, the best course is to see a nutritionist to design a fully individualised programme.


The significant problems we have created cannot be solved at the same level of thinking we were at when we created them
— Albert Einstein


As early as 1952, Dr Abram Hoffer and Dr Humphrey Osmond, two Canadian psychiatrists, used vitamins and minerals on patients diagnosed with schizophrenia and noted amazing recoveries. One such case was that of a 17-year-old boy who was overactive, silly, deluded and sometimes hallucinating. They gave him "five grams of niacin and 5g of vitamin C per day. He was better the next day, almost normal ten days later". Two months later he went home and "was still well 10 years later".(11)

The key to success is to take the right supplements for your body and mind and to take them regularly. Supplementation is required, as it is very difficult to get the right amount of nutrients to be optimally nourished from our foods due to the lack of nutrients, the over use of pesticides, herbicides and antibiotics in our foods.

I recommend the following. It would be a good start for everybody, but for someone looking for a comprehensive individual assessment, or someone dealing with depression, a visit to a nutritionist is advised.

  • A good-quality, all-round multi-mineral and vitamin (Solgar VM75, Quest Super Once a Day or Biocare Multi-mineral and Vitamin Once a Day)
  • Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs); Biocare or Quest
  • Chromium (Cr) (200ug daily); Sona/Solgar/Biocare or ensure that it's included in your multivitamin/mineral
  • Vitamin C (non-acidic only); Solgar, Quest, Biocare 1000 mg x 2 per day.
  • Essential Fatty Acids make up over 20% of the dry weight of the brain. They help in balancing neurotransmitters and when deficient lead to over-excitation. "Dr Ian Glen found that 80% of schizophrenics are EFA deficient. He gave EFA supplements and reported a dramatic response." (15)


EFAs such as omega 3 regulate the release and performance of neurotransmitters in the brain, which is especially important for those suffering with depression. Sources include fish (EPA & DHA) and fish oils, oils such as flax (linseed), pumpkin, walnut, and hemp. Omega 6 (n6) sources are safflower, sunflower, sesame and corn oil, while GLA sources are Evening Primrose oil and borage oil. Seeds like fish are a good source of essential (healing) fats.

Exercise is important to maximise the benefits of good diet and nutrition. Gradually introduce gentle exercise into your daily routine, but don't overdo it or you'll be spending the next day recovering in bed. Find a form of exercise you enjoy, so you'll be more inclined to stick to it. Exercise can help you put your life in perspective. It can also help the body and mind to rest from the routine of the stresses and strains of modern living. Exercise also assists in the detoxification of heavy metals from the body.


The doctor of the future will give no medicine, but will interest his patients in the care of the human frame, in diet, and in the cause and prevention of disease.
— Thomas Edison


Brenda Duffin trained as a nutritionist under the guidance of Patrick Holford, one of the world's authorities on new approaches to health and founder of the Institute for Optimum Nutrition. She received her Diploma from the Institute for Optimum Nutrition and is accredited and registered with the British Association of Nutritional Therapists. She has been a registered general nurse for 10 years and has worked in many different fields of medicine, gaining particular recognition in gastroenterology (the study of the digestive system). Her practice is based in Rathmines, Dublin 6. Telephone (01) 4964174 or 087 8224028


Disclaimer: The advice contained in this article is intended solely as education and information and is not intended as an alternative to medical and/or specialist advice, which should be sought to ensure correct medical diagnosis, and/or an individualised nutritional programme. The author cannot be held responsible for any action that is taken by any reader as a result of the information contained in the text above. Such action is taken entirely at the reader's own risk. The author accepts no liability for readers who choose to self-prescribe.



Bibliography (references in text):
1 Pfeiffer, Dr Carl (1987) & Holford, P (1986). Mental Health and Illness, pp 119.
2 Holford, P (2003). Optimum Nutrition for the Mind, pp61.
3 RG Walton, et al (1993). Adverse reactions to aspartame: double blind challenge in patients from a vulnerable population. Journal of Biological Psychiatry, Vol 34(1-2), pp 13-7.
4 Godfrey, PS, et al (1990). Enhancement of recovery from psychiatric illness by methylfolate. The Lancet Vol 336, pp392-395.
5 Smith, KA et al (1997). Relapse of depression after rapid depletion of tryptophan. The Lancet Vol 349, pp915-919.
6 Pfeiffer, C, et al (1974). Treating Pyroluria with B6 & Zinc. Orthomolecular Psychiatry Vol 3(4), pp292-300.
7 Egger et al (1983). Is Migraine a Food Allergy? A Double-Blind Controlled Trial of Oligoantigenic Diet Treatment. The Lancet October 1983, pp865-869.
8 Sayid, R & Smith, R (2002). The Geniuses Tormented by Ill Health. Daily Mail November 21, 2002.
9 Holford, P & C, Dr H (2001). Natural Highs, pp108.
10 Holford, P (2003). Optimum Nutrition for the Mind pp 62, 68, 111.
11 Holford, P & Braly, Dr J (2003). The H Factor pp110-115.
12 Pauling, L (1986). How to Live Longer and Feel Better pp260-261.
13 Pauling, L (1986). How to Live Longer and Feel Better pp259.
14 Pfeiffer, Dr Carl (1987) & Holford, P (1986). Mental Health and Illness pp 100.
15 Pfeiffer, Dr Carl (1987) & Holford, P (1986). Mental Health and Illness pp 97.
16 Holford, P (2003). Optimum Nutrition for the Mind pp29.


Books referred to:
Cleaning Yourself To Death: How Safe is Your Home? Pat Thomas (2001)
Mental Health and Illness. Dr Carl Pfeiffer & Patrick Holford (1987)
Natural Highs. Patrick Holford & Dr Hyla Cass (2001)
New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Patrick Holford (2005)
Oestrogen: The Killer in Our Midst. Chris Woollams (2004)
Optimum Nutrition for the Mind. Patrick Holford (2003)
The Optimum Nutrition Cookbook. Patrick Holford & Judy Ridgway (2005)


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About 30% of schizophrenics have pyroluria and 11% of the general population have it as well (1).  
(see end of this panel)

It is estimated that about 12 per cent of men and 18 per cent of women suffer from some form of clinically significant affective disorder during their lifetimes, and about two per cent have one or more schizophrenic episodes (13).

Dr Abram Hoffer, a psychiatrist who claimed a 90% success rate in curing acute schizophrenia, gave his definition of ‘cure' as threefold. The patient was now:

  • Free from symptoms

  • Able to socialise with family and community

  • Paying income tax (14)


Schizophrenia and
major depression:
folic acid

Giving people with borderline or low folate status 15mg of folic acid a day alongside standard drug treatment significantly improved clinical and social recovery in patients with depression in a double-blind controlled trial at Kings College Hospital, London (4).
Psychiatric problems linked with folate deficiencies: Research at King's College Hospital, London found that 33% of those with psychiatric disorders, including depression, were deficient in the B vitamin folate (4).

Relapse after fast depletion of tryptophan

An experiment carried out at Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry proved the strong connection between tryptophan and depression. Eight women were given a diet devoid of tryptophan. Within eight hours most of the women started to feel more depressed. When tryptophan was added back into their diet, without them knowing, their mood improved (5).


Pyroluria: B6 and zinc

About 34% of schizophrenics excrete excessive kryptopyrroles in the urine (mauve positive). Kryptopyrroles combine with pyridoxol, then complex with zinc, to induce B5 and zinc deficiency. Supplementing B6 and zinc lowers kryptopyrroles and improves disperceptions and other associated symptoms (6). (Pyroluria is a familial disorder and may in part account for the high incidence of schizophrenia in certain families.)


Allergies and mental health
In a double blind control study in 1983, 30 patients suffering from depression, anxiety, confusion or difficulty in concentration were tested to ascertain if individual food allergies could produce mental health symptoms. The results were staggering; they showed that allergies (alone, not placebos) were able to produce symptoms such as severe depression, nervousness, feelings of anger without a particular object, loss of motivation and severe mental blankness. Wheat, dairy milk, cane sugar, eggs and tobacco produced pronounced mental reactions (7).


Schizophrenia and
blood sugar

Dr Carl Pfeiffer found blood sugar problems as one of the underlying factors in schizophrenia. He found that a simple blood sugar problem could lead to a person becoming anti-social, aggressive, fearful, phobic, psychotic and suicidal. To balance your blood sugar level, quit sugar and cut right back on refined carbohydrates (10).


Homocysteine is linked
to depression
A 27-year-old woman diagnosed with schizophrenia had a high Hcy score. When given B12 her condition improved, but over a prolonged period the beneficial effects seemed to diminish. It was discovered that she also had a defective enzyme (MTHFR). It shows the importance of using Hcy testing as a diagnostic tool in mental health (11).


Symptoms and signs
Histamine, adrenaline (epinephrine), dopamine and serotonin are important brain chemicals (neurotransmitters). It is very important that they are balanced, as they are involved in many reactions within the body. Excess or a deficiency in any of these may lead to some of the following symptoms.

  • Excess Histami (Histadelia): Depression and chronic depression, hyperactivity, compulsive behaviour, allergies (foods and inhalants), obsessive, high sex drive, migraines, drug resistant, needs little sleep, very energetic, poor pain threshold.

  • Low Histamine (Histapenia):
    Schizophrenia, paranoia, hallucinations, fatigue, overweight, reacts to drugs, extreme need for sleep, high pain threshold.

Note: For those who suffer from either high or low levels of histamine the presence of heavy metals is generally noted in their mineral analysis. A mineral analysis with a nutritionist would be recommended to check for heavy metals.


Adrenaline (epinephrine) is produced by the body in response to a stress/stressor (internal or external stimuli), be it physical or emotional.

High adrenaline can lead to mania, migraine, insomnia and/or hypertension, whilst a deficiency may lead to depression, narcolepsy (falling asleep suddenly without warning), stimulant craving and/or hypotension.


Dopamine: An excess may lead to psychosis and sexual arousal, and a deficiency to agitation, lack of sexual interest, or Parkinson's disease.

Another brain chemical is dependent on a good supply of minerals and vitamins. An excess may lead to narcolepsy, and a deficiency to anxiety, impulsive behaviour and/or insomnia.

A person who experiences pellagra lacks a B Vitamin. The ‘Three Ds' are the classic symptoms for pellagra — dermatitis, diarrhoea and dementia. Other symptoms include depression, hallucinations, paranoia, anxiety, headaches, poor sleep pattern. Some people with pellagra are misdiagnosed with schizophrenia. The amino acid tryptophan found in turkey, fish, chicken, avocados, cottage cheese, bananas and wheatgerm have been reported to be beneficial in those diagnosed with pellagra.

Homocysteine (Hcy):
There's growing evidence that many people, perhaps those prone to severe depression or schizophrenia, have high Hcy levels and low B vitamins. Hcy is especially high in young men diagnosed with schizophrenia. Men experience more mental health problems, including depression and schizophrenia, between the ages of 13 and 18 because this is the time the body grows faster than the brain. It's a time when the body requires large amounts of nutrients. It's also a time in a young man's life when he experiments with alcohol, cigarettes and drugs and the disco scene — and this lifestyle depletes nutrients (11). (This does not apply to women, as their growth is more consistent.)

This condition is linked with a lack of minerals and vitamins. Some of the signs and symptoms included bouts of depression, blinding headaches, nervous exhaustion, change of handwriting, worship father, pain experienced looking at printed page, loss of appetite, extreme fatigue, intolerance to protein foods, drugs and alcohol; irregular periods, belong to an all-girl family and all sisters look alike, crowded upper front teeth, bad breath and body odour, white spots on fingernails, eye pain from sunlight, upper stomach pain, routine very important and any upset in this could lead to tremor, palpitations, nausea, vomiting and/or insomnia. These people also crave seclusion.