by Bonnie Kaplan, PhD & Julia Rucklidge, PhD
As research psychologists (and Julia is also a clinical psychologist) who have spent years studying nutrition in relation to mental health, behaviour, and brain development, we know how beneficial nutrition can be for some people tackling mental health problems. But we also know that many readers are not yet aware of the tremendous scientific inroads made on this topic over the last decade. Julia is faced with this issue when teaching clinical psychology students – many enter the field believing that the only way to influence psychological symptoms is either through talking therapies or through giving a medication that affects the brain. They are typically genuinely surprised that our brains can be influenced by what we eat.
When we give various lectures on this topic around the world, one of the surprising things for both of us is the ‘disconnect’ in the public awareness. Even people who are very knowledgeable about the importance of nutrition and other life style factors for physical health, are not yet aware of the empirical research demonstrating that these life style variables significantly influence brain health. In today’s post, we want to write about why this disconnect is sort of silly.
THE BRAIN IS PART OF THE BODY
It seems inane even to write that statement, especially to this audience, but we know that the lay public tends to forget. Bonnie recalls discussing learning disabilities with a parent group a number of years ago, and being asked by a teacher something to the effect of ‘is it true that learning disabilities come from the brain?’ It seems shocking now, and it was 20 years ago when it happened. But many of us in the health field actually perpetuate this type of thinking by referring to “mind-body connections” and “mind-body medicine” and even by separating mental health from neurological function! Did you know that every once in awhile, a piece appears in a neurology journal, presenting the argument that Psychiatry should not exist as a discipline; that all of brain health should fall under Neurology? There is a point to that argument. It is a reminder to us all that brain health is essential for mental health.
The importance of this issue is extremely relevant to the topic of our blog posts: nutrition and mental health. Nutrients provide the components that enable our metabolism to function properly. So which organ places the greatest demands on our metabolism? The brain (heart is second). Here are two bits of information that we find sort of amazing, and that illustrate this fact:
The brain is approximately 2% of our whole-body weight, but consumes 20-40% of our metabolism. In other words, it is constantly and disproportionately demanding nutrients (and oxygen).
Every single minute your heart is beating, a quart of blood passes through your brain. Why? That quart of blood is bringing nutrients and oxygen (and other metabolic products) to every single nook and cranny in your cranium! So ask yourself — what have you eaten in the last day? Those are the chemicals bathing your brain.
First published in Mad In America