Food for the Brain

This packed two-day conference focused on nutrition for ADHD, ASD, depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, Alzheimer?s and age-related cognitive decline - and for promoting healthy mental and behavioural development in general. It was the first conference to be organised by Patrick Holford?s not-for-profit Food for the Brain Foundation.
The two threads that ran through the conference were how much individuals differ and that most deficiencies/ imbalances in essential nutrients can be traced back to our highly refined, sugary diets and depleted soils.
Jane Lorimer and Michelle Berriedale-Johnson report on the main presentations ? for more information check out www.foodforthebrain.org

Nutrition & young offenders
Dr Alex Richardson, senior research fellow at Mansfield College, Oxford described Bernard Gesch's 1996, impeccably designed, nine- month trial with young offenders who were given a daily multi-vitamin and mineral and essential fatty acids.

The results were impressive - amongst those taking the
supplements there was a drop of 37% in violent prisoner-on-prisoner offeces, and of 34% in non-violent offences.

This trial was funded by the charity, Natural Justice. But despite its success and the minimal cost of the intervention, the Home Office has still not been persuaded even to replicate the trial, let alone implement its findings. For more information check www.fabresearch.org and

Chromium & depression
Professor Malcolm McCleod, clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of North Carolina, is the man credited with discovering the role of chromium in ‘atypical’ depression - misnamed, as 25-42% of depressives have this type. Symptoms include mood change, weight gain, carbohydrate craving, unexplained exhaustion, grogginess and being easily hurt by rejection. It affects more women than men.

His small study was published in 2003 and repeated on a larger scale in 2005. He described four cases in which giving chromium picolinate resulted in dramatic and immediate (within 12 hours) improvements in all symptoms. See his website at www.chromiumconnection.com

Chrissie Sugden MSc spoke on methylation in connection with depression, schizophrenia and autism. Methylation is the cell’s
ability to switch on and off gene activity. It is crucial for balancing neurotransmitters and for mental health.

The vital nutritional co-factors for methylation are vitamins B2, B6, B12, folic acid, zinc, magnesium and the amino acid, trimethylglycine. HCl (stomach acid) and antioxidants also play an important role.

High homocysteine levels generally indicate poor methylation, although some people with autism have poor methylation in spite of good or normal levels of homocysteine. Methylation is adversely affected by caffeine and stress.

Dr Woody McGinnis explained how high levels of pyrroles in the urine (known as ‘mauve’) are associated with criminal and deviant behaviour and disorders such as schizophrenia, autism and ADHD. Mauve and behaviour are improved with supplementation with zinc, viramin B6 and magnesium (which helps B6 work better).

For years, doctors have observed that emotional stress increases oxidative stress which injures cells, causes excitotoxicity (explosive outbursts of activity) and marked increases in levels of mauve.
Cortisol (or taking adrenocorticoids) increases gut permeability; GLA tightens the gut. Treatment with oral antibiotics reduces or abolishes mauve all together, suggesting a microbial origin for mauve. A urine test for mauve is available from BioLab for £13 - check: www.biolab.co.uk/singles.html#urine

Coeliac disease
Dr James Braly suggested that coeliac disease is the most common, and most under/mis-diagnosed, autoimmune disorder in the US and in Europe, and that it is genetically linked to many other autoimmune diseases including thyroid disease, type 1 diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, liver disease and systemic lupus erythematosus.

Undiagnosed/untreated coeliac disease causes inflammation, which results in damage to the mucosal lining of the small intestine bringing about the malabsorption of food and essential nutrients including vitamins, minerals, trace minerals and essential fatty acids.

The prevalence of coeliac disease worldwide has increased dramatically over the last 20 years - due to greater awareness and easier testing. In the UK, for example, 1in100/200 people are now thought to have the disease as opposed to 1in 600 in the 1970s. Moreover, certain groups appear to be at higher risk: epileptic children who also suffer from migraine or ADHD - 80 in100; first degree relatives - 22 in 100; autoimmune thyroid disease 14 in 100; Downes syndrome - 16 in 100; type 1 diabetics -11 in 100.

There are also now a number of studies suggesting that depression, anxiety and schizophrenia may be clinical manifestations of coeliac disease and that it should always be considered in these psychiatric disorders. Patients who have not improved with psychiatric or drug therapy often do so when gluten is withdrawn from the diet.

Dr Braly finished by pointing out that there is now a finger-prick home test for coeliac disease (check Biocard at www.coeliactest.co.uk 0870 777 9404) and that a digestive enzyme therapy was being trialed.

Dr Braly also gave a talk on the protocols used at the Bridging the Gaps clinic in Virginia (USA) where biochemical interventions care ombined with psychotherapy in the treatment of addiction.

He suggested that addiction is primarily a brain disease that involves malnutrition, disrupted brain chemistry and abnormal brain cell membranes, and that all addicts are poorly nourished.

Addiction relapse rates on conventional treatments are very high - 70-85%. Dr Braly suggests this is because they are still suffering from the underlying problems, many of which are related to nutrient malnutrition.

Addicts share a biochemical profile with those on the austistic spectrum and those with other inflammatory conditions such as depression, insomnia etc: essential fatty acid deficiency/imbalance, gluten sensitivity, low cholesterol levels and micronutrient deficiency.

Bridging the Gaps’ treatment of addicts includes initial intravenous nutritional support that arrests withdrawal symptoms, followed by lots of good and tasty food, further nutritional testing and support plus psychotherapy, yoga, meditation, social interaction etc.
For more information check www.bridgingthegaps.com

Niacin & schizophrenia
Dr Abram Hoffer was unable to attend the conference in person but he sent a video presentation detailing his 50 years’ experience of successfully treating schizophrenia with niacin (vitamin B3).
His comparison of the biochemistry of hallucinogenic drugs and of schizophrenic patients suggested that supplementation with niacin might prevent the conversion of adrenaline into the hallucogen adrenachrome.

In his first trials in 1952 with 8 schizophrenic patients who had failed to respond to any other treatment he used 1gm of niacin (combined with vitamin C to prevent oxidation) three times a day. This has remained the basis of his treatment since, although he has subsequently added vitamin B6, zinc and essential fatty acids.

Dr Hoffer also emphasised the vital importance of including hope in the treatment he offers his patients - with whom he always discusses what they will do when they get better - not if.

Orthomolecular approach
Dr Bradford Weeks from near Seattle is a great admirer of both Dr Hoffer himself and his approach. Dr Weeks runs a clinic specialising in the treatment of schizophrenia and manic depression.

His first concern is to assess underlying biochemical imbalances that create illnesses and pain. He then uses nutrition to correct these imbalances. However, he sees a healthy lifestyle as essential ingredient underpinning any treatment that he may suggest.

He believes (with Steiner) that the primary origins of mental illness lie in the organs and that this cannot be changed. As long as the person remains nutritionally supported they will be fine, but they will always remain vulnerable. More information from www.weeksmd.com

Glucose tolerance & memory
Professor David Benton, professor of psychology at the University of Swansea, looked at the relationship between glucose tolerance and memory.

He suggested that poor glucose tolerance leads to poor memory and that slowing the speed of release of glucose into the bloodstream by combining it with either fat or fibre could improve memory function.

Huntington’s & EPA
Professor Basant Puri from Hammersmith Hospital in London described his work with essential fatty acids and Huntington’s Chorea. Huntington’s is a genetic disorder for which there is neither treatment nor cure. It causes progressive damage to the brain, loss of mental faculties and death within 20 years.

In 2002 Dr Puri conducted a trial with seven patients with advanced Huntington’s using supplements of EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid). After six months the patients’ oral facial symptoms were significantly improved while MRI scanning also showed significant recovery in the structure of the brain.

Further trials are already under way. You can find the report of this trial at www.neurology.org/cgi/collection/huntingtons_disease

Alzheimers & homocysteine
Professor David Smith from Lady Margaret Hall, Oxford and head of the Oxford Project to Investigate Memory and Aging (OPTIMA) outlined the projected rise in cases of dementia worldwide: currently an alarming 4.6 million; projected to rise to 114 million by 2050.

He then looked at the 77 cross- sectional and 33 prospective studies that have shown associations between raised homocysteine levels and/or low vitamin B status. Although no causal link has yet been established it seems that raised homocysteine is toxic to blood vessels and nerve cells and inhibits the methylation that is essential for neurotransmitter and enzyme activity, stability of myelin and gene expression - all essential brain activities.

Professor Smith called for large- scale randomised trials of B vitamins as a means of preventing at least a proportion of dementia worldwide.
More information from www.medsci.ox.ac.uk/optima


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First Published in 2006

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