IS IT FOOD OR THE ENVIRONMENT THAT CONTRIBUTES TO CHRONIC MENTAL ILLNESS?

Certain foods and contaminants in the environment may contribute to the onset of chronic mental heath issues.

The ecologic approach to understanding mental illness shifts the focus towards food and environmental contaminants and their effects on mental health. This approach considers frequent exposure to either environmental chemicals or foods as a contributing factor in the development of chronic mental illness, particularly depression. Disruptions in mental health may initially manifest as a minor physical or systemic disturbance, like a constant headache, before turning into a full-blown mental illness. For example, the author cites the case of a woman who complained of headaches and fatigue before experiencing a depressive psychotic reaction that was attributed to an adverse reaction to coffee and sugar beets.

The role of food in chronic mental illness

In order to fully understand the relationship between food and mental illness, being able to distinguish the role of chemical additives and food contaminants from that of food items per se is primordial in establishing a clear cause-effect relationship. For example, certain foods that are chemically treated like fruits and vegetable can trigger an adverse reaction manifesting itself in a clinical form.

In addition, the food items that are often triggers of localized or systemic adverse reactions are those that are consumed on a regular basis, such as coffee, corn, wheat milk, etc. The author of the paper particularly highlights the effects of cereals, which when consumed in large quantity can provoke an excitatory reaction in the nervous system and other biological systems.

Exposure to environmental pollutants and mental health

Equally important is the major contribution of air pollutants to mental illness. Specifically, the author emphasizes that indoor air contaminants are a frequent cause of chronic illness in susceptible individuals. The usual suspects of air contamination are odors and fumes arising from leaking gas or from its combustion, but various odorous household materials such as disinfectants, insecticide, paint, bedding and upholstery are also potential contaminants. They are particularly pernicious as they are rarely suspected as causing or maintaining a chronic illness. For instance, there are reports of depression and advanced psychotic states as a result of daily exposures to hydrocarbon.

Furthermore, the susceptible person may be able to adapt physically to frequent exposure to those contaminants (foods and/or environment) and thus appear healthy, while they simultaneously develop mental troubles manifesting as irritability, hyperactivity or even addiction, such as frequent alcohol consumption turning into alcoholism.

For example, the author details the case of an 8 year-old boy whose short attention span, hyperactivity and defiant-behavior were attributed to the presence of a gas-fired hot air furnace. Upon removal of the gas heater, his symptoms subsided. Another striking case is that of a 12 year-old boy who exhibited similar symptoms until it was discovered that they were actually the manifestation of a severe reaction to eating oranges, which he consumed on a regular basis.

Yasmina Rebani Lee

Reference:

Randolph, Theron G. (1974). Demonstrable role of foods and environmental chemicals in mental illness. Jap. J. Allergology, 23 (7): 445-457.

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