Friday, September 12, 2014

Nutrition for Mental Health of Students

(Excerpt from my research paper titled Bhagavad Gita and Nutrition for Mental Health of Students presented at the World Suicide Prevention Day's UGC Sponsored National Conference on "Educational Reforms and its Impact on Suicidal Ideation of Students organized by Smt. Binzani Mahila Mahavidyalaya, Nagpur, on Sept. 10-11, 2014)

The human body is a society of cells, composed of some hundred trillion cells. And today we know that, “All living cells that we know of on this planet are DNA software driven biological machines comprised of hundreds to thousands of protein robots coded for by the DNA software. The protein robots carry out precise biochemical functions developed by billions of years of evolutionary software changes.”[i]
An individual gets his life because of the cells living in his body. And the primary tasks of the cells are performed by their protein robots. If the nutrient molecules required to form these proteins are not available in the calls, the proteins cannot be formed, and the cells sicken or die. And if the cells sicken or die, the individual also sickens or dies. 

Proteins are all chains of amino acids linked together, and so can be formed only from the 20 amino acids found in nature, nine of which are the essential amino acids. So in order to prevent diseases and disorders – including mental disorders – it is important to ensure the formation of the proteins by including adequate amounts of at least the nine essential amino acids in our diet every day; a balanced diet must ensure the correct balance of the essential amino acids.

As most people are ignorant about the amino acids, educational institutions can begin conducting classes to educate students, especially those in Home Science Colleges, about the importance of amino acids – their exact daily requirements, their deficiency symptoms, and the foods in which the amino acids are found. 

The Amino Revolution by Robert Erdmann can serve as a good primer on amino acids. Gopalan’s Nutritive value of Indian foods, published by the National Institute of Nutrition, Hyderabad, gives us the amino acid contents of all Indian foods, but it is no longer in print. Educational institutions ought to make this book available to their students.

Nutrition for Mental Health

The ability to think clearly is vital for students. Clarity of perception and thoughts depends on us having normal or healthy states of consciousness like the wakeful and drowsy states. And when we cannot think clearly, our behavior also tends to become dysfunctional. So it is very important to ensure that our brain maintains the normal states of consciousness if we are to avoid behavioral problems and mental disorders – that is, psychiatric illnesses.

 Vander’s Human Physiology textbook says, “The components of the RAS (reticular activating system) that release norepinephrine, serotonin and acetylcholine are most involved in controlling the various states of consciousness.”[ii] When the nutrients needed to form these three neurotransmitters get depleted in the brain, the RAS cannot form and release these neurotransmitters, and we can develop altered states of consciousness. And Vander’s says, “These altered states are also characteristic of psychiatric illnesses.”[iii] So it is important that everyone knows the nutrients needed to form norepinephrine, serotonin and acetylcholine.

Acetylcholine (ACh) is synthesized from choline… Some ACh receptors respond not only to acetylcholine but to the drug nicotine, and have therefore come to be known as nicotinic receptorsone cholinergic system that employs nicotinic receptors plays a major role in attention, learning, and memory.
Dopamine, norepinephrine, and epinephrine (also known as adrenaline) all contain a catechol ring and an amine group; thus they are called catecholamines. The catecholamines are formed from the amino acid tyrosine… These neurotransmitters play essential roles in states of consciousness, mood, motivation, directed attention, movement, blood-pressure regulation, and hormone release.
“Serotonin is an important biogenic amine. It is produced from tryptophan, an essential amino acid… In addition to their contributions to motor activity and sleep, serotonergic pathways also function in the regulation of food intake, reproductive behavior, and emotional states such as mood and anxiety. Serotonin reuptake blockers are thought to aid in the treatment of depression.”[iv]

The essential nutrients choline, tyrosine and tryptophan are extremely important not only for ensuring healthy states of consciousness, but also for other vital needs of students. When choline gets depleted, acetylcholine cannot be formed in the body and the student’s attention, learning and memory suffer. And tryptophan deficiency can cause symptoms of raging emotions, anxiety and depression, – which is the primary cause of people attempting suicide – and also insomnia and overeating or obesity. 

Tyrosine’s deficiency symptoms are more disturbing, primarily because the catecholamines that it forms play an essential role in movement – our bodily activities, including behavior. And also because adrenaline, which is formed from tyrosine, gets secreted in the blood-stream during stress – for the activation of the body’s fight-or-flight stress response – and can quickly cause the depletion of tyrosine during chronic stress.

A person whose body is deficient in tyrosine can develop symptoms of blood pressure problems, attention deficits, loss of motivation, or pep, and disturbing moods. All these symptoms can be very agonizing and so, students often seek relief from their agony by experimenting with alcohol or psychoactive substances, often getting addicted to them. A few students seek relief from psychiatrists who often end up prescribing psychoactive substances as medication. 

But Vander’s says, “Virtually all psychoactive substances exert their actions either directly or indirectly by altering neurotransmitter-receptor interactions in the biogenic amine—particularly dopamine—pathways.”[vi] And once the drugs make the alterations in a person’s brain, the person is unable to lead a normal life without the use of drugs, leading to drug-dependence – addiction. 

I had been one of the toppers when I entered IIT Bombay in 1968. However, after taking the psychiatric drug dextroamphetamine for just a week or so during one of the IIT exams, I had got severely addicted to the drug, and remained a drug-addict until 1990. Today the same drug, dextroamphetamine (Dexedrine/Aderall), is being prescribed by doctors to children suffering from attention deficit (ADD/ADHD). 

To overcome the anxiety caused by stress, students often consume alcohol. But alcohol is a form of sugar/carbohydrate that requires niacin for its metabolism. And so in drinkers, niacin often gets depleted, causing tryptophan to get converted to niacin and get depleted. Thus consuming alcohol can also lead to depression. So, it is good idea to take Niacin – vitamin B3 – when drinking.
Bill W., the founder of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA), started suffering from severe depression in 1944 for over a decade. Bill finally found freedom from depression by taking large doses of niacin. And in 1968, Bill W wrote a paper giving the result of the clinical studies on niacin, showing that niacin is highly effective in treating Alcoholism, Schizophrenia, Heart Diseases and other problems. Orthomolecular Psychiatry professionals recommend taking niacin for the prevention of depression.

Indiscriminate prescribing of psychoactive medication by medical professionals must also be addressed. Medical professionals began prescribing opioid analgesics – painkillers – ever since Bayer started marketing Heroin in 1898 and psychiatrists, psychoactive substances since the 1950s. But the drugs they have been prescribing are so addictive that today America is facing a prescription-drug overdoses epidemic: “Since 2003, more overdose deaths have involved opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined.”
“We can no longer pretend that we are not aware. Regardless of what the disease is called, its root cause is still deficiency and toxicity. The typical convention methods of cut (surgery), burn (radiation), and poison (medication) have little effect as they do not address these issues.” – A.P.J. Abdul Kalam, The Family and the Nation (2008)

[i] What is Life? A 21st Century Perspective, Lecture by J Craig Venter:
[ii] Vander’s Human Physiology: Mechanism of Body Function, Eleventh Edition, McGraw-Hill 2008, page 236
[iii] Ibid., page 242
[iv] Ibid., page 167-168
[vi] Ibid., page 244