Reasons for this lamentable state of affairs could be found in the tremendous influence of the pharmaceutical companies and the persistent effects of the eugenics movement.
It is beneficial to profit-driven pharmaceutical companies if it is assumed that mental conditions are due to chemical imbalances or due to being genetically transmitted. The logical intervention that follows from such reasoning is that psychiatric drugs are the best cure.
The alleged genetic origin of psychological conditions limits understanding of mental health and the options available. Nevertheless, there is simply no convincing evidence of a genetic cause and no test for chemical imbalances exists. The obsession with genetic origins possibly exposes a lingering racism. Despite the human genome project, for instance, a diagnostic manual of the American Psychiatric Association (2000) still wonders if the discriminatory treatment given to people diagnosed with schizophrenia could be the result of ‘true differences among racial groups’. Perhaps the APA was trying to justify the fact that relatively more ‘black’ people are diagnosed with schizophrenia (or learning difficulties).
Affirming the specific role of nutrition in mental health counters such racism. Broadly, the nutrition approach also highlights the impact of social class and represents nothing less than a revolutionary approach to mental health.
ATTENTION DIFFICULTIES: This is the most common learning difficulty and relates to attention. Without the ability to direct one’s attention, the learning process becomes tricky and even impossible. The brain is the most sensitive organ in the body and consists of sixty per cent fat. Consequently, it requires specific nutrients to function optimally. The essential fatty acids are found in higher quantities in the brain and assist in the transmission of nerve impulses. A lack of it can give rise to impaired learning abilities.
Besides essential fatty acids, if one considers what type of diet most students have before going to school, it is hardly surprising that so many of them wrestle with attention problems. In the mornings, the blood-sugar level is usually low. Since fluctuations in blood-sugar level result in changes in concentration, energy and mood, it is crucial for the student to eat in such a way to balance this level.
The issue of blood-sugar level also demonstrates the tremendous disadvantage of undernourished and malnourished students in terms of the education process.
MENTALLY CHALLENGED: Eighty-five per cent of mentally challenged cases are usually of a mild nature. Ultimately, the nutritional status of the pregnant mother determines the development of the foetus’s brain, but the nutrition of the infant is also crucial to further growth.
Down Syndrome is regarded, in mainstream psychiatry, as the most frequent genetic cause of being mentally challenged. However, since there is only a one per cent chance of another Down Syndrome child with the same mother, it is indeed questionable that this syndrome could be genetically transmitted. It is more likely that it is caused by the lifestyle of the mother immediately before conception.
DEPRESSION: Depression is the common cold of the mental health field and a leading cause of the global disability burden. However, a chemical intervention does not make any sense. Neurons are not only located in the brain but also in the gut, which seems to function as a kind of second brain. For example, ninety per cent of the feel-good hormone (serotonin) is produced in the gut and biological functions such as the blood-sugar level are located there. This explains the success of a low-glucose diet, for instance, in countering depression.
SCHIZOPHRENIA: Significant resources are channeled into keeping these patients in psychiatric hospitals. However, the Canadian psychiatrist, Abram Hoffer, reported a ninety per cent recovery rate with the nutrition approach in the treatment of schizophrenia. Hoffer (2005) stated: “If you were to make sure that every child in Canada started eating flour that contained enough (vitamin) B-3, I suspect that schizophrenia would disappear … The main reason is Big Pharma. They’re pushing drugs. They certainly don’t want to sell vitamins, when there’s no patent on them … It’s absolutely terrible. I connect it to the fact that the medical schools don’t teach nutrition. Also, they’ve been taken over by Big Pharma.”
It should be noted that the remaining ten per cent of these patients are usually those who did not receive nutritional intervention within two years of the onset of schizophrenia. And it is also accepted today that the negative symptoms of schizophrenia can only be improved with a nutrition approach. So, the nutritional differences contribute to these so-called ‘racial differences’.
DECENT FOOD: Therefore another way of preventing mental illness is by providing people with decent food. Due to the unemployment crisis and the exorbitant food prices, however, most caregivers cannot afford nutritious food. In addition, the never-ending processing of food to increase profit, results in the constant decline of its nutritional quality. With the disaster of genetically modified foods in our midst, the worsening of the mental health situation should probably be expected.
In the short term, one solution is to make nutritious foods available free of charge to those most in need, such as special children, pregnant mothers and psychiatric patients. Mental health is also about the right to decent food.
*Shaun Whittaker is a mental health worker based in Windhoek.