Nutrition And Mental Health

A few months ago I was introduced to a psychologist by the name of Carolyn Rogers and as a result of our mutual professional interests, we became friends quickly. You may be thinking what do nutrition and mental health have to do with each other?  Well actually quite a lot and Carolyn has both an interest and a broad knowledge of nutrition and its application in her particular field. This article is based on the conversations we shared when we recently caught up for lunch (at Paw Paw Café, Woolloongabba for those interested and yes it was tasty.)

Firstly, a bit about Carolyn. She has been a Psychologist for 16 ½ years and she has over 14 years’ experience working with clients to help them manage their weight. She was the Senior Consulting Psychologist for the Wesley Weight Management Clinic for five years and she continues to consult for a Bariatric Surgeon.  Bariatric surgery includes a variety of procedures that reduce the size of the stomach (or remove a portion of the stomach) including lap bands, gastric sleeves and gastric bypassing in order to prompt rapid weight loss by reducing appetite and portion sizes. I will add that prior to studying Psychology, Carolyn was a Registered Nurse for many years so her experience and involvement in healthcare and the medical community is extensive. From her many years of experience working with patients who are overweight, Carolyn has made some interesting observations.

Firstly, Carolyn feels very strongly that weight problems are usually physiological as opposed to psychological. She certainly does not take the viewpoint that her clients should simply exercise greater willpower by eating less and moving more. This realisation was founded many years ago when Carolyn was counselling clients who were placed on a low calorie, liquid diet. She observed that whilst many did lose weight initially they were mostly unable to keep it off. Others, despite following the program accurately, plateaued quickly and weight loss stalled. This prompted Carolyn to look into the work of Gary Taubes, author of Good Calories Bad Calories and Why We Get Fat which opened up a whole new perspective on weight management. These books in a nutshell, attempt to bury the low fat, high carbohydrate message for weight management and good health. They closely examine the role that insulin plays in the regulation of fat storage and the addictive effects of excessive carbohydrate. Carolyn has immersed herself into books and research articles about this topic ever since. She is particularly interested in the capabilities of sugar (fructose in particular) as a highjacker of the appetite suppressing hormones as well as the role that insulin resistance plays in obesity. She believes that the inclusion of good fats and protein and some degree of carbohydrate restriction is critical for long term weight management. In her experience, both binge eating and emotional eating is easier to overcome on a lower carbohydrate high fat diet, which is in fact the opposite of what most weight loss plans and shakes revolve around.

Further to this, Carolyn has an in depth knowledge of specific nutrients and the role these play in behaviour and emotion. In Nutritional Medicine studies, we are very concerned with the role of specific nutrients and the affect that deficiencies may have so it’s always great to meet other allied health professionals who recognise this. Some of the nutrients and herbs that Carolyn is particularly passionate about are outlined below:

  • Magnesium: we are aware that magnesium is involved in over 300 chemical reactions within the human body. Nutritionists will use magnesium in therapeutic combinations and dosages to treat irregular sleep patterns, stress, anxiety, high blood pressure and muscle pain to name just a few. Carolyn encourages all of her clients to take magnesium, particularly those that are highly stressed with poor sleep patterns.
  • Rhodiola: this is a herb that’s available in concentrated capsule form and studies have shown that it may be effective for stress management, mental fatigue and even exercise endurance. This article here discussed the merits of Rhodiola compared with the anti-depressant Zoloft for mild depressive disorder.
  • Zinc: studies have revealed that serum zinc levels tend to be much lower in subjects with mild to moderate depression as discussed by this psychologist here. Zinc together with B6 are essential supplements for those who suffer from Pyroluria, a condition where there is an abnormality in haemoglobin synthesis resulting in mood swings, anxiety and depression.
  • Vitamin D: the oh so important but too often overlooked vitamin D. Adequate vitamin D is critical for mental health. Carolyn prescribes ‘adequate sleep, moderate play in the sunshine and a healthy diet’ to maintain D levels and encourages supplementation to obtain optimal levels if necessary.

Finally, but perhaps most importantly Carolyn is passionate about gut health and the gut / brain connection. The gut is where everything happens. Even a perfect diet is useless if the gut is not healthy because unhealthy microbiome cannot synthesise nutrients. Fact: there is more serotonin produced in the gut than in the brain. Read more about our ‘second brain’ here.

On a final note, Carolyn states that mental health is about looking at the entire person and treating all aspects of the body, mind and the environment. Much the same as our outlook in Nutritional Medicine. It is important that no one point in this article is taken out of context and you must realise that this is general information only, not individual prescription. You need to work with suitably qualified health professionals in order to ascertain a treatment path for you, specific to your condition and your own body. This article was produced by me to once again emphasise the importance that nutrition plays as the foundation of good health and the true power of food especially in concentrated and complementary formulas.  This article is not intended to simplify any 1 health issue or provide a blanket solution. Refining diet and addressing nutritional deficiencies, just like psychology is a long term strategy and requires commitment from both practitioner and client. If you would like to discuss your needs please book in here. You can find out more about Carolyn Rogers at her website and I am sure I will share more about her in future articles.

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