According to the food and agriculture organization, about 1 billion people in the world were living in hunger or insecurity in the year 2010 (1). Additionally, 5 to 15 % of people in industrial countries experience food insecurity which makes it all the more a public health concern in Europe (2).

But, what exactly is food insecurity about?

Food insecurity means that the access to sufficient food, meeting the dietary and cultural needs and the individual food preferences for a healthy and active life is not possible. It is not only a lack of food, what`s more, is the feeling that the preferred food supply is not available or may be threatened in the future, which has, in turn, an effect on the eating behavior. That means even if food is sufficient, people may be food insecure, but not necessarily undernourished. Two risk groups are students, who do not have the money for buying their preferred food, and refugees, who can´t buy their traditional food in their new home towns. Food insecurity can result in a reduction on micro-and macronutrition intake. Macronutrients are large food components that the body needs to maintain its metabolism; it includes lipids (fats), sugars (carbohydrates) and proteins. Micronutritions, like vitamins, minerals (such as calcium or magnesium), trace elements (such as iron and zinc), are essential because, without them, numerous normal functions such as growth or energy production could not take place.

Effects on mental health

Food insecurity is also found more often in families with low social economic status (4). Researchers have found that food insecurity caused an increase of depression and anxiety symptoms (3). Furthermore the uncertainty of having food in the future produced stress and created desperation and hopelessness in the families. They perceived the situation as shameful and resigned or used drugs and alcohol to compensate. In addition to this ,children from food insecure families were also more likely to develop symptoms of depression/ anxiety, aggression and hyperactivity/inattention (2). However, when you control for many demographical and psychological variables such as immigrant status, family structure and income and paternal depression, only increased impulsive behavior and inattention seem to be specifically linked to food insecurity Another factor is maternal mental health. It has been shown that food insecurity is especially bad for children’s development if the mother has additional mental health problems like depression, domestic violence and psychosis.

Further insights can be derived from Canadian students (5). Here are financial constraints a primary contributing factor. It represents a barrier because often students can´t afford to buy qualitative and expensive food. Another important factor is insufficient time because the effort to buy, prepare and cook healthy meals takes time and requires planning. It may also be the limited access to culturally appropriate food. This could be a barrier especially for people from other countries, who don´t have the opportunity to buy their traditional food and spices in local supermarkets. In urban areas, more exotic and international food supply is possible, due to the higher demand. The consequences for students were feelings of shame, frustration and loneliness. Some have felt socially isolated, and in general the food insecurity was associated with high psychological stress. Nonetheless the students in the reports believed that the situation is temporary and that after university life gets better in terms of food quantity and quality. For now they accepted the current situation.

So overall, food insecurity may occur in different social classes, with different reasons and effects of varying intensity. It`s interesting to see that it can occur in developing countries and rich countries, and that it can have an influence on whole families and children of food insecure families and students. More studies about people with cultural issues (e.g. refugees) are needed.

So, if you have the chance:

Buy the food you prefer and take time for preparing your meal,                      to live your life as healthy as you want it to be!

REFERENCES

(1) Cole, S. M.; Gelson, T. (2011). The effect of food insecurity on mental health: Panel evidence from rural Zambia. Social Science & Medicine. 73 (7)1071-1079.

(2) Melchior M.; Chastang J.- F.; Falissard B.; Galera, C.; Tremblay, R.E.; Cote, S.M., Boivin, M. (2012). Food insecurity and children’s mental health: a prospective birth cohort study. PLoS One 7 (12).

(3) Weaver, L. J.; Hadley. C. (2009) Moving Beyond Hunger and Nutrition: A Systematic Review of the Evidence Linking Food Insecurity and Mental Health in Developing Countries, Ecology of Food and Nutrition, 48(4), 263-284.

(4) Melchior, M.; Caspi, A.; Howard, L.M.; Ambler, A.P.; Bolton, H.; Mountain, N; Moffitt, T.E. (2009) Mental health context of food insecurity: a representative cohort of families with young children. Pediatrics, 124 (4).

(5) Hattangadi, N.; Vogel, E.; Carroll, L. J.; Cote, T. (2019). “Everybody I Know Is Always Hungry…But Nobody Asks Why”: University Students, Food Insecurity and Mental Health. Sustainability. 11 (6).

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Yoga practice has become very popular in the last two centuries. In most western countries, yoga studios are booming. For example, Dutch practitioners are said to spent 325 million euros per year on yoga classes, clothes and events.

In scientific research, yoga and its beneficial effects on physical and mental health, have also become a serious topic of interest. In a previous post, Hannah Kurts had already outlined the positive effects of yoga for several psychiatric disorders (https://newbrainnutrition.com/how-to-help-mental-health-with-yoga/)

Recently, the effects of yoga on cognitive performance and behavioral problems in 5-year old children have been examined. A group of Tunisian researchers offered 5-year old children in kindergarten a 12-week yoga program, regular physical education, or no kind of physical activities.

They found that this kind of kindergarten-based yoga practice, had significant positive effects on visual attention, visuo-motor precision and symptoms of hyperactivity and impulsivity, in comparison to regular physical activities or no physical activities [1].

One might wonder: Quiet and peaceful yoga exercises with a bunch of energetic 5-year olds? How would that even work?

The yoga they offered in this project was a 30-minute routine, instead of a more regular 90-min session: 5 minutes of warming up, doing jogging, jumping, stretching. Next, 15 minutes of the well-known yoga postures, standing, sitting, flexing. Next, 5 minutes of breathing techniques and lastly, 5 minutes of yogic games, to train memory, awareness and creativity. And they practiced only twice a week.

It seems very promising that such a curtailed version of yoga practice can have positive effects on attention, executive functions, and behavioral control, which are all skills that are vital to good academic performance [2][3].

In some European and North-American countries, the idea of school-based yoga practice isn’t so revolutionary anymore. France, Italy, Brazil, and Canada have recognized yoga practice in its school curriculum. Italy seems to be the school-yoga champion: Classroom-based yoga is performed in all Italian schools since 2000 [4].

REFERENCES
[1] Jarraya S, Wagner M, Jarraya M and Engel FA (2019) 12 Weeks of Kindergarten-Based Yoga Practice Increases Visual Attention, Visual-Motor Precision and Decreases Behavior of Inattention and Hyperactivity in 5-Year-Old Children. Front. Psychol. 10:796. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.00796

[2] Chaya, M. S., Nagendra, H., Selvam, S., Kurpad, A., and Srinivasan, K. (2012). Effect of yoga on cognitive abilities in schoolchildren from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background: a randomized controlled study. J. Altern. Complement. Med. 18, 1161–1167. doi: 10.1089/acm. 2011.0579

[3] Verma, A., Uddhav, S., Ghanshyam Thakur, S., Devarao, D., Ranjit, K., and Bhogal, S. (2014). The effect of yoga practices on cognitive development in rural residential school children in India. Natl. J. Lab. Med. 3, 15–19.

[4] Flak, M. (2003). Recherche Sur Le Yoga Dans L’éducation. 3ème Millénaire: Spiritualité – Connaissance De Soi – Non-Dualité – Méditation, 125. Available at: http://www.rye-yoga.fr/ (accessed July 15, 2018).

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Recently, I participated in the Radboud Talks 2019, a scientific pitch competition, where I was lucky to be one of the eight finalists.

Why Radboud Talks? It is a perfect opportunity to share my work/ideas with the world and to gain more experience regarding presentation skills. They organized two workshops beforehand, where I had the opportunity to learn presentation techniques from professionals (actors and science communication advisors). We also received a lot of feedback, so I really learned a lot about how to present my scientific work to a general audience.

Below you can find the video from the preliminaries based on which I was chosen as a finalist. There you can hear about my research project which is about gut bacteria and their potential role in ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder). ADHD is a common worldwide neurodevelopmental disorder. Every person with ADHD has a unique combination of symptoms and challenges. Importantly, it has a significant social impact on patients’ lives, causing disruption at school, work and relationships. Despite its societal importance, progress in understanding disease biology has been slow.

 

The study of the human microbiome has become a very popular topic, because of their revealed importance in human physiology and health maintenance. Numerous studies have reported that gut bacteria may have an effect on our mental health. Some studies showed a potential role of gut bacteria in a psychiatric disorder like depression, autism or Parkinson (1). Above all, diet showed to have a profound effect of ADHD symptoms. This was earlier described in this blog: https://newbrainnutrition.com/investigating-the-effects-of-a-dietary-intervention-in-adhd-on-the-brain/ and we know that diet is one of the main factors influencing gut bacteria. Taking all together, I am curious (and investigating) if gut bacteria play a role in ADHD and if yes what kind of effect do they have on ADHD symptoms.

REFERENCES:
Bastiaanssen, T., Cowan, C., Claesson, M. J., Dinan, T. G., & Cryan, J. F. (2018). Making Sense of … the Microbiome in Psychiatry. The international journal of neuropsychopharmacology22(1), 37–52. doi:10.1093/ijnp/pyy067

 

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A little while ago, this blog featured an entry by Annick Bosch on the TRACE study, an amazing intervention study using the Elimination Diet to treat ADHD in kids (https://newbrainnutrition.com/adhd-and-elimination-diet/). Very shortly summarized, the Elimination Diet entails that participants can only eat a very restricted set of foodstuffs for several weeks, which can greatly reduce the number of ADHD symptoms in some kids. Subsequently, new foodstuffs are added back into the diet one by one, all the time checking that ADHD symptoms do not return. This ensures that every child for which the Elimination Diet proves successful ends up with a unique diet which suppresses their ADHD symptoms.

Now this is a fascinating study, since it indicates a direct influence of diet on ADHD behavior. What we know from the neurobiology of ADHD, is that it is caused by a myriad of relatively small changes in the structure, connectivity and functioning of several brain networks 1. For the most common treatments of ADHD, like medication with methylphenidate 2, we can quite accurately see the changes these interventions have on brain functioning. However, for the Elimination Diet, this has not been studied before at all. This is why we are now starting with the TRACE-MRI study, where kids that participate in a diet intervention in the TRACE program, are also asked to join for two sessions in an MRI scanner. Once before the start of the diet, and once again after 5 weeks, when the strictest phase of the Elimination Diet concludes. In the MRI scanner, we will look at the structure of the brain, at the connectivity of the brain, and at the functioning of the brain using two short psychological tasks. We made a short vlog detailing the experience of some of our first volunteers for this MRI session.

 

 

With the addition of this MRI session, we hope to be able to see the changes in brain structure and function over the first 5 weeks of the diet intervention. This will help us establish a solid biological foundation of how diet can influence the brain in general, and ADHD symptoms specifically. It can also show us if the effect of the Elimination Diet is found in the same brain networks and systems which respond to medication treatment. And lastly, we can see if there is a difference in the brains for those participants for whom the diet has a strong effect versus those where the diet does little or nothing to improve their ADHD symptoms. This can then help us identify for which people a dietary intervention would be a good alternative to standard treatment.

We will update you on the TRACE-MRI study and on the developments in this field right here on this blog!

 

REFERENCES
Faraone, S. V et al. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder ­­­. Nat. Rev. Dis. Prim. 1, (2015).

Konrad, K., Neufang, S., Fink, G. R. & Herpertz-Dahlmann, B. Long-term effects of methylphenidate on neural networks associated with executive attention in children with ADHD: results from a longitudinal functional MRI study. J. Am. Acad. Child Adolesc. Psychiatry 46, 1633–41 (2007).

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When Alice’s mother first contacted our team to get more information on the dietary intervention at New Brain Nutrition, she mentioned that her daughter seems to be on edge all the time. On a typical day, Alice would be triggered easily over seemingly small things and stay upset for a long time. She told us that these emotional problems caused not only very strained and cheerless moments on the weekends and evenings, they also interfered notably with Alice’s social life. In between her angry or sad moments, Alice seems to be a perfectly happy and energetic 11-year old. Alice’s attention problems didn’t obstruct a healthy didactic development since she started ADHD-medication. However, the emotional problems were still present and seemed to cause severe impairment in social interactions, within the family and with peers. Therefore, her mother asked: Could we please try a dietary intervention to see if Alice’s nutrition may play a role in these problems?

Faraone[1] distinguishes two features in these kind of emotional problems: Emotional Impulsivity and Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation. Some children may experience explosive anger but also recover quickly from it. These children experience high Emotional Impulsivity but low Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation. Alice however, based on her mother’s narrative, seems to experience both high Emotional Impulsivity and high Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation.

The second week into the Elimination Diet treatment, the researcher checks in with the family: She’s still edgy and irritable for most of the time, her mother says, but she seems to break out of it a whole lot sooner. The other day her brother Daniel came home, telling Alice he ate lots of non-elimination diet snacks at his friend’s house. Understandably, Alice became upset but it didn’t last as long as her parents expected. In other words: The Emotional Impulsivity hadn’t decreased yet, but the Deficient Emotional Self-Regulation had.

By the end of the first 5 weeks of the dietary intervention, Alice’s parents reported a convincing decrease in emotion regulation problems. The teacher also reported that the attention problems had stabilized, as much as they did with the ADHD-medication that Alice had before. The family decided to continue the Elimination Diet and start with the re-introduction phase. Every two weeks a new product was re-introduced to see if this may elicit symptoms. This was probably the most interesting period for the family, as emotion regulation problems and attention problems arose and subsided over different phases.

After one year, Alice and her family had figured out a set of foods that, when eliminated from her diet, helped diminishing both the attention problems and emotional problems. Alice is less responsive to emotional triggers and more balanced during social interactions. Alice’s personalized diet or personalized nutrition is based on her experiences and symptoms during the dietary intervention. Her mother is very glad that they discovered this lifestyle intervention as an alternative to their previous treatment with ADHD-medication.

Writers note: This is the story of one individual participating in the New Brain Nutrition study. Evaluating the role of nutrition in treatment of mental health with scientific evidence is part of our future.

More information can be found in [1] Faraone S.V., Rostain A.L., Blader J., Busch B., Childress A.C., Connor D.F., & Newcorn J.H. (2018). Practitioner Review: Emotional dysregulation in attention‐deficit/hyperactivity disorder – implications for clinical recognition and intervention. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry. https://doi.org/10.1111/jcpp.12899

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In studies about treatment for children diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), it is important to use valid and reliable instruments to measure effects. A valid instrument can measure a difference in symptoms before and some time after the treatment has started. Usually questionnaires for parents and teachers are used.

In the TRACE project, currently running in the Netherlands, we are looking at the effectiveness of a dietary intervention versus care as usual, for children diagnosed with ADHD in the age group of 5-12 year old. In addition to the standard questionnaires, there is an observation instrument called the Disruptive Behavior Diagnostic Observation Schedule (DB-DOS). This instrument was added in the TRACE project as an objective measurement for changes in behavior.

DB-DOS, ADHDThe DB-DOS was originally developed to measure disruptive behavior disorders (DBD) in preschoolers1. This way, treatment effects are not only measured in an indirect way, through information of caregivers, but also in a direct observation in the clinical setting. However, the age range of the children in the TRACE project is different from the preschoolers the DB-DOS was originally intented for. That’s why the TRACE project added several tasks to the original DB-DOS, to make sure it elicits disruptive behaviours, as well as hyperactivity and impulsivity, and to make it suitable for older children. During the current trial we try to find out if the DB-DOS is also a valid measurement for older children, aged 5-12 years.

The DB-DOS uses three different interactional contexts: parent-child context, examiner-child context and parent-examiner-child context. Children will be asked to complete different tasks. Some are rather boring, or frustrating, to see if this may elicit attention problems, hyperactivity, impulsive behaviour or disruptive behaviors. The DB-DOS contains, for example, some tasks which can evoke anger or sadness and some tasks where children get the chance to cheat. The reaction of the child is observed from behind a one-way screen. The observation lasts about 60 minutes and afterwards the observed behavior is scored by the examiner through a coding system. With more evidence-based instruments, mental health problems can be targeted more efficiently and reliably.

Our final goal is earlier interventions which prevent mental health problems in these children getting more severe and spreading through other domains such as school, work, or social contacts.

We will keep you posted about the results of the DB-DOS in the TRACE project!

REFERENCE
1 Bunte, T. L., Laschen, S., Schoemaker, K., Hessen, D. J., Van der Heijden, P. G. M., & Matthys, W. (2013). Clinical Usefulness of Observational Assessment in the Diagnosis of DBD and ADHD in Preschoolers. Journal of Clinical Child & Adolescent Psychology, 42(6), p.p. 749-761.
http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/15374416.2013.773516

 

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