Although you might be under lockdown, you are still allowed to go to the supermarket to buy food. The following information might help in terms of making healthier choices on what foods to buy.

When we are under high stress, we can often reach for foods that are “comforting” (like cookies, donuts, cake, pastries, and chocolate bars), but these foods may not be the best choice for feeding your brain under stressful and demanding circumstances. Comfort foods are often calorie-rich but nutrient-poor.

Further, under high stress (and it doesn’t actually matter what has caused the high stress, whether it be a natural disaster like an earthquake or fire, or witnessing something really traumatic or being stressed because of financial and health uncertainty), the reactions our body goes through can be quite similar. We release adrenaline. This is part of our natural alarm response system.

Adrenaline is an essential neurotransmitter that is released as part of the fight-flight response. It enables our body to get us to safety, shut down non-essential functions, and make sure the muscles needed for flight or flight get activated. Cortisol, a hormone, is also essential for the alarm system to function optimally.

Unfortunately, over extended periods of time, the alarm system can go into over-drive, and this is one factor that can lead to re-experiencing memories, flashbacks, hypervigilance, being on edge all the time, feeling anxious and panicky when reminded of the traumatic event, struggling with sleeping and having nightmares.

Making neurotransmitters (like dopamine or serotonin) and hormones (like cortisol) requires micronutrients, which are numerous kinds of vitamins and minerals. This is a well-established scientific fact. Micronutrients like zinc, calcium, magnesium, iron, and niacin are all essential for making neurotransmitter chemicals for the brain and the body. If your body is depleted of these nutrients, then either it won’t have sufficient nutrients to make these essential chemicals, or it will redirect all resources to the fight-flight response (as it is so vital for survival) and there won’t be much left for ensuring optimal brain function to do things like concentrate, regulate moods and sleep.

Consequently, as micronutrients get depleted at a high rate during times of stress, we need to replenish them in greater quantity from our food (and perhaps other sources).

Where can we get these micronutrients from?

Answer: Nutrient-dense foods; real food, not ultra-processed foods.

Compare a banana to a cookie; one obtains far more of these micronutrients (like potassium, magnesium, folate) that are required for brain function from a banana. Eating kale chips over potato chips would also provide more nutrients. Reaching for a carrot stick and dipping it in hummus would be better for your brain than gorging down a commercial meat pie (although meat pies can be healthy if they contain lots of vegetables too). Choosing nuts and seeds over pretzels would also give you better brain food.

Overall, to cope well with stress your goal should be to increase intake of plant food and food high in nutrient density while still getting adequate protein, fats and carbs. Fish is a great source of protein and of essential fatty acids, which are also vital for brain function. In eating these types of foods, you would be shifting your diet from a Western type of diet (ultra-processed, high in sugar) to a Mediterranean-style diet (high in fruits and veggies, fish, nuts, healthy fats and low in processed foods).

Therefore, stop counting calories and start focussing on nutrients, especially nutrients that are good for your brain!

Would this be sufficient to sooth the over activated alarm system in a situation of high and chronic stress? Possibly, although some people might need more nutrients than what they can get out of their diet, even if it is a healthy one. There are many reasons for this, some of which reflect reduced nutrient density in modern foods, some of which are due to our own specific genetic make-up, and some have to do with the health of our microbiome (the millions of helpful bacteria that live inside us, especially in our gut).

If you do need to consume more nutrients than what you can source from your diet, or you are struggling with cooking due to your particular circumstances and the stresses you are experiencing, or you are time poor because of family or work demands, what do you take in terms of a supplement? Research from the Mental Health and Nutrition Lab in Christchurch, NZ found that following the Christchurch earthquakes as well as other research on stressed communities shows that B vitamins in particular can be helpful. A recently published meta-analysis confirmed the positive effect of B vitamins on reducing stress. In addition, some may find reduction of intrusive thoughts require additional minerals as well.

Basic tips

  1. Start with whole foods diet approach including good fats, nuts, seeds, fish, modest amount of meat, vegetables, fruit, whole grains
  2. Shifting towards eating “real” as opposed to processed foods naturally eliminates unnecessary food additives such as artificial colors, flavors, sweeteners and preservatives that do not add nutritional value and may contribute to psychiatric symptoms in some people
  3. Limit sugar intake (sugar is everywhere in processed foods, energy/fizzy drinks – look at labels to spot the hidden sugar)
  4. Watch caffeine and alcohol intake doesn’t creep up
  5. Eat a good solid nutrient-dense breakfast: e.g., omelette with vegetables, muesli (oats, nuts, raisins) with milk, yogurt, fresh fruit
  6. Aim for 80:20. That is mostly real food but still enjoy treats! And when you do, savour them!

Being in lockdown for some might mean having a lot of extra time on your hands. Maybe take the opportunity to try new recipes, learn what to do with chick peas or how to cook beans, make bread, yogurt or cheese, But overall focus on what you can control. And when it all gets a bit too much, focus on your breath. It is amazing what a few deep breaths, slowly inhaling, holding and exhaling, can do to calm the mind.

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Interview with Annett Oehlschläger, author of the book “You can eat stability?!“

After listening to a talk given by Miss Oehlschläger at a conference on bipolar disorder in 2019, and learning how she, as an affected person herself, manages her disorder, I decided to conduct this interview with her to stress the importance of a solid knowledge about one’s disorder, but also about body processes and nutrition. This interview had been conducted in German and translated to English.

Miss Oehlschläger, after living with the diagnosis of a bipolar disorder for many years, you wrote a book named “Stabilität kann man essen?!“ (“You can eat stability?!“) What made you write this book?

Simply speaking: There hasn’t been a book yet which investigated what effect nutrition, exercise, biological rhythm, sleep, and light have on mood and energy fluctuations. During my literature research I was surprised at first that there were so many connections, and I grew angry because I had never heard about this during my psychiatric treatment. It was my wish that other affected people learn about these connections. This was the reason to write this book.

Who is the book written for and what could be reasons to read it?

So first and foremost, it is written for those who are affected by a bipolar disorder, that’s why it is called “Steps for Self-Management”. But it could also be worth reading for people who don’t get along with psychotropic drugs and for people with other psychiatric disorders than those of the bipolar spectrum.

What does “bipolar pilot” exactly mean?

When I created my website, I was looking for a catchy term and while doing this I actually found the term “pilot.” Even though it has nothing to do with the disorder at all at first sight, it is very suitable. A pilot is someone who is helping a non-local to find the right way and that is how I understand my offer. Everybody has to take the journey on his or her own, I can only accompany a part of it. I make an offer and show how to live self-determined and as autonomously as possible with the disorder. With me as an example, I show how to become an expert of my own disorder. I am there for upcoming questions and I offer my experience and my advice.

Would you say that the book is also worth reading for people without a bipolar disorder or for relatives of people with a bipolar disorder or for people with another mental or psychiatric disorder?

Yes, I’d say so. I have been told several times that my explanations are focused on bipolar disorder, but that many connections are shown that basically affect everyone. Everybody has to eat and everybody wants to stay healthy. The things I’m describing don´t only have to do with the bipolar disorder, but also with how to keep the body healthy, and how close body and mind are connected.

In your experience, how do nutrition and psyche relate to each other?

It has always bothered me that the psyche and the body were perceived as something independent and separate from each other. All materials that our body needs, except oxygen, come into our body via food and drinks, and then the body builds it‘s substances from it and produces the necessary energy. Conversely, what I do not ingest and what the body cannot produce itself, or what it cannot process, cannot be built into the cells. My conviction is that the way people eat plays an important role in all chronic diseases, including bipolar disorder. For people with mental disorders the following relation is important: Emotions and thoughts don’t just materialize out of nowhere. They are built in the brain using amino acids and are controlled by messenger substances. This is quite a complex procedure, but it just doesn’t work right without the necessary raw material. Everybody might have already experienced the feeling of well-being after having eaten something sweet, like chocolate. Here, the connection is obvious. To rephrase a saying by Feuerbach: You are not only what you eat, you also feel according to what you have eaten.

Why is the realization that psyche and nutrition are so strongly connected not widespread and an integral part of every therapy or medical consultation?

I often asked myself the same question while I was reading the books. I asked two doctors who helped me with the diet change. One of them is an internist and environmental physician from Rostock, Germany, and he told me that medical students do not learn this. The focus is rather on the treatment of symptoms, mainly using medication. And I have experienced nothing different in psychiatry, symptoms are treated with medication. The vast potential of biochemistry and orthomolecular medicine remains unused. I find this quite regrettable. Additionally, there are guidelines that are set up by professional societies, and each doctor has to treat according to these guidelines. And then, there is also the healthcare system which is growing more and more specialized. This brings certain advantages, no doubt. But especially when it comes to the psyche, in my opinion, you need a holistic approach to sustainably help an affected person.

In your experience, what do exercise and sleep have to do with the psyche in addition to diet?

This has something to do with a human beings’ system, which has evolved over thousands of years. We are adapted to our environment and living conditions that have evolved only very slowly over the thousands of years. The so-called modern progress over the last 200 years brought so many fundamental changes in our living conditions we are not adapted to – yet. Sensitive people react with disturbances in their system. Bipolar disorder is one of them. A basic element of our living condition was regular exercise. The human being is made for walking and not for sitting. The saying “sitting is the new smoking” states that a lack of exercise is similarly unhealthy as smoking is. When we walk, we release endorphins. These are happiness hormones and pain killers, which made it possible for mankind to run long distances. If you move, you brighten up. I find this a very easy way to lift your mood, you just have to get up and do it.

Further, chronobiology has found out that it is important for our well-being to stick to biological rhythms. If you act against these rhythms you risk affecting your health, i.e., sleeping disorders. This is a common symptom of bipolar disorder and other mental conditions. The sleep-wake-cycle is an important pacemaker, such as sunlight. It is not irrelevant when you eat or sleep when you work or regenerate. Regularity stabilizes. Mental stability can be achieved by living according to these rhythms. I do live according to these principles.

And if we are going to be more practically now, what would you say, which food should one eat?

Of course, all of the food I need for a good mood. These foods have to provide all the 47 substances that each body necessarily needs in order to stay healthy: 10 amino acids, omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids, 13 vitamins and 22 minerals and trace elements.

However, we don’t eat single substances but complex food. So by selecting my food, this is what I do: If I am aware that drive and mood are dependent on amino acids, then the logical conclusion is that I eat food that contains these. Proteins are built from amino acids. Enhancing your protein intake doesn’t necessarily mean eating more meat. Fish, eggs, and legumes contain protein as well.

Further, many processes in my body require enzymes, co-enzymes and co-factors: This is where vitamins, minerals and trace elements come into play. They are needed so that the substances eaten can be absorbed by the body, and also by the brain. If I know that, then I am aware that I have to eat food that provides these substances – these are mainly vegetables, nuts, seeds, and fruit.

Going shopping at the supermarket, I often get the impression that these foods only account for a small proportion of the vast offer. More dominant are sugar-sweetened beverages, alcohol, packed and conserved foods, bread, bakery products, and candy. We are constantly exposed to these temptations. If you want to eat according to what your brain needs, you can stick to these easy advices:

Don’t consume sweetened beverages, which also include fruit juice and smoothies, because they contain large amounts of sugars. These simple sugars are mood killers.

Don’t buy processed food. You will recognize processed food mainly because it is packaged and contains a lot of food additives. If there are many different ingredients on the list, chances are quite high that there are additives in it that nobody really needs. Their true serving is to make the product either more tasty – using salt, sugar, flavor enhancers, emulsifiers, and the like, or to enhance shelf life by preservative agents or antioxidants, or to make the product more appealing by adding colorants.

The issue with these unnecessary additives is that they harm the gut – in some people more, in some people less. This can lead to a reduced ability to absorb the substances needed, on the one hand, and on the other hand it can happen that the gut gets leaky and unwanted substances can enter the body. This can also lead to sickness. Both affects drive and mood.

Simply speaking, for a good mood and drive I need foods that are as natural as possible, regionally produced, seasonally, and preferably organic. A large part of my nutrition comes from these foods. If I stick to these principles, I take care of a good basis for mental stability.

And what about fat?

Fat is an essential substance, too. We could not survive without fat. If you consider that 60% of our brain’s dry matter is composed of fat, that each cell in our body is coated by a double lipid layer, then one can hardly comprehend this fat phobia which has been going on for many years.

However, there is fat that is beneficial for mood and drive, and there is fat that is unfavorable for the psyche. For thinking, we need a properly functioning of signal conduction in the brain. Our feelings are influenced by our thoughts and the other way round, both are a product of our brain. Both affect our behavior – all of which are very complex processes of the brain.

The cells build those fats into their cell walls that the person ingests. For the membranes to be fluid enough they need a certain composition of fatty acids. Here, the synergy between vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA play a crucial role. Vitamin D is needed when neurotransmitters are built, and EPA makes sure that the cell membrane is fluid enough so that the neurotransmitter can be spilled into the synaptic cleft. DHA takes care that the receptor at the post synapse can pick up the signal to be transmitted. This is why I take specific care to take up at least 2 grams of fish oil every day.

Would you say that nutrition ultimately plays a greater role than psychotropic drugs in improving the disease?

From my point of view, in an acute crisis, psychotropic drugs are a blessing. I am convinced that I would not be alive anymore today if I hadn’t received medication.

But what’s bugging me is constant medication. I, too, have been told that I have to take psychotropic medication all my life. I have a different point of view today. To stay stable permanently, I only need medication as long until my body is strong enough to stabilize my psyche.

This is a long-lasting, exhausting, and also pricy process. Not everybody manages that. This is why it might be that somebody still needs to take psychotropic medication.

A diet that provides all the substances my body needs adds considerately to strengthen the overall health and also the immune system. That way, one improves one’s overall quality of life, not only the mental stability. In this sense, nutrition plays a bigger role.

Can an improvement of the disorder solely occur through nutrition?

Bipolar disorder is a serious mental disorder with many causes. Stress plays a pivotal role, my reaction towards it just as well, just as my core beliefs. A sole change in diet can’t change anything about that, it takes psychotherapy and psychoeducation. However, I can influence my vulnerability towards stressors through my diet. For example, a certain level of magnesium is important for being able to relax and to stand above things. Magnesium is also called “salt of inner peace”, and for a reason.

Further, the effect of my diet on my mood is influenced by the origin of my food, and what it contains or doesn’t contain anymore. Take selenium for example. This is very important for the thyroid gland and, by the way, enhances your mood. Through the last ice age, it has been washed out of the ground here in Germany. So if I eat local products, they contain less selenium than food from the US, for example.

If I measure my blood composition and see that I lack a certain substance that I can’t properly ingest via my food, I go for food supplements. I don’t manage to get all the nutrients I need through the food I eat.

But an improvement of the mental disorder depends on many more factors. Nutrition is the most important part, in my opinion, because only through nutrition I get the raw material for the production of neurotransmitters. No drug can achieve that.

To clarify which components are important for a good mood and drive, I like to use the metaphor of a jigsaw puzzle, just as in my book. Only when all the pieces are in place, I get a coherent image – that of mental stability. Which pieces I need are quite specific. But it’s worth it to find that out. My puzzle pieces were psychotropic drugs, psychotherapy and psychoeducation at first. Today I don’t need these components anymore. But other factors play a role now: nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress management, self-care, and a meaningful occupation. And also, regular measurements of blood levels to identify imbalances or low levels of substances at an early stage and being able to react promptly. These are my puzzle pieces for stability, so it’s not nutrition alone.

You have already mentioned the keyword “dietary supplements.” Which dietary supplements should one take, or should you take any at all?

Sometimes I get the impression that when it comes to the topic of food supplements, it is often about opinions and factoids rather than scientific facts. Often it is stated that supplements are unnecessary if you eat healthily because then you get everything you need. Or that supplements have a beneficial effect only for the producers. I have believed such statements for a long time before I started having my blood levels measured. My level of vitamin D had been so low I basically didn’t have any of it in my blood. The level of magnesium had been below the reference value, B vitamins had been at the lower level, not to talk about zinc and selenium, and the overall level of protein had been way too low. And at that stage I had been eating healthily, or I had assumed that my nutrition is healthy and contains everything I need. So there had to be something wrong here, or what was the reason for these results?

Today I know that certain essential substances are not available in our food in adequate amounts – or not anymore. Take selenium for example. It is even more dramatically regarding vitamin D. This can be built by the skin, so technically it is not really a vitamin. Experts, such as Prof. Holick from the US, call it a prohormone, because it is associated with more than a thousand of metabolic processes, and more than 2000 of our 23000 genes depend on vitamin D directly or indirectly. Because of the degree of latitude we live in regarding Germany, between October and April the sun is so low we can’t build vitamin D at all. The angle of the sunbeams is below 45 degrees, and so the UVB part of the sunlight doesn’t reach our skin. However, vitamin D reservoirs are depleted after 4 months, so even after I have built up enough vitamin D during the summer it won’t help me get through the winter. Vitamin D is very important for the mood. Once you experience what a difference it makes if you refill such a lack of a substance you stop believing those depreciative statements, even if they come from a doctor.

My recovery started with heightening my vitamin D level. It was at 7ng/ml and today I make sure it stays around 60-70ng/ml. Since I don’t build it appropriately through sun exposure or food I take supplements. So I supplement what I don’t get otherwise if I see that I’m lacking it.

On the other hand, it’s no use just to take anything just because somebody told me it’s good for me. Everybody has his or her individual metabolism. If two persons eat the same food, blood levels can differ. So supplements are very helpful if they are taken specifically and for a purpose.

People with mood fluctuations or mental issues should know their level of vitamin D, especially if they take psychotropic drugs because these drugs deplete the body’s vitamin D reservoirs. B vitamins are vital because they enable the building of serotonin, the happiness hormone, from tryptophane. B vitamins act as co-factors here; this is why I recommend eating a handful of nuts every day because they are full of B vitamins.

It also needs omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, iron, zinc, but describing this here would go too far. But I am describing this in my book in detail.

As a last question, which message do you definitely want to transmit to the readers with this interview? Everybody should be worth it him- or herself to stabilize oneself by following a healthy diet. For me, measuring my blood levels is part of it, so really going to the lab to have your status determined and when you add supplements to your diet, to see what happens. And I am convinced that if you fill up such deficiencies, then everyone will experience his or her own miracle, just as I have experienced it. Because nobody believed that one can become psychologically stable by just a change in diet. Even “only” an improvement of the quality of life is an achievement in my opinion. I know enough sufferers who take psychotropic drugs, but still take dietary supplements such as omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D because they improve their life situation. And that is actually what we want, isn’t it?

Miss Oehlschläger, we that you very much for this interview!

About the author: Annett Oehlschläger has been diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder when she was 47 years old. She has been solely occupied with this disorder for eight years and has been to psychiatric hospitals 24 times during these years. Through psychotropic medication and many hours of psychotherapy, the bipolar phases got shorter and the dose of medication could be reduced – however, Miss Oehlschläger still didn’t really become mentally stable. She set out to search for alternatives. Through a diet and lifestyle change and by tackling her vitamin and mineral deficiencies she has been managing to become stable for six years now. This made her write a book called „Stabilität kann man essen?!“ (“You can eat stability?!” – available in German) which has been sold more than 3000 times so far.

About the interviewer: Anne Siegl, PhD is a psychologist and neuroscientist at Klinik für Psychiatrie, Psychosomatik und Psychotherapie Universitätsklinikum, Frankfurt am Main, Germany. She is researching effects of nutrition on psychological well-being.

This interview has been conducted and translated together with Laura Müller, B.Sc. Laura Friederike Müller, B.Sc., is a Student of Psychology at the Fresenius University of applied Sciences in Frankfurt am Main. At the time of the interview she has been doing an internship in the Eat2beNice project group at the Dept. of Psychiatry, Psychosomatic Medicine and Psychotherapy, Frankfurt, studying the effects of nutrition and lifestyle on mental health.

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To investigate whether nutrition plays a role in inhibitory control and executive functioning early in life, we collected data on behavior using different tasks (see previous blog). To perform these tasks, we choose to visit the children at home with the aim 1) to burden the families less, and 2) to test the children in their home environments where they are probably more at ease. Testing 3-year-old children is very fun a

October 1

nd can also be challenging at the same time. I will share some anecdotes and experiences of my data collection as inspiration for others testing young children.

Attention
Some tasks had lengthy instructions and required the child to perform several practice trials, resulting in the child losing his/her attention. The sequence of the tasks was constructed in such a way that the child’s attention was maintained as long as possible. For example, the tasks that required more attention, focus and instructions were performed first.

Sometimes children said to be not in the mood to play anymore, or that they didn’t know what to do despite passing the practice trials. Repeating the rules is not possible, because it means that some children will receive more instructions than other children. I solved this problem by telling the child that he/she would be rewarded if he/she finished the task. Rewards could be a fun game they can play next, or some snacks that the parents agreed to giving.

Parents
Parents sometimes tended to help their child. To prevent this, it is very important to instruct the parents not to help their child. Another way to prevent the parent from helping is to keep them busy by having them fill in a questionnaire, or to turn to the child and say things like: “are you a bit nervous because Mum is looking?” Sentences as these work very well, as you are not telling the parent directly what to do, but they understand the hint immediately.

Siblings
Toddlers often have siblings; sometimes younger siblings and sometimes older siblings. If possible, parents are asked to arrange the situation this way that the siblings are not at home and/or are asleep. When not possible, an assistant accompanying the experimenter can take care of the siblings, for example by taking the sibling outside and play soccer in the neighborhood. Everything for science!

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Mens sana in corpore sano – healthy mind and healthy body

Food insecurity – defined as an individual or household lacking access to sufficient, safe, and nutritious food that meets individuals’ dietary needs – has been linked to children’s behavioral, academic, and emotional problems and an increased risk of the development of mental health disorders [1, 2].

In a Canadian study on food insecurity in young children, researchers found that children from food-insecure families were disproportionately likely to experience persistent symptoms of hyperactivity and inattention. These results were still true after controlling for immigrant status, family structure, maternal age at child’s birth, family income, maternal and paternal education, prenatal tobacco exposure, maternal and paternal depression and negative parenting [3].

Accordingly, a systematic review on food insecurity and attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) symptoms in children reported a predictive and inverse relationship between the two, with possible lasting impacts into adulthood. Authors concluded that evidence exists to hypothesize that childhood food insecurity is associated with predisposing or exacerbating ADHD symptoms in children [4].

In 2017 Dr. Raju, President of the Indian Psychiatric Society concluded in a speech on medical nutrition in mental health and disorders that there is growing evidence for a relationship between quality of diet and mental health. According to Raju, the importance of nutrients as important agents for prevention, treatment, or augmentation of treatment for mental disorders has been established. “Empathic interactions and rational nutrition along with specific pharmacological and physical interventions could form an ideal and humane patient-friendly package in psychiatric practice” [5].

Therefore, identifying families in risk of food insecurity and getting children and adolescents the best possible food supply could result in fewer children with ADHD symptoms.

REFERENCES:

  1. Althoff, R.R., M. Ametti, and F. Bertmann, The role of food insecurity in developmental psychopathology. Prev Med, 2016. 92: p. 106-109.
  2. Shankar, P., R. Chung, and D.A. Frank, Association of Food Insecurity with Children’s Behavioral, Emotional, and Academic Outcomes: A Systematic Review. J Dev Behav Pediatr, 2017. 38(2): p. 135-150.
  3. Melchior, M., et al., Food insecurity and children’s mental health: a prospective birth cohort study. PLoS One, 2012. 7(12): p. e52615.
  4. Lu, S., et al., The Relationship between Food Insecurity and Symptoms of Attention-Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder in Children: A Summary of the Literature. Nutrients, 2019. 11(3).
  5. Raju, M., Medical nutrition in mental health and disorders. Indian J Psychiatry, 2017. 59(2): p. 143-148.
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Rates of obesity and metabolic diseases are rapidly growing, and much attention is paid to study the effects of consumed foods on human health. We know already that dietary preferences can be a serious factor of diseases and even a cause of them, in a man. However, we do not know molecular and cellular mechanisms behind these effects. Thus, we do not know how these negative processes can be neutralized or diminished by preventive or curative interventions. As such mechanistic studies are needed.

These studies can be in principle carried out in vitro or in vivo. Food consumption and consumed nutrients affects both the brain and a periphery. Another words, these processes are systemic and involve a lot of interplay mechanisms. Consequently, in vitro approach has very limited potential to achieve research goal with studies on diets. For example, the use of a tissue from peripheral organs or brain, cell cultures or even mini-organs would not help to understand systemic mechanism.

With in vivo approach, human studies cannot help to understand the mechanisms and they exclude any interventions. The remaining solution then is the use of animal models – of course, in compliance with the three R’s principle1 (reduction, refinement, replacement). “Replacement” defines the choice of the object: to use the lowest phylogenetic ordered animal possible, when it’s impossible to use in vitro methodology or a non-animal model, to address a given scientific question.

The most commonly used animal in nutritional research is a mouse. Are mice perfect organisms to model dietary-induced disorders?

Like us, humans, mice are omnivore mammals, and almost all the genes in mice share functions with the genes in humans. In comparison to other mammals, mice have small size of the body (3000 times smaller than a human), and genetically identical mice (like human monozygotic twins) are available for experimental use. Basal metabolic rate per gram of body weight is 7 times greater in mice than in humans which speeds up the development of diet-induced disease. Because of the rapid generation and short life cycle (about 2 years) mice are used to study the effects of maternal diet in the offspring and model diet role in aging processes. Mice display complex behaviours, including social interactions, cognitive functions and emotionality, that are similar to human features.

The use of mice in nutritional research offers a unique tool: possibility to study the role of a given gene using genetic modification. Generation of mutant mice is well established in comparison with other mammalian species. Many genetically modified mouse models were developed over the years, including knockout mice in which genetic material is deleted, mice carrying additional genetic material or “humanized” models expressing human genes.

Numerous mouse models were generated to use in nutrition research. Probably the most popular model in diet research is diet-induced obesity model (DIO model)2 in which animal is fed high-fat or high-density diets – to mimic the most common cause of obesity in humans. Changes seen in DIO mice are remarkably consistent with those seen in obese patients. DIO mice are used to investigate mechanisms of obesity development and novel medication screening.

Another prominent example of a model in nutrition research is the ob/ob mouse3. Due to a mutation in hormone leptin these mice display severe obesity, insulin resistance and dyslipidemia. Studies performed on this model revealed new aspects of hypothalamus role in human energy metabolism.

Mouse model plays its role in development of anti-obesity and anti-diabetic medication. Information about the receptors and hormones that regulate food intake and energy balance can be used to choose a target for a new drug. For example, mice lacking serotonin 5-HT2C receptor were found to exhibit mild obesity and type 2 diabetes4, suggesting the role of this receptor in regulation of food intake. Recently appetite reducing drug (lorcaserin), 5-HT2C receptor agonist, was developed.

However, there are certain limitations in translating discoveries from mouse models to humans in nutrition research. There are clear differences in feeding patterns, nutrient metabolism and hormone control between humans and mice. In case those aspects are key features of the study, another available model could be used.

No model is perfectly mimicking all aspects of human disease. It is likely that better new models will be developed in the nearest future to study the human conditions not adequately replicated in mouse models. But for now, mouse model is a useful tool in studying dietary-induced diseases and it plays an important role in translational research and advancement of human health.

REFERENCES

  1. Tannenbaum, J. & Bennett, B. T. Russell and Burch’s 3Rs then and now: the need for clarity in definition and purpose. J. Am. Assoc. Lab. Anim. Sci. 54, 120–32 (2015).
  2. Hariri, N. & Thibault, L. High-fat diet-induced obesity in animal models. Nutr. Res. Rev. 23, 270–299 (2010).
  3. Ingalls, A. M., Dickie, M. M. & Snell, G. D. Obese, a new mutation in the house mouse. J. Hered. 41, 317–318 (1950).
  4. Tecott, L. H. et al. Eating disorder and epilepsy in mice lacking 5-HT2C serotonin receptors. Nature 374, 542–546 (1995).
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Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder with an estimated prevalence rate of 5.3% among children and of about 2.5% among adults. It is characterized by a persistent pattern of inattention and/or hyperactivity-impulsivity, being associated with significant impairment of social, academic, and occupational functioning across the lifespan.

However, despite many efforts, the exact etiology of ADHD still remains unknown and data about modificable risk and protective factors are largely lacking. Recent evidence has suggested an association between inflammation, immunological disturbances and ADHD. Supporting this idea, an increased incidence of immune-mediated disorders (e.g. asthma, allergic rhinitis, atopic dermatitis, allergic conjunctivitis, psoriasis, thyrotoxicosis or type 1 diabetes) accompanied by elevated serum/plasma and cerebrospinal levels of inflammatory markers (especially interleukin (IL)-6) or auto-antibody levels (e.g. antibasal ganglia antibodies, antibodies against the dopamine transporter) have been found in these patients.

Importantly, recent studies have shown the gut flora as an important immunoregulator (1-3) and it is hypothesized that an imbalance in the gut microbiota (dysbiosis) may have a negative effect on cerebral development and behavior (4). About 95% of all circulating serotonin, dopamine or noradrenaline precursors are produced by our gut microbiota, being this ‘enteric nervous system’ bidirectional connected to the central nervous system through hormonal or immune/inflammatory pathways.

In line with this, recent findings suggest that some aliments as probiotics can not only revert dysbiosis, but also modulate brain neurodevelopment, activity and improve cognition, mood and behavior due to their immunoregulatory and anti-inflammatory properties (5-7).

Therefore, understanding the microbiota and how the gut connects to the brain would be important both for the better comprehension of the biological bases that underlie some psychiatric disorders such as ADHD, as for the future development of new evidenced-based drugs for these conditions.

This was co-authored by Josep Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, MD PhD psychiatrist and Head of Department of Psychiatry at Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona, Spain. He is also professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

REFERENCES:

1. Felix KM, Tahsin S, Wu HJ. Host-microbiota interplay in mediating immune disorders. Ann N Y Acad Sci. 2018; 1417(1):57-70.

2. Yadav SK, Boppana S, Ito N, Mindur JE, Mathay MT, Patel A, et al. Gut dysbiosis breaks immunological tolerance toward the central nervous system during young adulthood. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A.2017; 114(44): E9318-27.

3. Mandl T, Marsal J, Olsson P, Ohlsson B, Andreasson K. Severe intestinal dysbiosis is prevalent in primary Sjögren’s syndrome and is associated with systemic disease activity. Arthritis Res Ther.2017;19(1):237.

4. Rogers GB, Keating DJ, Young RL, Wong ML, Licinio J, Wesselingh S. From gut dysbiosis to altered brain function and mental illness: mechanisms and pathways. Mol Psychiatry. 2016; 21(6):738-48.

5. Slykerman RF, Kang J, Van Zyl N, Barthow C, Wickens K, Stanley T, et al. Effect of early probiotic supplementation on childhood cognition, behavior and mood. A randomized, placebo-controlled trial. Acta Paediatr.2018; 107(12):2172-78.

6. Kane L, Kinzel J. The effects of probiotics on mood and emotion. JAAPA. 2018; 31(5):1-3.

7. Mayer EA. Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication. Nat Rev Neurosci.2011;12(8):453-66

 

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The food choices we make, how much we exercise and the amount of body fat we have affects our health already at a young age. Although seemingly healthy, our metabolism might tell a different story. This can already be seen at a young age.

The Estonian Children Personality Behaviour and Health Study (ECPBHS) started 20 years ago in 1998 and has since measured the participants’ body composition and assessed their metabolic abnormalities, such as insulin resistance and metabolic syndrome, at ages 15, 18, 25 and 33 years.

Insulin resistance is a state in which the body does not respond to normal levels of insulin efficiently, eventually causing a rise in blood sugar levels. It has been proposed that insulin resistance has a role in the development of several metabolic abnormalities what we know as metabolic syndrome1. These metabolic abnormalities include a large waistline (abdominal obesity), high levels of certain types of fat in the blood called triglycerides, a low level of HDL cholesterol, high blood pressure or usage of blood pressure medication and elevated fasting blood sugar levels or type 2 diabetes diagnosis2.

We have found that already at age 25, individuals who consumed more than 300 milligrams of cholesterol per day and had more than 4 hours of screen time were at higher risk of components of metabolic syndrome3. Insulin resistance was associated with male gender3,4, overweight and obesity, low physical activity levels and the consumption of lipids above the recommended daily energy intake*4. Individuals who consumed carbohydrates below the recommended daily energy intake*, were less likely to be insulin resistant. Already at age 25, insulin resistant individuals had higher serum cholesterol, lower HDL cholesterol, and higher triglyceride levels, fasting blood sugar and insulin levels. People who were overweight also had 4 times higher odds of insulin resistance and being obese increased the odds 12 times if compared to normal weight individuals4. From 15 to 25 years the occurrence of components of metabolic syndrome increased rapidly. At age 15 years 18% of participants had one or more metabolic abnormality and by age 25 years the number had doubled, whereas 5% already had metabolic syndrome.3 Individuals who were insulin resistant were more likely to have metabolic syndrome.4

Insulin resistance and the metabolic syndrome are risk factors for type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease later in life1. As we observed, one fifth of the adolescents already have at least one metabolic abnormality and the number of components of metabolic syndrome increases from adolescence to young adulthood. That is why it is important that healthy lifestyle habits should be introduced and encouraged already in early childhood. Although young people may seem to be healthy, the first signs of developing metabolic abnormalities may already be there.

*According to the Estonian nutrition and physical activity recommendations (2015), the recommended consumption of macronutrients from daily energy intake (E%) is as following: proteins 10–20%, lipids 25–35%, carbohydrates 50–60%5.

Written by:
Urmeli Joost, MSc is a PhD student at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of Tartu, Estonia. Her main focus of research is the genetic, environmental and behavioural factors in obesity, dyslipidemia and glucose metabolism.

Inga Villa, MD, PhD is a Lecturer in Health Promotion at the Institute of Family Medicine and Public Health, University of Tartu, Estonia. Her main focus of research is nutrition, physical activity and sociocultural factors on health status and body composition.

REFERENCES
1. Xu, H., Li, X., Adams, H., Kubena, K. & Guo, S. Etiology of Metabolic Syndrome and Dietary Intervention. Int J Mol Sci 20, (2018).

2. Alberti, K. G. M. M. et al. Harmonizing the metabolic syndrome: a joint interim statement of the International Diabetes Federation Task Force on Epidemiology and Prevention; National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute; American Heart Association; World Heart Federation; International Atherosclerosis Society; and International Association for the Study of Obesity. Circulation 120, 1640–1645 (2009).

3. Taimur, T. Metaboolse sündroomi komponentide levimus ja seosed toitumisega noorukieast täiskasvanueani. Tartu: Tartu Ülikooli peremeditsiini ja rahvatervishoiu instituut; 2018.

4. Joost U. Insuliinresistentsuse seosed elustiiliharjumustega noortel täiskasvanutel Eestis [masters thesis]. Tartu: Tartu Ülikooli tervishoiu instituut; 2015.

5. Pitsi, et al. Eesti toitumis- ja liikumissoovitused 2015. Tervise Arengu Instituut. Tallinn, 2017.

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Whenever I ask my patients, if they are eating their “5 a day”, the immediate answer is “Yes, sure”. However, sometimes I´m not sure if their “Yes, sure” belongs to their real eating behavior or if it is more like wishful thinking. This question applies for a broad range of behavior, like taking the stairs instead of the elevator, having enough sleep, walking the 10.000 steps a day etc.. But how can we be sure what people really do in their everyday life?

The answer is: Ambulatory Assessment

Ambulatory Assessment is the state of the art method for assessing current emotional states, feelings, and behavior in the natural environment of an individual’s everyday life. Equipped with smartphones and accelerometers, it is feasible to track how individuals feel at specific moments, what they are eating across a day and how they physically behave in real time and real life. Electronic e-diaries, provided by an App, prompt individuals whenever an event occur or randomly several times a day. Especially in patient groups with attention deficits, prompting short questionnaires several times a day show better recall than an extensive end-of-day questionnaire.

In the past, food-diaries were based on unhandy and retrospective paper-pencil-questionnaires or computer input. Nowadays, new technological opportunities pave the way to e-food-diaries on smartphones, enabling an immediate and flexible input capability. The design of e-food-diary-apps may be different, i.e., by photos, drop-down-menu, text, or voice records. Important is the documentation of what and how much the participants eat and drink and a database that can be connected to an international or national food code for data analysis.

In the Eat2beNICE research project, we assess food intake every time participants eat or drink by a drop-down-menu that leads from general to very detailed food-items and asks for general meal portions and amounts every time participants eat and drink across the day. If a participant cannot find a particular food-item, he or she has the opportunity to enter a free text message or to record a voice message. If participants forget to enter some foods and drinks across the day, they will receive a reminder in the evening to add forgotten items. This procedure enables very accurate tracking of participant’s food intake in our study.

To sum up, thanks to modern technology we can now accurately measure what a person feels, does and eats throughout the day. Of course, the design of an e-food-diary on the smartphone depends on the projects’- and samples’ requirements. Overall, it has to be easy to use, easy to implement in daily life and to be fun for the participants to obtain a high level of compliance and a high-quality database.

REFERENCES:
Ebner-Priemer, U. W., & Trull, T. J. (2009). Ambulatory Assessment: An Innovative and Promising Approach for Clinical Psychology. European Psychologist, 14, 109–119. https://doi.org/10.1027/1016-9040.14.2.109.

Engel, S. G., Crosby, Ross, Thomas, G., Bond, D., Lavender, J. M., Mason, T., . . . Wonderlich, Stephen. (2016). Ecological Momentary Assessment in Eating Disorder and Obesity Research: a Review of the Recent Literature. Current Psychiatry Reports, 18, 37. https://doi.org/10.1007/s11920-016-0672-7.

Fuller, N. R., Fong, M., Gerofi, J., Ferkh, F., Leung, C., Leung, L., . . . Caterson, I. D. (2017). Comparison of an electronic versus traditional food diary for assessing dietary intake-A validation study. Obesity Research & Clinical Practice, 11, 647–654. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.orcp.2017.04.001.

Smyth, J., Wonderlich, S., Crosby, R., Miltenberger, R., Mitchell, J., & Rorty, M. (2001). The use of ecological momentary assessment approaches in eating disorder research. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 30, 83–95.

Stein, K. F., & Corte, C. M. (2003). Ecologic momentary assessment of eating-disordered behaviors. The International Journal of Eating Disorders, 34, 349–360. https://doi.org/10.1002/eat.10194.

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Tips Against Overeating

Have you ever noticed that the type of food you eat can affect how you feel afterwards? Some food might make you wish to rest and relax, some food might give you the little extra energy you just needed. Evidence is accumulating that also in the long run, diet may play a pivotal role for your mental health. For example, it might have an effect on impulsive and compulsive behaviour [1].
But it’s not only the diet that affects our body, mind and brain – it’s also the amount of what we eat. Research shows that people don’t necessarily know what a suitable amount of food might be. Sure you can imagine that this can easily lead to obesity – which in turn can impair our general health.

A meta-analysis (that is, a study that investigates an effect among many independent studies that have been conducted so far) from 2018 came to the conclusion that serving size and the size of the tableware has an effect on the amount we eat: When offered larger-sized portions, packages or tableware, participants ate or drank more than when offered smaller-sized versions [2].

British nutritional scientists now developed a guideline for the British Nutrition Foundation (BNF) to help people estimate the suitable serving size. For example, they recommend that when having a pasta dish, you should take as much pasta for one person as fits into both of your hands (before cooking). A portion of fish or meat should be about half the size of your hand. However, this does not mean that when you eat more than one portion, you are an overeater.

According to their tipsheets, which can be found here,
https://www.nutrition.org.uk/healthyliving/find-your-balance/portionwise.html
one should compose his or her daily menu based on a mixture of different portions. For example, 3-4 portions of starchy carbohydrates (such as the above-mentioned pasta) are recommended daily. Their guidelines, however, offer a few handy (literally!) advises to help you get a sense of how much food you should consume, thus preventing you from overeating. With a few simple tips kept in mind, you can do some good for your physical and mental health, daily.

REFERENCES
[1] Sarris J, Logan AC, Akbaraly TN, Amminger GP, Balanzá-Martínez V, Freeman MP, et al. Nutritional medicine as mainstream in psychiatry. Lancet Psychiatry. 2015; 2(3):271-4.
View here:
https://www.thelancet.com/journals/lanpsy/article/PIIS2215-0366(14)00051-0/fulltext

[2] Hollands GJ, Shemilt I, Marteau TM, Jebb SA, Lewis HB, Wei Y, Higgins JPT,
Ogilvie D. Portion, package or tableware size for changing selection and consumption of food, alcohol and tobacco. Cochrane Database of Systematic
Reviews 2015, Issue 9. Art. No.: CD011045. DOI: 10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2
View here:
https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD011045.pub2/full

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We have talked before about how ADHD has been associated with obesity and the mechanisms implicated on it. I would like to explain more about this important subject so you can understand what dietary changes you can make to avoid the risk of weight gain. Most of the authors attribute the presence of obesity in ADHD individuals to disorder eating patterns, especially overeating, that means that these people are eating a higher amount of calories per day in comparison of individuals without ADHD. When a person consumes more calories or food than their body needs they start to gaining weight and this happens to all kind of people, I’m not talking only about those who have ADHD, and that becomes a health problem.

Nevertheless, there is a recent study that suggests that ADHD-obesity relationship was linked to unhealthy food choices, rather than overeating behavior (1). This means that ADHD individuals are eating the same amounts of calories per day as healthy ones, but their food choices are not good enough to meet the dietary recommendations and can lead to nutritional deficiencies that have been observed on these patients (2,3). These kinds of patients tend to eat more processed meat, unhealthy snacks, and refined cereals; instead of consuming healthy food choices like vegetables, fruits, whole grains, nuts, and fish.

We can suggest that this problem it may be due to the fact that there is a lack of information related to nutrition, so it is easy to get confused on which food products are healthy and which are not.

When you go to the supermarket, you will find a lot of food options that have a label that says “light” or “healthy,” and you may buy them without analyzing if they are genuinely healthy.

So the question is “how can you know if a product is healthy or not?”

First of all, you should opt to buy fresh products such as fruits, vegetables and fish (foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals needed to maintain our mental health in good shape). And avoid consuming fast, packaged or canned food because these kinds of products contain a lot of sodium, sugar, fat, preservatives, additives and components that in high amounts can lead to health issues.

Second, if you need to buy food products that are packaged or canned, you should be able to read and understand the nutritional information and ingredients before you buy them to be sure they are the healthiest options on the market.

Here I share an example on what to search on nutrition facts labels of food products to make the right selection.

For more information on how to understand and use the nutrition facts label you can visit: www.fda.gov/food/labelingnutrition/ucm274593.htm#see3

This was co-authored by Josep Antoni Ramos-Quiroga, MD PhD psychiatrist and Head of Department of Psychiatry at Hospital Universitari Vall d’Hebron in Barcelona, Spain. He is also a professor at Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona.

REFERENCES
1. Hershko S, Aronis A, Maeir A, Pollak Y. Dysfunctional Eating Patterns of Adults With Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder. J Nerv Ment Dis [Internet]. 2018;206(11):870–4.

2. Kotsi E, Kotsi E, Perrea DN. Vitamin D levels in children and adolescents with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD): a meta-analysis. Atten Defic Hyperact Disord [Internet]. Springer Vienna; 2018.

3. Landaas ET, Aarsland TIM, Ulvik A, Halmøy A, Ueland PM, Haavik J. Vitamin levels in adults with ADHD. Br J Psychiatry Open [Internet]. 2016;2(6):377–84.

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This project has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 728018

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