Diet Research Shows Connection to Mental Health
A recent study of mice, conducted at Purdue University by Joseph Gardner, provides new insights that could be associated with human behavior. It is not news that diet can have an impact on the severity of mental illness. This new study suggests that diet may actually cause mental illness.
Many doctors and psychiatrists typically pursue gathering data related to diet when they are in the process of finding a reason or diagnosis for a patient’s symptoms. There is a history of changing or modification of diet resulting in a reduction of abnormal behaviors in both animals and people. The new Purdue study actually suggests that some diets can be the cause of a mental illness or condition.
Mice, who had been bred to have a predisposition (or to be at risk ) for hair pulling, were given a diet that was high in sugar and a substance known as tryptophan; which is an essential amino acid. Tryptophan has to be absorbed into the body by eating food. Typical foods that contain tryptophan are chocolate, oats and bananas. When tryptophan is ingested into the body it has the potential of being turned into niacin, serotonin and auxin. Tryptophan is a common sleep aid when taken as a supplement.
Diet Research Study Goal
The goal of the study was to reduce the amount of abnormal hair pulling (trichotillomania) done by the at risk mice. Instead, the combination of sugar and Tryptophan increased the amount of abnormal hair pulling done by the already ill or predispositioned mice. The ill mice not only increased hair pulling behavior, but many also began self-injurious scratching. These symptoms were also seen in mice who had not been bred to have the abnormal hair pulling or self-injurious scratching behaviors.
As mentioned earlier, the mice included in the study had been bred to have a predisposition for hair pulling or trichotillomania and scratching. Trichotillomania is an impulse control disorder which is characterized by people pulling their hair out. Trichotillomania is most commonly seen in women and is believed to affect 2 to 4% of the population.
Diet Research Study Finding
It was Garner’s supposition that if he altered the diet of the mice in the study by simply increasing simple sugars and tryptophan that the sugars would cause a release of insulin. This then would cause muscles in the mice to absorb the insulin and other amino acids and allow tryptophan an opportunity to travel to the brain. The affect of the added sugars and tryptophan worked and more serotonin was produced by the brain. But, the barbering or hair pulling behavior got very, very much worse, not better. In addition, mice who did not have a genetic predisposition for hair pulling behavior began exhibiting the same symptoms as the mice that were ill.
Diet Study Questions to Ponder
There are several serious questions to be pondered and further studied resulting from Garner’s study: 1) how is diet affecting behavioral or mental illnesses such as autism, Tourette’s and skin picking and 2) what affect does the amazing increase in sugar consumption in the American diet have on abnormal behaviors and mental illnesses?
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