Food for Thought

Are we really what we eat? There is a growing mountain of evidence supporting the theory of a brain-food connection.

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As I’m preparing a talk involving newborn nutrition for next week’s Pediatric Integrative Medicine Conference, I’m astounded by the number of articles in recent years detailing the effects of nutrition on mood and behavior.

It is nearly universally accepted now that essential fatty acids (i.e. omega-3’s) positively influence brain growth and development, especially with respect to the visual system. DHA is now added routinely to infant formulas and is recommended for pregnant women and breast-feeding moms. Certain foods have been found to worsen symptoms of autism in a subset of children, and many families find that a gluten-free, casein-free diet helps their children. Gluten, a wheat protein, has been implicated as a contributing factor in neurologic disease in those with celiac disease, and in some children with seizure disorders. Food colorings and preservatives have long been linked to symptoms of ADHD in children.

A recent JAMA article and an accompanying editorial document the impact of prenatal malnutrition on mental illness, as manifested in the rise in schizophrenia years after the Chinese famine of 1959-1961. The folic acid-neural tube defect story is old news now; the full effect of folate on the developing brain is only now being elucidated. Still, as a recent MMWR report notes, we could be doing a better job of providing all women with proper folate-enriched foods.

There is also, of course, the nourishment aspect of eating. We all need to be more mindful of not just what we eat, but how we eat. The “Slow Food” movement is gaining popularity, focusing on taking our time to enjoy locally-grown, “whole” foods. So in these busy times, let us all take a moment to think about the connection between eating and thinking.

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