by Jurriaan Plesman, BA(Psych), Post Grad Dip Clinical Nutrition
The Hypoglycemic Health Assocation of Australia
First of all, let me say that "mental Illness" is a misnomer, because it literally means an "Illness of the Mind", suggesting that the cause of the illness is cognitive, whereas in fact the mind is merely the victim of an underlying metabolic disorder. In other words people tend to confuse symptoms with causes.
If the body is unable to manufacture feel good neurotransmitters because of some flaw in one's unique biochemistry we are said to have a "mental illness". The manufacture of neurotransmitters is a very complex matter requiring hundreds of nutrients, enzymes and co-enzymes, vitamins and minerals and micro-minerals to convert nutritional forerunners such as tryptophan in to serotonin. Therefore, it is not always easy to pinpoint the flaw in the actual conversion. Many people rely on single nutritional or herbal remedies to rectify nature's short coming. This is a practice not dissimilar used by psychiatrists when prescribing pharmaceutical agents to treat mood disorders. Like AD medications they often act as a palliatives which do not necessarily address the "causes" of mood disorders. In fact it has been shown AD medications are fairly ineffective in treating mood disorders, leaving about 60% of patients with "treatment resistant depression" (Source).
This problem has also been discussed in: Hit or Miss Supplements for Depression
There are many diseases associated with mood disorder such as hypothyroidism (in type 4 hypoglycemia) and various digestive disorders, interfering with the proper absorption of essential nutrients.
What is often overlooked is that in order for the body to convert one set of molecules into another set of molecules - such as the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin - it needs a disproportionate amount of biological energy called ATP to energize the biochemical machinery to activate the biochemical conversion. This energy is derived mainly from carbohydrates (glucose) (as well as from protein and fats to a lesser extent). If there is a biochemical abnormality in the production of adenosine triphosphate (ATP), the mitochondria of cells and especially brain cells are unable to provide the necessary energy to produce feel good neurotransmitters. An active cell requires more than two million molecules of ATP per second to drive its biochemical machinery. (Hale, 66) see also Notes.
A major flaw in energy production is insulin resistance, which if not attended to may lead to full-blown diabetes. The pre-diabetic stage of development is known as the hypoglycemic syndrome, a condition that is not as yet recognized by conventional medicine. It appears to be an unnamed medical condition well recognized by nutritional therapists. Dr George Samra of Kogarah (Australia) has designed a test to test the presence of hypoglycemia as distinct from the conventional test for diabetes. He is able to test for 6 different types of hypoglycemia. See: Testing for Hypoglycemia.
Most people with mood disorders have been found to be hypoglycemic according to Dr George Samra's test. Of course, this does not mean that hypoglycemia is the ONLY factor to be considered and many other diagnosable factors play an major role in mood disorders.
For instance, it has been found that Schizophrenics and Bipolar patients usually benefit greatly by going on a hypoglycemic diet as a first step in treatment. Combining the hypoglycemic diet with other remedies may help Bipolar people. See: Treatment of Bipolar Disorder
For an overall view of nutritional treatment centering around hypoglycemia and psychotherapy, see: Self-Help Personal Program which should be considered as a kind of "first-aid" program, to be discussed with a Nutritional Doctor, Clinical Nutritionist or a Nutritional Psychologist.