Nutrition and Mental Health

Nutrition and Mental Health

Depression is one of the most common complaints heard in doctors’ offices. Millions are affected by feelings of unhappiness, worthlessness, guilt or indecision.

Depression is one of the most common complaints heard in doctors’ offices. Millions are affected by feelings of unhappiness, worthlessness, guilt or indecision.

by Dr. Larry Wilson —

Nutritional and lifestyle factors play a critical role in emotional as well as physical health. In fact, the root of many problems can be a nutritional imbalance. This article is a brief introduction to some major nutritional imbalances related to depression, anxiety and ADHD.

These include low cellular energy, impaired glandular activity, toxic metals, nutrient deficiencies, food and chemical allergies, low-protein diets and blood sugar imbalances. Eating habits and lifestyle factors such as lack of sleep also can produce behavioral symptoms.



Depression is one of the most common complaints heard in doctors’ offices. Millions are affected by feelings of unhappiness, worthlessness, guilt or indecision. Other symptoms include difficulty concentrating, change in appetite or sleep habits, loss of energy, interest or pleasure, drug or alcohol abuse and difficulty with interpersonal relationships. Many cases of depression disappear when people follow a nutritional balancing program.

Low energy and depression. Thousands of people today suffer from low cellular energy production. Many people simply do not rest enough or they take on too much. When a person is tired, decision-making, risk-taking, relationships and activities are far more difficult.

The brain and nervous system require lots of cellular energy. Dr. George Watson spent 30 years researching the biochemical and nutritional aspects of mental health. He began in the late 1940s during his post-doctoral research fellowship in psychology at the University of Southern California. He wrote “the brain and the nervous system use proportionately more energy than any other of the body’s organs. When there is a dysfunction in the (cellular) energy cycles, the first adverse effects are found in one’s thinking, feeling and behavior” (Watson, 1979).

We need energy to take risks, face challenges and live up to our potential. Large amounts of adaptive energy are required to cope with stress. When energy is low and other imbalances are present, the weakened chemistry fosters the negativity and discouragement that impede self-expression and self-actualization.

Toxic metals and depression. Low energy often is due to impaired adrenal and thyroid glandular activity. This is due to chronic nutritional depletion and, most importantly, the presence of toxic metals in the body. These metals replace vital minerals in which the body has become deficient.

The late Dr. Carl Pfeiffer, M.D., Ph.D., taught a generation of nutritionally oriented doctors about the importance of copper toxicity in causing feelings of depression. He discusses this in his book, Mental and Elemental Nutrients (1975). Mercury, lead, cadmium and other toxic metals can also contribute to symptoms of depression, anxiety, ADHD and other behavioral problems. This is well-documented in books such as Toxic Metal Syndrome by Casdorph and Walker (1995).

Fluoride is a very toxic element that unfortunately is added to toothpaste and to many city water supplies. Doris Rapp, M.D., in her book, Is This Your Child’s World?, discusses a 10-year-old girl who had been depressed for two years. During that period, she was taking fluoride tablets. Stopping the fluoride tablets and eliminating other exposure to fluoride in water, foods and toothpaste caused a dramatic improvement in her symptoms.


Anxiety and panic attacks

Nutritional and dietary factors often play a role in feelings of anxiety and panic. Some people with anxiety have low hair tissue levels of sedative minerals like calcium, magnesium or zinc. Adequate amounts are required for a balanced oxidation or metabolic rate. Deficiencies often result in feelings of anxiety and irritability and can lead to a fast metabolic rate.

People who are fast oxidizers require healthy fats or oils at every meal. Children, in particular, need fat in their diet for the development of their nervous systems. If they only eat carbohydrates, many become irritable and aggressive.

Calcium and magnesium act as psychological buffers that relax muscles and the nervous system and help calm people down. It is well known that phosphoric acid, an additive in many brands of soda, binds to calcium in the intestine to form an insoluble product that cannot be absorbed, thereby robbing the body of calcium. Most soda also contains caffeine, and many contain aspartame or Nutrasweet, all of which can contribute to anxiety.

Low protein in the diet can contribute to anxiety. The amino acids found in proteins are precursors for the major neurotransmitters including norepinephrine, serotonin, dopamine, acetylcholine and histamine (Slagle, 1987, p.67).

A precursor is a chemical used to make these neurotransmitters. For example, Carlson states in Physiology of Behavior (2004), “The precursor for the two major catecholamine neurotransmitters (dopamine and norepinephrine) is tyrosine, an essential amino acid that we must obtain from our diet.” Adequate high-quality protein is, therefore, most important for mental as well as physical health. Many people need digestive enzymes to help digest protein.

Toxic metals often contribute to anxiety and panic attacks. Copper imbalance stimulates the thyroid and some areas of the brain, causing anxiety and panic feelings. Mercury, associated with the “mad hatters,” is known to cause confusion and anxiety in some people. Cadmium, lead and other toxic metals also can affect neurotransmitter levels, leading to feelings of anxiety, panic and hyperkinetic behavior.


Anger and aggression

Manganese toxicity is often found in people with psychopathic behavior. In Toxic Metal Syndrome, Casdorph and Walker (1995) discuss the case of James Huberty, who opened fire with an assault rifle at a busy McDonald’s in San Ysidro, Calif., in 1984, killing 21 people. The city’s medical examiner did a hair mineral test which revealed extremely high levels of lead and cadmium, and even higher levels of manganese. The examiner wrote that the killer’s mineral analysis showed a “trace metal pattern previously observed only in violent sociopaths.”

In 1989, Patrick E. Purdy sprayed assault riffle fire at the Cleveland Elementary School in Stockton, Calif., killing five children and wounding 30 others. Then he turned the gun on himself. A post-mortem hair mineral analysis showed an extremely high level of manganese. As it happens, both killers were welders. Among the metals they worked with were lead, cadmium, iron and manganese.

Examples such as these could fill volumes. However, the connection between nutritional and lifestyle imbalances and mental and behavioral disorders is still ignored by mainstream medicine and by most in the psychological and psychiatric community as well.


Correcting nutritional imbalances

The answer to the nutritional component is not just to supplement vitamins and minerals, or to chelate toxic metals to remove them. These methods are at times very helpful; however, they are only partial solutions. We much prefer a complete program to balance and strengthen the mind and body.

Lifestyle. A complete program begins with a healthful lifestyle. Everyone needs to reduce and, whenever possible, eliminate exposure to toxic metals and toxic chemicals in their food, air, water and through direct contact. This is particularly challenging if one lives in a city and especially if one eats in restaurants or travels by airplane or train.

Plenty of rest and sleep is most essential. Most people do not get enough rest. This, in turn, impairs their ability to digest and absorb their food and to eliminate all types of toxins. Lifestyle also is about how one spends one’s time and energy, who one’s friends are and what one’s thoughts and attitudes about life are.

A spiritual focus. Humans are much more than flesh and blood, though many people deny this fact. Many so-called mental and emotional disorders are caused by feelings of emptiness because people deny the most important part of themselves, the non-physical.

Helpful techniques include meditation, reading inspiring literature, gratitude journaling, connecting with others seeking personal growth, spending time in nature, simplifying life, slowing down and consulting spiritual counselors and healers to help receive insight into specific problems. These methods encourage more love of others and of self.

Diet. Diet is critical because the nutritional quality of most food is poor — even natural foods. Food needs to be fresh, preferably organically grown, and eaten in a balanced way with adequate protein and vegetables to provide all the nutrients one requires.

Food allergies, particularly to wheat and dairy products from cows’ milk, can contribute to depression, anxiety and other problems. These are sometimes called central nervous system allergies. These and other allergic foods are best eliminated from the diets of most people.

Hypoglycemia also may contribute to depression and most often is related to consuming excess fruit, juices, sugars and other carbohydrates. Particularly, refined sugars upset calcium metabolism, deplete vital B-complex vitamins, deplete minerals such as chromium, manganese and zinc and often lead to carbohydrate intolerance. Even fruit and juices contain too much sugar for most people, especially children. Children are generally much better off limiting juices and their fruit intake.

In Disease Prevention and Treatment, 3rd edition, the authors note that while other tissues of the body store fuel, such as sugar and fat, the brain does not. The brain is dependant on a steady supply of glucose (sugar) for its moment-to-moment operations. Also, the brain uses up a tremendous amount of calories. If the blood sugar is unstable for any reason, it can have profound effects on behavior including depression, confusion and anxiety.

Stimulants. The use of stimulants such as caffeine often contributes to depression and anxiety, a connection that is important to understand. Stimulants provide temporary relief of fatigue, often by forcing the adrenal glands to overwork. However, there is a rebound action later in which these glands become even more depleted. The glands have not been nourished but only whipped, which causes more nutritional depletion. As a result, after a time, the stimulant has less effect and one is left more tired and depressed.

Weaning off stimulants is difficult, but well worth the effort. In addition to caffeine, phosphoric acid, very spicy food, MSG and other food items, stimulants can include worry, fear, anger, loud music and aggressive activities. Letting go of these foods, emotions and behaviors can be a key to resolving depression, anxiety and other behavioral problems.

Eating habits and drinking water. Eating habits are very important. Meals should be eaten in a quiet environment so food can be utilized fully. Eating on the run, eating while driving or eating standing up in front of the refrigerator are not conducive to great health.

Drinking spring or distilled water, or at least filtered water, is quite important. Chemicals found in tap water, such as fluoride and chlorine, can contribute to feelings of depression, as these are powerful enzyme inhibitors. This is documented by physicians such as Doris Rapp, M.D., a pediatric allergist, who wrote about the harmful effects of fluorides, chlorine and hundreds of other chemicals on children’s behavior.

Nutritional supplementation. Nutritional supplements tailored to each individual’s body chemistry are important because food alone will rarely replenish the nutrients needed to rebuild the glands and balance body chemistry. For example, the “minimum daily requirement” for thiamine, Vitamin B1, is extremely low. However, Dr. Roman Kutsky, author of The Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones, writes that “special conditions requiring supplementation of Vitamin B1 include pregnancy, lactation, heavy exercise, alcoholism, high carbohydrate intake, processed food diets, deficiency diseases, old age, gastrointestinal disturbances and antibiotic usage.”

This list includes most Americans. Among the symptoms of a Vitamin B1 deficiency are mental confusion and aphonia (difficulty in speaking). Others include depression, irritability and memory loss (Kutsky, p.216).

Sauna therapy. For the past several years, we have recommended sauna therapy, particularly with an infrared electric light bulb. This can greatly enhance the removal of toxic metals, toxic chemicals and chronic infections. These reduce everyone’s energy level and thus can contribute to feelings of depression, anxiety and many other problems.

In addition, meditation, relaxation, chiropractic and other natural therapies that relax, align and balance the body also may be helpful for many emotional and behavioral symptoms.



Today’s most common emotional and behavioral disorders, including depression, anxiety, panic attacks, mood swings, autism and ADHD, may all be caused or aggravated by nutritional and lifestyle factors. These factors include a person’s energy level, the impact of the metabolic rate and the effects of food allergies on the central nervous system. Others are the impact of blood sugar imbalances, toxic metals, nutrient deficiencies, stimulants and environmental chemicals.

All these areas have been studied extensively. Addressing nutritional imbalances using hair mineral analysis and other methods would greatly enhance the success rates of counselors and other professionals who work with emotional and behavioral disorders.



Berkow, R., editor, The Merck Manual, 13th edition. Pennsylvania, Merck Sharp and Dohme Research Laboratories.

Carlson, N. (2004) Physiology of Behavior, eighth edition. Massachusetts, Pearson Education, Inc.

Casdorph, H.R. and Walker, M. (1995) Toxic Metal Syndrome: How Metal Poisonings Can Affect Your Brain. New York, Avery Publishing Group.

Crook, W.G. (1999) The Yeast Connection Handbook. Tennessee, Professional Books, Inc.

Feingold, B. (1985) Why Your Child Is Hyperactive. New York, Random House Books.

Gittleman, A.L. (1999) Why Am I Always So Tired? New York, Harper Collins Publishers.

Hoffer, A. and Walker, M. (1978) Ortho-Molecular Nutrition. Connecticut, Keats Publishing.

Kutsky, R.J. (1981) Handbook of Vitamins, Minerals and Hormones, 2nd edition. New York, Van Nostrand Reinhold Co.

Pfeiffer, C. (1972) Mental and Elemental Nutrients. Connecticut, Keats Publishing.

Rapp, D. (1996) Is This Your Child’s World? New York, Bantam Books.

Segala, M. (2000) Disease Prevention and Treatment. Florida, Life Extension Foundation.

Watson, G. (1972) Nutrition and Your Mind. New York, Bantam Books.

Watson, G. (1979) Personality Strength and Psycho-Chemical Energy. New York, Harper and Row Publishers.

Wilson, L. (2005) Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis. L.D. Wilson Consultants, Inc. Publishers.


Dr. Lawrence Wilson has a medical degree and has been in the health field for 25 years. His books include Nutritional Balancing and Hair Mineral Analysis, Legal Guidelines for Unlicensed Practitioners, Healing Ourselves and Manual of Sauna Therapy, and The Real Self. He also co-authored Toxic Metals in Human Health and Disease and contributed to The Dangers of Socialized Medicine. or 928-445-7690 .

Reprinted from AzNetNews, Volume 24, Number 2, April/May 2005.

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