Healthy Diet = Healthy Mind

Categories: ACES, Mental health, Obesity prevention, Trauma

August 19, 2015 — By Tatiana Diacova

Did you know that a person with 4 or more Adverse Childhood Experiences is:

  • 2.2 times as likely to have ischemic heart disease
  • 2.4 times as likely to have a stroke
  • 1.9 times as likely to have cancer
  • 1.6 times as likely to have diabetes

An Adverse Childhood Experience is a traumatic experience that has a significant effect on the development of a child’s brain. This kind of experience is especially harmful in the first five years of life. That’s when our brains are experiencing cellular plasticity – a stage of brain development when the number of connections between brain cells grows significantly. This stage occurs exclusively in the first five years of human life. Stress and other traumatic experiences during this time can potentially play a role of a barrier to the proper brain development and, subsequently, good mental health.

As a future dietician I would like to point out that dietary habits, just like childhood experiences, are tightly linked to mental health. For instance, research shows that development, management and prevention of depression, schizophrenia, Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) and Alzheimer’s are greatly influenced by diet. Human health is metabolically very active and uses about 20-30% of a person’s energy intake at rest. Individuals who don’t consume calories from food in quantities adequate for their energy requirements are prone to experiencing changes in mental functioning, which can cause depression, irritability and ultimately more serious mental health issues. Imagine a person that has been exposed to trauma as a child, kept having traumatic experiences as an adult and did not eat a proper diet. All these factors collectively could cause mental health issues. But what if this individual had the same experiences but was helped to eat a good diet, could that change the situation? Yes! I wouldn’t say that diet alone can cure depression or other mental health issues but it definitely can help minimize symptoms.

I am a Nutritional Science major at CSULA and I am surprised that there is no class in the program that would teach the students this important link between diet and mental health. I was always very satisfied with the way the program was set up; I always thought the program was very broad and allowed students to learn many aspects of nutrition. But my opinion drastically changed when I started my internship at The L.A. Trust this summer. This internship taught me that an excellent healthcare professional of any kind is not merely trained in a specific area of expertise like nutrition or exercise alone; rather, an excellent healthcare professional is educated on all the aspects of the environment and human development that may influence health.

tatianaTatiana Diacova is currently a Nutritional Science student at California State University, Los Angeles. Her academic interest includes biochemistry and Medical Nutrition Therapy. This summer Tatiana is working with The L.A. Trust for Children’s Health on creating a Healthy Eating, Active Living Toolkit that will support the LAUSD Wellness Center school sites in their efforts to create a Wellness Campus that provides the needed services to prevent and treat childhood obesity.

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