Sunday 17 May 2015

Cognitive Performance and Nutrition Quality

The link between nutrition and physical health is well established. The role of essential nutrients in disease were first characterised through observational studies as well as through deficiency experiments using animals. For this work it was understood that that low intakes of the essential nutrients below specific dietary levels cause specific deficiency diseases in humans. Without corrective measures health declines through a set of known pathologies, each specific to a particular essential nutrient, ultimately causing death. However, while a deficiency of essential nutrients leads to a specific disease, chronic low intakes that are borderline between sufficient and deficient lead to new category of diseases called the insufficiencies. These insufficiencies do not result in characteristic deficiency diseases, but rather a general malaise and slow deterioration in the health that may be idiopathic in nature. Such insufficiencies are thought to be common in developed nations particularly in those that consume the Typical Western diet.
The typical Western diet is therefore a low quality diet and the link between such a diet and disease undoubtedly stems to some degree from the low amounts of essential nutrients contained within its foods. These foods tend to be overly processed and during this refinement they are stripped of vitamins and minerals. Studies show that many people living on the typical Western diet have essential nutrient insufficiencies that are not diagnosed, and many individuals are unaware that they are unhealthy. The physical performance of such individuals is likely impaired significantly by such a chronic poor nutritional intake, however, it is likely that mental health also suffers. While rates of cancer and cardiovascular disease continue to climb in developed nations, it is interesting that these figures are dwarfed by the rise in the use of prescription drugs and therapies to treat a raft of mental disorders including depression and anxiety. Are these mental disorders chronic essential nutrient insufficiencies?
If vitamin and mineral insufficiencies cause mental disorders, it is likely they also cause declines in cognitive ability. It is not beyond the realms of possibility that because the physical health is affected by low intakes of essential nutrients that mental ability is similarly affected. The typical Western diet provides refined carbohydrates in abundance and these are thought to produce detrimental glycaemic effects that lead to insulin resistance. As blood sugar control declines with poor diet, the glucose concentrations required by the brain for correct function may become inconsistent and this may lead to mood changes and poor cognitive performance. Many have never experienced good health, either physical or mental, because they have been raised on formula milk and the typical Western diet. Such individuals are therefore likely unaware that they have untapped mental capacity. High quality traditional diets rich in micronutrients quickly reverse these deteriorations and allow maximisation of mental and physical performance.

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