Can we eat enough of the good stuff every day? - Nutraceuticals

We are what we eat…But, do we? Can we? Eat enough of the good stuff EVERY day?

It’s time to talk about food, guts, brains and the slippery science of oils…

Deciding what to eat can be an enormously effortful task. Aside from the vast choice available to us, we are also informed (not always necessarily well informed) about the choices we think we should be making…paleo this, low FODMAP that, raw something else, oops now I’m a flexitarian…the pleasure of eating can be spoilt by complexity sometimes. This is not to deride these choices, indeed they work well for some.

The Mediterranean Diet, is considered a traditional and heritage diet (more a way of life), that has be researched since the 1970’s. It has evidenced outstandingly significant positive impacts on a number of health risk factors, including: cardiovascular disease; cancer; Parkinson’s disease; Alzheimer’s disease; Stroke; Diabetes; and neurodegenerative diseases. The body and brain benefit is undeniable, and continues to be researched.

Photo by  Casey Lee  on  Unsplash

Photo by Casey Lee on Unsplash


If you have some knowledge of geography, or you’ve been lucky to travel to this amazing region, you know the ‘Mediterranean’ is huge! As many as perhaps 18 countries or regions border the Mediterranean Sea. For maximum benefit, and to avoid misinformation, we should take the time to clarify the essential components and the origins of what is ‘The Mediterranean Diet’.  

The diet itself is characterised by important key factors:

Infographic by  Oldways

Infographic by Oldways

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The list above is compiled from innumerable sources. Highlighting there is no one set ‘Mediterranean Diet’. In a nutshell it is the diet, and lifestyle, of the people of Greece, Southern Italy and parts of Spain, around the 1960’s. Nothing was from a packet, everything was made from scratch. Interesting to note, also, that two of these regions are a part of the fascinating 5 ‘blue zones’, with the highest populations of centenarians on earth.

If you are interested in finding out more, a well-regarded Greek-American Clinical Nutritionist and Author, Elena Paravantes, provides this passionate TedX talk:  

Along with Elena’s website, that abounds with delicious recipes for your dinner table, you can also head right back to the ‘Oldways’: who are celebrate International Mediterranean Diet month in May.

Photo By Olive Tomato

Photo By Olive Tomato

So what happens with these Mediterranean goodies when they hit your belly?

There is some seriously cool research being done on some seriously specific microbes. This big gutsy opening statement in an article by Tarr (and crew) impressed me, in summary: mice given specific prebiotics did not demonstrate the typically associated effects of anxiety-like behaviour or reduced hippocampal neurons when exposed to stress. This is just one tiny study, among a huge wave of research, emphasising that maintaining the gut-brain axis is pivotal to health and stress management.

Dr Michael Moseley, author of Clever Guts, has gained exposure through his television programs and books, but he has backed this up with synthesis and exploration of research studies of the gut biome, our inner ecosystem. It is a balancing act of good and bad bacteria, unique to each person. In the garden of your gut, the pre-biotics are the fibre of fertiliser and pro-biotics are the live bacteria you need substantial colonies of for good health, reduced disease risk and proper brain function.

Did you know that most of your ‘feel good’ serotonin resides in your gut wall; and good bacteria are also involved in the creation of other neurotransmitters, or neurochemicals, including dopamine and GABA – high levels are associated with feeling relaxed and happy. So, maybe, it is true, the way to a man’s heart is through his stomach…you just have to feed him kimchi, yoghurt, sauerkraut and kefir…and oily fish…

Fish and seafood are an important block on the Mediterranean pyramid. Oily fish, like sardines and mackerel, are high in Omega-3 fatty acids. These are essential fatty acids (EFA’s), essential meaning we don’t make them, we can only get them through diet or supplementation. The two EFA’s we are particularly interested in are EPA and DHA. These are the best kind of fats you can build your brain with, they make healthy flexible budding new neurons, are anti-inflammatory and support good blood flow to your brain.

We love listening to Dr Stephen Ilardi, creator of the Therapeutic Lifestyle Change Program (TLC), talk about our big fat heads:  

Unfortunately, it is estimated, 80% of Australians are not meeting the recommended intake of the important EFA’s for optimal health and 90% of childbearing women are not meeting the recommendations for DHA intakes during pregnancy and lactation. Most parents, therefore struggle to achieve the right intake for their growing infants, children and adolescents. This is such a shame, as evidence suggests school grades, cognitive performance, children’s mood and behaviour could be improved significantly by increasing sufficient intake of omega 3’s.

So in all honesty, when we step back and take stock (maybe we should make stock), many of us are not eating as well as we should and this is probably having a negative impact on both our physical and mental health. There is plenty of evidence that some people can benefit from adding specific nutrients (known as nutraceuticals) to their diets, whether that is an expecting mother taking folic acid to help prevent problems with the development of her unborn, or someone taking St. John’s Wart to try to relieve symptoms of depression.

 But if we already find it hard to consume the right diet, it is even more difficult, in a health market flooded with options, to know what supplements are best and most likely to help. The Perth Brain Centre can provide easy to understand information and support you to make the best choices for you and your Family. We have worked closely with Metagenics (Australia’s leading provider of quality practitioner-only natural medicines) to carefully select the most important Nutraceuticals for a range of conditions. Everyone is different, and some Nutraceuticals work better for some people more than others. In many cases people are advised to take a range of Nutraceuticals simply based upon their symptoms or diagnosis. This may not always result in the best possible results. This is like a child being prescribed a particular medication for ADHD just simply based on their symptoms - some children will respond well but others will not. This is because everyone is different.

Research shows that information from brain imaging can help predict response to medication (and hence assist in better treatment selection) for patients with behavioural disorders such as ADHD, Anxiety and Depression. It makes sense to use brain imaging to help select the best nutraceuticals for people as well. At The Perth Brain Centre we use the information from QEEG Brain Scans to help select the best Nutraceuticals for an individual patient. For example, research shows some people with ADHD will get best results with Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil) with a high EPA to DHA ratio, whereas for others with the same diagnosis (but with a different pattern of brain activity) the opposite may be the case. QEEG Brain Scans provide this important information and permit targeted selection of Nutraceuticals - This is truly personalised treatment.

About the author - Ms. Emily Goss (Occupational Therapist, Senior Clinician, The Perth Brain Centre).

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