Essays, poems and Stories of an African-American

Saturday, 7 November 2015

The Food that feeds the brain; From a Public Health Perspective

A simple story of Omega-3 and Omega-6 fatty acids

There is an inherent duty by public health practitioners to make the vast life promoting knowledge into practical strategies for quality of life. One way to do this is to show relationship between the way people live and health outcomes. The organization of the health system must use the appropriate means for prevention and treatment of illnesses and injury by planning for financing, programming and service providing. A successful health system must deploy and integrate a variety of strategies and activities in terms of their strategic intent, level of prevention, and community and individual focus. Wellness and illness are dynamic states influenced by cultural, social, behavioral,, environmental and health service factors that interact within a social-ecological framework. The strategies intervene prior to the development of disease or injury by altering factors in ways to avert or alter occurrence of injury/disease. Or when disease/illness strike there is need for care, limiting disability, eradicate diseases, prevent death and lastly, return individual to the maximum level of function consistent with their capacities (Turnock, B. 2016). 

John is a 55 year old man and he is a soft and hardware inventor who lives in an upper class neighborhood in New York. He comes from an accomplished loving family and all his relatives are well-to-do. He has access to the best healthcare system in the world and can afford the best nutrition on the market. In the last two years he has been a recluse living off his accrued money from three patents with Apple and GM. John has had to visit the clinic 12 times in the last year. It is during one such a visit that John exhibited clinical depression. The last 7 visits were with a psychiatrist who prescribed Trazodone, Venlafaxine, Naproxen (a combination of anti-depressants and sleeping pills) and Omega-3 food supplements.

Nswemu is a 60 year old, indigenous and semi-literate man from the Baganda people of an East African country. He has lived all his life as an agriculturalist in Bigasa, Bukomansimbi District, South of Kampala City. This area experiences ample rains and is the bread basket of Buganda. The people are essentially hunters, foragers, few are engaged in wholesale business, professions such as teaching and administration, and some are into animal and crop husbandry whose products are either sold or used as food crops.  Their diet consists of:  legumes, nuts, cereals, edible insects, small rodents, red-meat, fish, game, fresh-fruits and leafy vegetables. The people are extremely active and most use the two-wheel bicycle for most of their transport needs. Nswemu, has visited the clinic twice in the last two years for malaria-related complaints. The primary-care provider used both these opportunities to gauge depression and in both there were no exhibited signs of depression. Nevertheless, the primary-care provider encouraged Nswemu to engage in day to day activities within his extended family and emotionally supportive community.

Both the above cases rely on two different default means to accomplish a good feeding status. For John, it is the norm to feed properly given the existing first class public health system in his country. For Nswemu, it is the cultural default on which he falls back to feed so well as the fore parents had fed. In John’s case large amounts of processed foods in form of snacks and fast foods have tended to increase his supply of Omega-6 while reducing intake of Omega-3.  Home cooked meals in his case has been something he did in his early 20’s. He confessed that he occasionally has a diet full of fresh whole foods, including leafy greens, raw fruits and vegetables at home. He said he consumes much coffee and alcohol. A good recipe for good mental an physical health should involve low caffeine and alcohol consumption as well as regular diet full of fresh whole foods, leafy greens, raw fruits  and vegetables ( Leap Dennis, 2012).

The brain which is the physical component of the mind functions so well when fed healthy foods. This food is primarily fat (Leap Dennis, 2012). The human brain is 60% fat by dry weight. Fat molecules, such as cholesterol and saturated fats, play a very important role in the construction of brain cells,  their repair work and insulation of nerve fibres. The brain needs healthy fats to thrive and these fats are found missing in the blood of depressed people.

Omega-3 fatty-acids can be found in such foods like fish, flaxseeds, kale, brussels sprout, green leafy vegetables, olive oil, salad greens, walnuts, spinach, avocado. Omega-6 fatty-acids can be found in non-hydrogenated cold press olives, coconut  oil, palm oil, butter, seeds and nuts or oils produced by them. A healthy diet must balance both these fatty-acids.  Highly processed foods contain large amounts of Omega-6 fatty-acids (cereals, cookies, chips, crisps, crackers, shakes and fast-food). 

To function well, the brain needs oxygen-rich blood. This can be inexpensively got by engaging in outdoor activities. Invigorating walks are an inexpensive way to remain physically fit and mentally balanced.  The average Baganda walk long distances a day, carry firewood, use the bicycle, hunt, forage for fruits, engage in mock battles, engage in cheer leading using traditional songs, sleep for at least 8 eight hours and volunteer their time for all social activities such as funerals, community clean up campaigns and attending spiritual gatherings. Exercise and activity as treatment for depression have proved that walking briskly for 30 minutes only three times a week is better ( Leap, D., 2012).

There are lessons to be drawn from the above scenarios from the two worlds. But,what remains uncontested is that our lifestyles affect the brain and in turn our brains have an effect of our ability to adjust to our social-ecological environment.

1.   Leap, D. January 2012

2.  Turnock, B. 2016. Essentials of Public Health. Johns and Bartlett. Burlington, MA