Anorexia – The Crucial Role Of Protein, Tryptophan, Zinc And Vitamin B
Anorexia is often seen as an illness of teenage girls, but the problem can affect boys, too, and children of pre-teenage years. If you have a family member or friend who is affected by anorexia, you'll know that it is a far more complex problem than just a slimming diet that has gone too far. For many sufferers, getting back to a healthy weight and way of eating takes years of struggle and heartache, both for themselves and the people around them. Sadly, some never make it back to health, despite the best efforts of the medical profession.
But now there is real hope on the horizon. The cause of difficult-to-change aspects of anorexia such as lack of desire to eat and altered perception of body shape had previously been seen as purely psychological. Now researchers have discovered that, whatever the initial reasons for an individual to have dieted beyond a healthy weight, significant chemical changes take place in the brain once anorexia sets in. Julia Ross in her book 'The Diet Cure - the 8-step programme to rebalance your body chemistry, end food cravings, weight problems and mood swings - NOW!' explains how it works:
Serotonin, one of the brain's four key mood regulators, is made from the amino acid L-tryptophan. Few foods contain high amounts of this amino acid, and the serotonin level can drop too low within seven hours of tryptophan depletion. When levels drop, this can cause feelings of depression and low self-esteem. It can also cause obsessive thoughts or behaviours, such as excessive calorie-counting or purging.
As the individual's food intake and / or nutrient absorption falls, their zinc and B vitamin levels drop as well. This causes appetite to be lost. Once the individual is eating very little at all, 'feel-good' chemicals called endorphins are released. This is thought to be a mechanism dating back to our evolutionary past to keep us from feeling hungry when faced with starvation. Unfortunately, its effect on our individual is to produce an 'anorexic high' which keeps him or her addicted to not eating. As Julia says, 'This can be the perfect biochemical setup for bulimia or anorexia.'
Julia's experience with her patients is that supplementation with the missing nutrients and amino-acids breaks this vicious circle and enables the sufferer to become well where psychological approaches have not worked. Unfortunately this nutritional approach is as yet poorly recognized within mainstream medicine. But practitioners of it do exist and finding out more about it may well be the step that finally helps the sufferer back onto the road to recovery.
Of course, not all very thin people are anorexic. But many parents today worry that the constant preoccupation of the media and fashion industry with slimness puts their children at risk of anorexia. Apart from trying to instil in their children healthier ideas about the ideal body shape and eating proper meals, what can they do? Well, following on from the experiences of Julia Ross and others, a crucial step would seem to be to protect children from the biochemical brain changes which characterize anorexia by ensuring they have adequate protein and micronutrients such as vitamin B1 and zinc in their diet. It seems likely that those who are most exposed to the risk are junk food or sparse eaters who may be deficient in crucial nutrients, and 'vegetarians' who simply exclude meat and other animal protein from their diet without thought of how they will replace it with other sources of protein.