Seeds of mental ill-health are planted way before birth

mental ill-healthIf The Mother and Child Foundation has one overarching aim, it is to raise awareness of the effects of a mother-to-be’s diet on the mental ill-health of her child. All too often research focuses on the effects of nutrition on children without mentioning the all-important pre-natal, and pre-conception, health of mothers.

Our effort to get the message across, and to champion ways of improving mental ill-health by effectively nipping it in the bud, are assisted by enlightened articles such as The beginnings of mental illness, which appeared in the American Psychological Association’s Science Watch in 2012. It’s an eye-opening piece that deserves a wider audience.

Drawing on various strands of research, the chief message of the article is that “the seeds of psychological problems are planted well before birth.” Wise words, but rare ones in a world that still seems to ignore maternal nutrition.

One example cited in the article is that iron deficiency during pregnancy increases the offspring’s risk of schizophrenia fourfold. Also, undernourished pregnant women have a significantly increased risk of conditions such as mania and depression, severe enough to require hospitalization.

The article draws on evidence that show adverse events during pregnancy – infections, toxin exposure and maternal stress, for example – increase the risk of children suffering disorders such as depression, anxiety, autism, and ADHD.

Stress and poor immune systems

The main focus is on the effects of stress and a poorly functioning immune system – all of which can be improved by good nutrition – on mental health. The message for would-be mothers is clear: a good diet can make the difference between a healthy child and one for whom the shadow of mental ill-health will never entirely disappear.

“Something as simple as good prenatal care – from flu shots to proper nutrition – may help to prevent the biological chain reactions that underlie many psychological problems”, the article points out – a somewhat tentative but positive step in the right direction. We need many, many more articles, stories and messages like this, to make sure the world finally pays attention.

Read the full The beginnings of mental illness article here.

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