These day’s with all kinds of new food diet’s advertised as ‘the latest and greatest for optimal health’, figuring out what is best to eat is a decision nightmare! As someone who has gone through both PTSD, physical trauma and ‘latest and greatest ‘food diets, I can confirm that the daily struggle is real!
Additionally, with pharmaceutical companies positioning themselves as mainstream solutions for treating PTSD and other health disorders, it’s even more challenging to know where to get help from! Worry not, as here is the simple explanation.
What is trauma or traumatic event?
According to the American Psychological Association, trauma is ‘an emotional response to a terrible event like an accident, rape or natural disaster. Immediately after the event, shock, confusion and denial are typical. Longer term reactions include unpredictable, and unstable emotions, flashbacks and even physical symptoms like headaches or nausea’. The reality is that with our 5 senses; sight, sound, smell, taste and hearing, (whether we are conscious of it or not) our bodies receive millions of inputs from these senses daily, without any ill-effects. What’s specific to trauma is that if the input of information from these 5 senses is too much for our brains to affectively process (whether a short duration or sustained overload), that information is then stored in other parts of our body for later processing in places such as our organs, skin, fat, cells, etc.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD):
Trauma can be minor or major. It can be instant or long-term. And due to the high complexity and sophistication of our bodies, nervous system, and cellular interactions, each one of us can experience a vast array of side-effects. For example, one experiencing nausea upon seeing certain objects with our eyes, or fearing the darkness, etc are common symptoms. Collectively, these kinds of events, experienced repeatedly are known as PTSD. Whether they are triggered in specific or unspecific ways, they are still considered as PTSD symptoms.
PTSD is known as a psychiatric disorder due to first-hand experience or simply witnessing a highly emotionally stressful event. It was also known as “shell shock” during WW1, then “combat fatigue” during WW2. However, PTSD is a relatively recently accepted term. This psychiatric disorder affects people across all kinds of cultures, ethnicities and nationalities, income-brackets, and living conditions. For example, approximately 3.5% of US citizens are affected each year by PTSD and the risk is twice as high in women compared to men.
According to American Psychiatric Association, when triggered, people with PTSD experience intense, disturbing thoughts and feelings related to their traumatic experience that lasts long after the event has ended. They may relive the event through flashbacks or nightmares; they may feel sadness, fear or anger; and they may feel detached or estranged from other people. They may even avoid situations or people that remind them of the original event, and they may have strong negative reactions to something as ordinary as a loud noise or an accidental touch.
However, it is important to note, that on some level, all of us have PTSD, whether it is very mild, or very extreme. Most people function quite well on a day-to-day basis with undiagnosed PTSD. It doesn’t mean that we all need immediate help. It just means that certain likes and dislikes that everyone has, have originated from sources they may not have been fully aware of, and are most likely not within their control. Getting help for PTSD for most people begins when on a subtle level, gradually, or suddenly, they feel that something with them emotionally, energetically, or physically is not quite right, or they just can’t function smoothly on a daily basis.
Symptoms of PTSD:
There are many symptoms but here are 4 most common ones:
- Flashbacks or intrusion:
Intrusions or flashbacks are where a person sensorily experiences the traumatic event as if they were there right now. When I say sensorily, I mean that their body temperature returns to the same as during the event, a specific taste in their mouth returns, any self-talk that happened then is experienced in exactly the same way, and even tingling sensations, sweating, etc. returns in the same way. Flashbacks or intrusions can even be experienced in reoccurring dreams. For 3 months, almost every night, I saw myself being killed in my bed in my dreams!
Avoidance is a set of behaviors specifically performed to ‘keep away distressing memories, thoughts, or feelings as well as external reminders such as conversations about the traumatic event or people or places that bring back the event to mind’.
In such cases, sufferers actively and consciously start avoiding objects, places, food, sounds, and even people that remind them of the traumatic event in even a small and remotely-related way. Because any kind of trigger might cause them to sensorily re-experience the event, they may also avoid speaking about what happened…going to great or even subtle lengths to suppress those topics.
- Changes in mood and cognition:
I’ve heard this being said many times in jest, however the true source of this is definitely one to pay attention to. I’ve heard fiery and proactive women who were constant go-getters, suddenly slow down or stop all their activities unexplainably for a prolonged period of time, or fully content and satisfied women, with no obvious reason lock themselves in their apartment for more than a day, or extremely sporty women suddenly start eating unhealthily. I hear them say that it’s ‘due to their period’. And while I fully understand periods, do influence mood changes, such extreme changes in behaviors are highly unlikely to be simply due to their period. Understand that living in modern societies are highly stressful, however most of us since childhood have adapted to easily overcome them. When someone’s mood or behaviors suddenly change toward dullness, negativity, gloom, confusion, pessimism, indifference, apathy and hopelessness, this is a red flag and needs to recognition that this person may need help.
- Changes in reactivity:
Unfortunately, these symptoms may just sound like high-density city inhabitants or overworked office-workers! In all seriousness, those that live in cities, especially like Hong Kong, London, New York, Istanbul, Bombay all have had times where they have felt angry, aggressive, oversensitive, hypervigilant and irritable on a daily basis. However, what differentiates PTSD sufferers is that, say they are known to be ordinarily composed, relaxed, and displaying moderate levels of self-control. Then suddenly over one weekend, or a short period of time they began displaying constant hypervigilance, alertness, irritability, angry outbursts and destructive behavior toward a specific objects or people, then this is considered a symptom of PTSD. Again, we have all displayed anger, irritability and so on, however what makes it likely a PTSD symptom is if these destructive displays of behavior suddenly and inexplicably became a new normal for someone.
Diet for PTSD treatment:
Using food for treating mental conditions is a recent Western phenomenon. However, for Eastern and traditional societies, it is not surprising as food is a natural source of nourishment, and throughout history has been considered medicine. Of less common understanding is that your diet directly influences your mental and emotional wellbeing. According to scientific research, overconsumption of sugary and high-gluten content food can increase anxiety, and depression, for example especially for those who are sedentary. Let’s look at it this way; instead of consuming pharmaceuticals daily for periods that may stretch to years, switching to foods as mentioned below daily is definitely a cost-efficient and more beneficial medicine for your body. Understand that with pharmaceuticals, there are many unintended side-affects to consider which show up in varying degrees with each individual. Another benefit with using food is that for most PTSD sufferers, such as those that turn to binge-eating or other harmful eating habits to help in coping with trauma, their diets are generally not healthy. By switching to consistently consuming these healthier foods below, as a side effect, it’s far easier for an overall healthier diet to become second nature. Lastly, emotional and mental health has long been linked to the health of your gut microbiome; your large intestine. Keeping your large intestine healthy with a variety of raw or cooked plant-based and marine-based food is the most natural and sustainable way to completely eliminate any PTSD symptoms.
Blueberries can help improve mood, regulate anxiety and feelings of happiness by inducing the release of serotonin in the brain, a neurotransmitter associated with feelings of wellbeing and balance. In one Study, researchers have found that blueberries reduced oxidative stress (responsible for neurochemical degeneration in the brain) and help in cellular repair. Simply by consuming 1 cup of blueberries a day, once can increase immunity, reduce the risk of diabetes and heart disease. Easily, a winner in helping to alleviate and eliminate PTSD symptoms. A word of caution; avoid consuming frozen blueberries, as energetically, their ability to nourish your cells has been significantly diminished. Eating ambient warm or chilled blueberries is perfectly fine.
Chamomile tea is known to have calming effect on mood swings. depression and irritable behavior. L-theanine is an amino acid which is present in all teas, but especially Chamomile tea which is responsible for increasing alpha brain waves (increased relaxed alertness) and also blocks certain glutamate receptors which are typically higher in PTSD sufferers. Just 1 cup a day is all that’s needed whenever appropriate. It is recommended to consume chamomile tea at the latest 90 minutes before bedtime.
According to a National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey, just 24 grams of walnut consumption per day reduced depression symptoms by 45%, due to their unique combination of fatty acids and other naturally occurring compounds regulate serotonin production and improve gut microbiome health. Research has proven that deficiency of fatty acids has been associated with depression, pessimism and generally erratic behavior. In terms of nuts, walnuts have shown to have the highest content of omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids are also responsible for lowering blood pressure, however importantly, should not be consumed with fats present in burgers and fries.
Research has shown that consumption of at least 40 grams of dark chocolate (at least 70% and above) significantly reduces emotional stress, improves mood and increases feelings of contentment. Primarily found in dark chocolate Phenylethylamine is responsible for releasing dopamine (a neurotransmitter which make us feel pleasure and motivation) and endorphins, (a neurochemical) that reduce emotional stress and boosts the feeling of euphoria. However, as chocolate consumption is easy to abuse and over-do, simply keeping to 40 grams per day, and no more will ensure generally enhanced emotional stability within weeks.
Although this is not an exhaustive list of foods that help reduce symptoms and eliminate PTSD, these are easily available, and are a manageable and easy start. Easy introduction of beneficial foods should be done in a way where any change should be noticeable, sustained and gradual. Otherwise, it’s easy to revert to harmful foods and dismiss the information here as heresy. With these recommendations, the idea is not to solely rely on them for emotional, or mental relief. Rather, the objective is to consume them for enough time to allow the body to imbibe the changes to a level where much less consumption of these foods is needed. Within 2 to 3 months of consuming the above at least 5 times weekly, changes will be felt and noticed. Once that has happened, nothing can stop healthy eating!
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American Psychiatric Association. 2013. Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth edition. (DSM-5)
American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry. Facts for Families:
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