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Nutrition and Mental Health - an introduction to homeotoxicology with 

Dana Night

The following collaboration took place sometime in the summer of 2021 – I was hoping that I will immediately find best time for releasing the following article/interview and, perhaps, best time is first month of a year - a symbolic recognition of a New Beginning.

I am immensely grateful to Dana for her time and willingness to share her knowledge and experience on this interview.

 Article with Dana Knight - nutritionist and founder of Antioxidant Club (2016) - contact details:

MD: Well, I said we will be as spontaneous as possible and that is the case...

DK: First set out what you are interested to know, and we can start with that.

MD. Yes, one of my first questions is about “How many years you have been in practice?

DK. You mean when I finished my training? I would say over ten years, in 2007 - in fact 14 years now – that is longer than I expected…

MD: Yes, you see my questions are a good reminder to your own practice to celebrate and remember - I am asking, as I know it is a difference, at some point in your practice you created/founded The Antioxidant Club and I do think we should talk about that

DK. Yes, that happened some years later, in 2016

MD: Would you be able to tell me as a practitioner, a certified nutritionist - this is how you describe your credentials?

DK: I call myself a nutritionist and a homeotoxicologist - which is a mouthful... nobody, …most people would not know what that is …. basically somebody who takes into account the role toxins play in health when disease, and the importance of detoxication for optimal health.

That would be my specialty, I should say.

MD: So that is your expertise, specialism within your field?

DK: Yes, you could say that.

MD: And in a way that is why you created, named the antioxidant club?

DK: Well, I had to think at a fun name, as well - a bit of a marketing ploy - but because antioxidants -  even if they are not as much in fashion as they used to be, are still extremely, extremely important; now, I am experimenting with master antioxidants, and I am blown away by such research. (note* i.e. gluthatione - known for providing antioxidant protection for the body's tissues including skin, arteries, brain etc...)

But let’s not go into a tangent and let’s stay with script and brain health and maybe come back to that later on.

MD: I am aware that you are based in Berlin, but you are practicing internationally and perhaps quite avantgarde on telemedicine – when you started many years ago; you have practiced in the UK and the U.S. -  given the current pandemic, must be not at all unusual for you to offer your services remotely and worldwide. I imagine your services are quite vital under the current climate - pandemic?

DK: Yes, that is correct and I do prefer telemedicine; perhaps what it's also important for your readership is that I have gained my credentials (studied and trained) in London, the UK - my professional body is in the UK.

MD: OK, I am glad we clarified all such aspects and hopefully you will enjoy more my next question  - perhaps should have been one of my first questions.

“Why Nutrition? Why nutrition for you? What made you chose nutrition?”

DK: Well, first I think it is a fascinating subject, you know, it is not about salad and eating vegetables.

Essentially, it is fascinating when you focus on how everything works together as an integrated system and how many things can go wrong and then you are thinking about how to support the system and actually there is no such thing as the system because everybody is unique so they will have their own system, so basically this creates a conundrum that is kind of that would be like a lifelong fascination, and, yeah, you kind of plugged in and you can’t unplug…there is always research there is always.... - it is a very exciting field as far as I am concerned .

But, most people may not think so, most people might think it is all about eating carrots and humous and being vegan…Ah Yeah! But no, you can eat sausage and I am against veganism for very good reasons.

MD: Okey...

DK: but again, we are going off on a tangent here...

MD. No, not at all, I think we are doing well, we are quite on the right pathway here with what I had in mind to ask you. So first, about this passion of yours, you were clearly from a young age, you were fascinated with how we feed ourselves or what we feed ourselves and how that kind of works?

DK: Well, no, I was more fascinated with how can we achieve a state of wellbeing.

MD: Yes..

DK: Because only when we achieve a state of wellbeing that you are truly happy, I think, I mean you know buying a nice dress can give you a short-lived happiness.

MD: Okey…

DK. But we want to be happy every minute of every hour of every day

MD: Right…

DK:... and your system needs to be in balance, you know, your neurotransmitters need to be produced in an appropriate amount, not too high not too low, your hormones as well, your system needs to protect you from Coronavirus, otherwise you will be very unhappy for a few weeks...

MD: Mhmh..

DK: So everything needs to work in harmony…

MD: Harmony?

DK: Yeah, in our modern day we are under an avalanche of - like not only psychological stresses that can affect you, hugely affect you, but also all kinds of toxins that we do not even know, that people do not know, they affect us - many people do not know that when they smell a perfume, be that the most expensive, that travels to your limbic system immediately and it can depress you immediately and you would recover in an hour or two hours yeah, but most people don’t connect the two things.

MD: Okey...

DK: And the same way, inhaling an essential oil, pure essential oil, can uplift you, it can make you happy on the spot and that yes, many people do not know that they can have that as a tool.

MD: so you are referring to something that is very much the toxins in the body and how the whole system and the balance and how harmony is achieved is through the senses and it’s not necessary through eating alone, is that something that you would argue?

DK: Yes, for sure, yeah, all chemicals affect you. Be it, we can inhale them, or we can absorb them through the skin, we can inhale them through the lungs, or we can eat them and then they are processed by the gut bacteria and transformed into something else, and the bacteria actually creates their own chemicals that we can use, or it can be harmful to us and so it is an entire soup, you know, of chemicals.

MD: Well, I mean, taking it from what you said, because I really like this, the way you describe and you illustrate with more than two/three examples, I can see the fascination and I can see also why you would say that continuous research and learning, keeping up to date and immersing yourself in your field of research would involve an interdisciplinary type of way of thinking about our bodies and the brain and how everything works together or links together.

DK: For sure, yes, but talking about interdisciplinary, if you want me to mention this concept, I came across only yesterday …

MD: Yes, I was hoping we can do that; I wanted to factor in something quite important;  would you say that any consideration of mental health assessment, basic nutrition needs to be factored in, no matter what, would you agree with that?

DK: Yes, for sure, absolutely, I mean there is now an inflammatory model of depression, so basically, they gave up on the serotonin theory because it is realised too much serotonin and too low serotonin - too high serotonin can cause depression and anxiety so too much serotonin can be associated with manic states like bipolar...

MD: I see…

DK: And it was realised that it really can’t be pinned down, even if by supplementing like 5HDP to get those serotonin levels high if they are low, that is like a quick fix that does not solve the issue - they need to ask: "what is underlying the low serotonin or too high"? and it was found out that is actually inflammation, systemic inflammation which is kind of main cause of most illness in the body, but it can go even further than that and you could say what causes inflammation? Well, many many things, but that would be like the main process to focus on.

MD: Right, so one needs to be quite careful in terms of what is prescribed, like you said, specifically with depression, how one needs to consider an overall holistic approach to depression.

DK: For sure, yes, I mean blood sugar imbalance can make you depressed, nutritional deficiencies, low thyroid function which is so prevalent in women can make you feel depressed and then there is medication induced depression; I said inflammation which is also connected to a breach of the blood brain barrier and all such things they kind of trigger each other and can form an amplifying loop - so one makes the other worse.

MD: Right, and I think it is essential to point that out - it is something as a cycle or a circular link between it all and how important it’s not to assume that there is one specific aspect/ link to disrupt the cycle, but a consideration of all such aspects and attend to it.

DK: Yes, for sure that is the case. Yes, a few years ago, maybe ten years ago, it was believed that/ they really thought that they identified the depression gene that makes people who had that gene three times more likely to get depressed; and then a few years later such theory was contested and evidence showed that epigenetics / factors connected to DNA material but above the gene and controlling or regulating the gene /other external factors such as environmental factors  - that have an impact and influence the expression of the gene to manifest in a different way i.e. dietary modification and lifestyle are epigenetic factors so everything that is external can influence the behaviour of a gene, for better or for worse. In that sense, toxins would  impacted negatively, nutrients,  so correcting nutritional deficiencies and balancing blood sugar and correcting thyroid function would impacted positively.

(note* there is substantial research contesting the fact that there is a single gene that puts someone at risk for depression; scientific evidence promotes the idea that there is a combination of genes that can and/or lead to depression but there are a cumuli of factors that may and contribute as cause. In depression, like with many diagnostics of mental health, all factors have several, jointly, and multiple identified causes including genetic, but not singular to genetic/hereditary denomination. Depression here is a lay term and it may be seen as inadequately used. Terms such as clinical depression, major depression, and severe depression - are adequate clinical terms. It is majorly agreed that with an understanding of clinically diagnosed depression, 50% of factors and/or risk is attributed to genes, whereas 50% is unrelated to genes - psychological, physiological factors including environmental factors - a psychosocial approach being a conceivable and an integral aspect of diagnosis ( when an accurate timeline - or several  -  are used in a clinical assessment)).

MD:  So how fundamental is to think of the term functional or being functional or harmonious and being happy - how important is to think that there isn't one single aspect of consideration, but multiple causes and factors? And I am emphasizing this aspect because it is interesting that you bring in concept of epigenetics, lifestyle and environmental factors. Before we started this interview, just out of curiosity and for us to discuss it, I Googled  " emotional eating" and you may be surprised that first ten links were immediately directing me towards dietary guidance, food health guides within an overall medical or rather a biomedical approach. What would such a finding suggest to you? And are you surprised in any way? 

DK: No, I am not surprised at all. Simplistic interpretation is about people would try to make themselves happy by eating and yes, that would also offer or imply a biomedical approach.

MD:   In  lay terms, emotional eating is described as a way of suppressing,  or  (self-)soothing, comfort food for negative emotions and/or replacing that with a (temporary) sugar intake - for a brief moment ...

DK: Yes, an induced or illusionary state of happiness  - so when people would not want to deal with deep seated difficult feelings/issues because that is painful and it can take a long time  and it is not something that everybody can ...or is inclined to do so - yes, it is difficult

MD: More difficult to attend to (negative) emotions and than behaviourally can be replaced by binge eating and/or have a snack?

DK: Yes, so that is an interpretation

MD: So then one argument for emotional eating would be that we need to engage or tackling (our) negative emotions and develop a healthier way to think about our food, our health and our relationship with food?

DK. Yes, absolutely, you could say that you can't heal the mind without healing the body. So from my perspective, I would obviously start with healing the body and there is almost a hierarchy of healing and you need to start with the foundation and nutrition is very much a foundation to that process. For instance, in terms of brain health one consideration or basic statement is to think at nutrition as a fuel and activation of neurons. So when you think fuel, what you need to achieve is blood sugar balance; when your blood sugar goes  too low - you would feel anxious, irritable, bad mood, jittery - it can be very extreme and then you have a snack and /or a meal and you are the happiest person in the world ,and than you realise that this is like this an illusion/a temporary state. So fix this bio-chemical process and then you will see what issues, what real issues are there in your life. It is also a way to distinguish between what is important and what is not important. Like you could experience feelings of anger during a low blood sugar state and you would not be able to identify real cause of such feelings and it would also make you fell exhausted. So  stable Fuel/ blood sugar balance leads to stable mental function. 

In terms of activation, neurons are activated when you perform most activities, i.e. reading a book, engage in some stimulating activity but also movement and exercise it is essential for brain function. So movement, like daily exercise, yoga, and even strength training is important for the brain.

MD. So in our daily lives we need to have a well planned schedule with consideration on all such aspects. Everything plays a role. And thinking about  the two aspects of fuel and activation and nutrition being foundation, and how a stable fuel is a stable brain function. brain health - would you say that first meal of your day kind of sets the tone for how you might feel for the rest of your day? How we start our day, with positivity, what contributes to that and  the importance of nutrition?

DK. Yes, for sure. for instance the first meal of the day, calling it breakfast or brunch needs to be balanced in terms of the main components: protein, fats, carbs. So if you start the day with a doughnut, things can go down hill from there...Seriously, even if you have the healthiest meal after. It really depends because some people are practicing fasting and intermitted eating  - so first meal of the day is the time you eat for the first time depending on your own practices. It is of the essence that first meal of the day is a balanced choice, a healthy choice, it can have such a huge biochemical impact later on. 

MD. So in terms of a balanced meal, you have mentioned protein, carbs, fats and everything needs to be balanced. It would be very difficult to describe the perfect first meal of the day because it would involve and depends from each individual case?

DK. Yes, because some people may want to have specific diets such as a Keto diet that would involve 80% healthy fats and 10% carbs and 10% protein or 15% protein and 5% carbs, or 20% carbs and no protein - there are so many ways to tweak a diet. And people are OK with complex carbs and women don't do well on low carb diets, because our hormonal system needs this carbs fueling, needs carbs as a fuel to produce our hormones and especially before our period.

MD. I see. So there are clear differences and we can go further with different other criteria?  

DK. Yes, and level of activity that needs to be considered and a difference between being at work or on holiday, for instance. If you are on holiday, tendency is to eat less in terms of overall quantity calories, if you are at work and  experience high levels of stress, that would potentially increase your intake or you would need a more denser diet nutrients and overall calories because you consume more. 

MD. I see.  Based on such various and several aspects, what would you recommend as five main components for a first meal - that one should consider include in their diet?

DK. In terms of brain health, I think at the healthy fats like Omega 3 and everybody knows about fish and how important fish is (i.e. wild cod fish  - not farmed) wild cod fish you can't go wrong with that  - that would mean a protein that you would have from lamb, beef or chicken plus a massive amount of Omega 3  - that are actually part of the structure of the neurons - that are most concentrated in brain tissue. 

Equally, salmon . Avocado, as well.  Salmon and avocado go great together. Avocado being full of monosaturated fatty acids this will give you sustained energy so blood sugar is important and this is more about ketone bodies and not glucose. This is better, for a more stable brain function, because fatty monosaturated acids and glucose, function in a totally different way.  Glucose gives you a spike and high and then you come down. But the brain doesn't like to come down, the brain likes to keep going, you know, so fatty acids and ketone bodies provide ,and are the perfect fuel for the brain. 

So salmon and avocado; and then I need to think in terms of antioxidants because the brain takes up a lot of energy and making  energy produces a lot of free radicals and you need something to buffer that. So when you think at antioxidants for the brain, you think  blueberries, a great source of antioxidants and all berries in general but they have to be organic, because of all fruit, berries are the most vulnerable to pesticides. 

MD. So you are creating a perfect meal? 

DK. Yes and we need to add fiber, which it could be in the form of black seeds, talking about seeds like nuts are great for the brain, too because they provide protein, fat and antioxidants.

So, what would the fifth one could be? Well, it has to be vegetables, because we need to eat a lot of them .

MD. OK. 

DK. So you got your protein  - stable fuel, fiber, antioxidants, and vegetables and all could be rotated and need to have as much variety as you can. 

MD. So coming back to something you mentioned earlier about how everything needs to work in harmony, having a great consideration for first meal of your day can ensure - to some extent - degree, a good start to your day in terms of brain health.  

MD.What motivates you? (in your practice)

DK. I would say that most important aspects for me are timing and structure - one needs to be the architect of their day/time and structure everything around that. 

MD. So would you say that this idea of architect of your day goes hand in hand with self - discipline and awareness; so this is what drives you and this is also something that you promote in your practice? 

DK. Yes, until you make it a habit.

MD. The healthy Habit?

DK. Yes, the healthy habit, it is said (science) that it takes 21 days for a behaviour to become a habit, a healthy habit - everyday for 21 days for that to become ingrained  -  so yes, until you make it a habit.

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