nervous system is unique in that it has very
specific demands to maintain normal function.
Complex thinking processes, articulate movements,
complicated tasks involving coordination,
judgement and skill (both learned and innate) are
performed by activity in the neurones of the
brain, spinal cord and the peripheral nerves.
Various neurotransmitters, hormones and other
chemical mediators co-ordinate the activity of
these neurones. Disturbance in the balance of
these mediators is considered to be the basis of
diseasebe it inflammatory, metabolic,
degenerative or neoplastic (cancerous).
It is a well-known
fact that nutrition plays a vital role in the
maintenance of health and formation of disease.
There are certain diseases where nutrition plays
a direct role in altering the course of the
disease e.g. peripheral neuropathy. There are
other diseases e.g. cerebrovascular accidents
where nutrition affects the risk factors
significantly so as to change the entire
prognosis of the disease. And there are still
other diseases (like Parkinson's disease, motor
neurone disease and multiple sclerosis) where
good nutrition plays a vital role in supporting
the patient through the chronic progressive
course. Nutrition is also important in
unconscious patients, who have either had a head
injury or a cerebrovascular accident or have been
operated for a brain tumour. Furthermore it is
now commonly seen that even mentation i.e. our
thinking processes, are governed by the kind of
food we eat.
before us isWhat kind of nutrition is good
for the neurological patientvegetarian or
non-vegetarian? A difficult question to answer,
indeed. There is scant research data implicating
either vegetarian or non-vegetarian diets
directly in any disease process concerned with
the nervous system.
with the thinking processmentation and
intellectual activitythere is a long list
of intellectuals in history who made an indelible
mark in their times and who were vegetarians.
They were Isaac Newton, George Bernard Shaw,
Shelley, Milton, Voltaire and more closer to
home, Mahatma Gandhi, Rajendra Prasad,
Rajagopalachari, Lal Bahadur Shastri and many
more. It is widely believed and it is probably
true, that vegetarianism does promote
intellectual activity of a very high order.
Mahavira, Gautam Buddha and Saints of Hinduism
all advocated vegetarianism.
intellectual activity, even physical functions
seem to be better preserved in vegetarians as
compared to non-vegetarians.
sake of convenience the relationship of a
vegetarian diet to specific neurological disease
can be discussed individually.
one of the commonest complaints in outdoor
neurological practice. Migraine ranks second only
to tension headaches. Migraine has a very close
relationship to the kind of food we eat. The
substance implicated in causing exacerbations is
tyramine. Tyramine is formed by the
decarboxylation of the amino-acid tyrosine by
bacteria and enzymes. Hence it is best to avoid
foods that contain tyrosine. These are aged meats
and meat products, fish, cheese, brinjals, pods
of beans, alcoholic beverages (wines, ale and
beer). The entire range of nonvegetarian foods
seems to be implicated thus suggesting that a
vegetarian diet may be a more suitable diet for a
not be wrong to say that this group of diseases
comprises 40% of all hospital-based neurology
practice. This is a significant disease as it is
responsible for maximum morbidity and mortality.
Its medical, social and economic implications are
tremendous. C.V.A s . are situations that lead to
paralysis of limbs and disturbed mental function.
Though nutrition does not affect C.V.As. directly
it affects each and every risk factor and hence
plays a large role in preventing C.V.As.
risk factors for C.V.A. are:
and cigarette smoking
ample evidence in the nutritional literature that
a vegetarian diet is beneficial in the treatment
and the prevention of hypertension, diabetes
mellitus, hypercholesterolaemia, obesity and that
vegetarians are less inclined to tobacco and
alcohol abuse. Hence the corollary is that
vegetarian diet is beneficial for the prevention
of cerebrovascular accidents.
Sclerosis, Motor Neurone Disease, Parkinson's
Disease and Other Chronic Progressive Diseases of
the brain and spinal cord have been found by some
to have a nutritional basis. For instance, some
workers have suggested that multiple sclerosis
can be benefitted by a diet high in essential
amino acids. The sources of essential amino acids
e.g. safflower, sunflower, soyabean, corn oil,
walnuts, peanuts, almonds are all vegetarian.
Though no double blind trials can be quoted it is
our observation that patients suffering from the
above mentioned chronic neurological problems are
more comfortable on vegetarian diets than on
significant relief in constipation, which is a
serious problem in all these patients, is
probably due to the high fibre content of the
vegetarian diet. Those patients who consume more
fruits and vegetables are also less prone to the
chronic infections to which this group of
patients are highly susceptible. This may be
attributable to the rich supply of vitamins,
minerals and trace elements obtained from fruits
and vegetables, which are essential for the
integrity of the immune system.
Neuropathies are said to improve with the
help of foods containing high amounts of
vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids.
These elements are in abundance in uncooked
vegetarian food e.g. fresh fruits, raw vegetables
(for vitamins and minerals) and nuts like
almonds, walnuts, peanuts (for essential fatty
acids). Though there is no significant proof of
their efficiency by themselves, fresh fruits, raw
vegetables and other similar foods improve the
general well-being of the patient and thereby
enhance overall recovery.
many more instances in daily practice, and in the
scientific literature, definitely suggest that a
vegetarian life style is superior to a
non-vegetarian life style from the angle of
prevention of disease. Vegetarian diet also plays
a good supportive role in the treatment of many
chronic, progressive neurological diseases.
Hence, taking into consideration the available
data, it would not be incorrect to conclude that
vegetarianism is beneficial not only for the
prevention of many neurological diseases but also
in the treatment and support of some of the
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