by R. Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken
Flaxseed helps lower cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, is anti-inflammatory, has good anti-oxidants, and fiber. It is the single most neuroprotective food; oh yes, then there is the omega-3 content.
There is no doubt that this food is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, the basic building block to other omega-3s – eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Omega-3, and a proper omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, is important in mental wellness and recovery from psychiatric disorders.
But flaxseed offers more than just the ideal omega-3 source; it contains many polyphenolic compounds such as phenolic acids, flavonoids and lignans along with vitamins C and E. One study found that flaxseed significantly decreased chronic stress (cortisol) levels, indicating a possible synergistic effect between omega-3 fatty acid and polyphenols. Other components such as a flaxseed lignan (a phytoestrogen compound called secoisolariciresinol) has been shown to have possible applications in post-menopausal depression.
Studies of flaxseed oil supplementation have indicated a good tolerance even in the pediatric population where one study indicated its effectiveness in child bipolar disorder.
I recommend a daily intake of one to three tablespoons of ground flax, each tablespoon of which contains about 30 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 2 grams fiber, and 1.5 grams protein. Be sure to grind the flaxseeds as the fine seeds with their hard shell will likely just pass on through the gut otherwise. Flaxseeds can be ground in a coffee bean grinder and the ground powder added to grains, salads, beans – practically any dish for a little texture.
Note that the shelf life of the oily seeds is limited unless kept in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer. Ground flaxseeds or flax meal should be kept in the freezer; at room temperature and exposed to air, use the ground seeds within one week. Smell the flax – if it has a strong odor such as fishy smell, it may be rancid. A taste test should reveal a mild nutty flavor – if bitter or sour that also may be a signal that it is rancid.
For these reasons, chia seeds, rich in antioxidants and omega-3 PUFAs may be preferable to some.
 Oomah, B. D., Kenaschuk, E. O., & Mazza, G. (1995). Phenolic Acids in Flaxseed. J. Agric. Food Chem. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 43(8), 2016-2019. doi:10.1021/jf00056a011.
 Bidlack, W. W. (1999). Functional Foods: Biochemical and Processing Aspects, G. Mazza, ed. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing Co., Inc., 437 pp, 1998. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 18(6), 640-641. doi:10.1080/07315724.1999.10718899.
 Naveen, S., Siddalingaswamy, M., Singsit, D., & Khanum, F. (2013). Anti-depressive effect of polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acid from pomegranate peel and flax seed in mice exposed to chronic mild stress. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 67(7), 501-508. doi:10.1111/pcn.12100.
 Wang, Y., Xu, Z., Yang, D., Yao, H., Ku, B., Ma, X., . . . Cai, S. (2012). The antidepressant effect of secoisolariciresinol, a lignan-type phytoestrogen constituent of flaxseed, on ovariectomized mice. Journal of Natural Medicines,67(1), 222-227. doi:10.1007/s11418-012-0655-x.
 Gracious, B. L., Chirieac, M. C., Costescu, S., Finucane, T. L., Youngstrom, E. A., & Hibbeln, J. R. (2010). Randomized, placebo-controlled trial of flax oil in pediatric bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorders, 12(2), 142-154. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2010.00799.x.
 A very convenient way to have ground flax ready to serve is provided by Carrington Farms Organic Ground Milled Flax Seeds, two tablespoon packets sealed and lasting without refrigeration about one year.
Certain wild cereals, or grasses, contain edible components in their grain, botanically a type of fruit. Grains are small, hard, dry seeds, with or without attached hulls.
Some argue that from an evolutionary standpoint, grains are a relatively new addition to our diets and therefore should be excluded.
Undoubtedly grains have existed for many millennia, but the problem with harvesting had been that first of all these grains must be separated from the inedible grasses, requiring some winnowing process. Secondly, the wild grains usually shatter when ripe, dispersing the seeds, making collection difficult. Then the tiny hard grains would have to be further processed to avail digestion. Thus, patches of such grains in the wild may not have been favored by hominids until at least primitive hand tools were used and present near sites of grain-containing grasses.
Nevertheless, grains were apparently consumed well before animal domestication 10,000 years ago.
For example, a large amount of starch granules has been found on the surfaces of Middle Stone Age stone tools from Mozambique, showing that early Homo sapiens relied on grass seeds starting at least 105,000 years ago, including those of sorghum grasses. That’s more than 5000 generations ago.
Of course if one has celiac disease, gluten intolerance, a food allergy or sensitivity to grains, grains should be avoided.
Grains for brains (as well as other organs)
Whole grain includes dark bread, whole-grain breakfast cereal, popcorn, oats, bran, brown rice, bran, and many other examples.
Whole-grain foods contain fiber, vitamins, magnesium and other minerals, phenolic compounds and other phytonutrients, which may have favorable effects on health by lowering serum lipids and blood pressure, improving glucose levels, insulin metabolism and endothelial function, as well as alleviating oxidative stress and inflammation.
A meta-analysis of 15 cohort studies with nearly a half million participants revealed that whole grain intake was associated with a reduced risk of vascular disease.
There is an association between dietary whole grain intake and mortality; two large prospective studies of more than one hundred thousand participants indicated a significant life extension independent of other dietary and lifestyle factors.
The effect was pronounced up to one-half serving per day after which there was a leveling off. This is shown in the figure below, taken from the Wu et al. aforementioned article, where the mortality risk is plotted against servings of whole grain.
Relative Mortality Risk v. Whole Grain Intake
 Mercader, J. (2009), Mozambican Grass Seed Consumption During the Middle Stone Age, Science, 326.
 Anderson, J. W. (2003). Whole grains protect against atherosclerotic cardiovascular disease. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 62(01), 135-142. doi:10.1079/pns2002222.
 Tang, G., Wang, D., Long, J., Yang, F., & Si, L. (2015). Meta-Analysis of the Association Between Whole Grain Intake and Coronary Heart Disease Risk. The American Journal of Cardiology, 115(5), 625-629.
 Wu, H., Flint, A. J., Qi, Q., Dam, R. M., Sampson, L. A., Rimm, E. B., . . . Sun, Q. (2015). Association Between Dietary Whole Grain Intake and Risk of Mortality.JAMA Internal Medicine JAMA Intern Med, 175(3), 373.
by Richard Aiken MD PhD
Zinc is an essential trace mineral, a component of hundreds of enzymes and proteins. It is required for intracellular message transmission, protein synthesis, maintenance of cell membranes, cellular and intracellular transmembrane transport, and is involved in regulation of the neuronal, endocrinal and immunological systems .
Zinc deficiency induces neurological symptoms as well as psychopathological symptoms that mostly correspond with clinical depression (e.g., poor appetite, reduced sense of taste, reduction in immune function, irritability, mood liability, cognitive impairment)
The mechanisms in which zinc is linked to antidepressant activity is a active area of research but there are indications that it is involved in the neurogenesis processes.
There is a delicate balance in the relation of zinc to copper, so supplementation is not recommended. A whole-food varied-plant diet is the best assurance of getting zinc in the correct doses and food context.
 Takeda A. Movement of zinc and its functional significance in the brain. Brain 224 Res Rev 2000;34(3):137–48.
 Swardfager W, Herrmann N, McIntyre RS, Mazereeuw G, Goldberger K, Cha DS, 226 et al. Potential roles of zinc in the pathophysiology and treatment of major 227 depressive disorder. Neurosci Biobehav Rev 2013;37(5):911–29.
 Levenson CW, Morris D. Zinc and neurogenesis: making new neurons from 388 development to adulthood. Adv Nutr 2011;2(2):96–100.
According to ancient Greek mythology, Hermes and his friend Krokos were horse-playing and Hermes accidentally killed Krokos through a head injury, with three blood drops from his head falling on the top of a flower, creating three stigmata and naming this plant thereafter Krokos (Crocus). Thus the ancient and godly identification of this plant and saffron.
Saffron is the dried stigma (the top part in the center of a flower which receives the pollen and on which germination takes place) of the blue-purple flower Crocus sativus L., and it has a long history of use as a spice, coloring agent, and medicine. Due to how saffron is grown and harvested, saffron is considered one of the world’s most expensive spices (upwards of $11,000 per kg, requiring 450,000 hand-picked stigmas). Apart from its traditional value as a spice and coloring agent (originally for the Persian carpet industry), saffron has a long history of medicinal use spanning over 2,500 years.
This use of saffron in traditional medicine included for cramps, asthma, menstruation disorders, liver disease, and painful dysmenorrhoea, among many other uses. Evidence from recent in vitro and in vivo research indicates that saffron has potential anti-carcinogenic, anti-mutagenic, antioxidant, and memory-enhancing properties .
Administration of saffron 30 mg/day (15 mg twice daily) was found to be as effective as a leading medication for mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease (donepezil) in a placebo-controlled double bind for treatment in subjects of 55 years and older but with a better side effect profile. Although there are a growing number of non-human animal studies and theories why saffron could be neuroprotective for Alzheimer’s Disease and other neurodegenerative conditions, clinical studies are too few to make any tentative conclusions to date.
In two randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled trials, saffron was effective for the treatment of mild to-moderate depression .
A systematic review of randomized control trials examining the effectiveness of saffron in mood disorders revealed a statistically significant effect on improved mood on subjects clinically diagnosed with depression; the dosing was typically 30 mg/ day.
In clinical studies, the use of saffron extract at doses of 20–30 mg/day twice daily for the treatment of mild to moderate depression has been compared with currently marketed antidepressants such as fluoxetine (20 mg/day twice daily) and imipramine (100 mg/day three times daily). So these comparative evaluations revealed that saffron was equally effective as chemically synthesized marketed pharmaceutics, in mild or moderate depression without causing the typical side effects of the artificial preparations.
Saffron may act in a manner similar to antidepressants to improve mood by inhibiting serotonin reuptake or there could be multiple pathways involving, for example, its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory properties.
Saffron contains in excess of 150 volatile and aroma-yielding compounds and many non-volatile active components, many of which are carotenoids . Safranal is the compound primarily responsible for saffron’s aroma. Safranal has shown to have anti-convulsant and anxiolytic effects as well as antidepressant properties
Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS)
One randomized controlled trial examined the effects of saffron supplementation on premenstrual syndrome. It was found that found that women with regular menstrual cycles experiencing premenstrual syndrome who took 30 mg/d of saffron supplementation for eight weeks reported relief in premenstrual symptoms and depression levels compared to placebo. Remarkably, just the aroma alone – without otherwise any oral intake of saffron was itself found effective in relief of PMS symptoms in another placebo controlled double blind study, indicating effectiveness at very small does and the likely active component being Safranal.
 Koulakiotis, N., Pittenauer, E., Halabalaki, M., Skaltsounis, L., Allmaier, G., & Tsarbopoulos, A. (2011). Isolation and Tandem Mass Spectometric Characterization of Selected Crocus sativus L. (Saffron) Bioactive Compounds.Planta Med Planta Medica, 77(12). doi:10.1055/s-0031-1282560
 Gohari, A., Saeidnia, S., & Mahmoodabadi, M. (2013). An overview on saffron, phytochemicals, and medicinal properties. Pharmacognosy Reviews Phcog Rev,7(1), 61. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.112850
 Srivastava, R., Ahmed, H., Dixit, R., D., & Saraf, S. (2010). Crocus sativus L.: A comprehensive review. Pharmacognosy Reviews, 4(8), 200. doi:10.4103/0973-7847.70919
 Kianbakht, S., & Ghazavi, A. (2011). Immunomodulatory Effects of Saffron: A Randomized Double-Blind Placebo-Controlled Clinical Trial. Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 25(12), 1801-1805. doi:10.1002/ptr.3484
 Abdullaev, F., & Espinosa-Aguirre, J. (2004). Biomedical properties of saffron and its potential use in cancer therapy and chemoprevention trials. Cancer Detection and Prevention, 28(6), 426-432. doi:10.1016/j.cdp.2004.09.002
 Bathaie, S. Z., & Mousavi, S. Z. (2010). New Applications and Mechanisms of Action of Saffron and its Important Ingredients. Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 50(8), 761-786. doi:10.1080/10408390902773003
 Akhondzadeh, S., Sabet, M. S., Harirchian, M. H., Togha, M., Cheraghmakani, H., Razeghi, S., . . . Moradi, A. (2010). ORIGINAL ARTICLE: Saffron in the treatment of patients with mild to moderate Alzheimer’s disease: A 16-week, randomized and placebo-controlled trial. Journal of Clinical Pharmacy and Therapeutics, 35(5), 581-588. doi:10.1111/j.1365-2710.2009.01133.x
 Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., Noorbala, A., Amini, H., Fallah-Pour, H., Jamshidi, A., & Khani, M. (2005). Crocus sativus L. in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.Phytother. Res. Phytotherapy Research, 19(2), 148-151. doi:10.1002/ptr.1647
 Moshiri, E., Basti, A. A., Noorbala, A., Jamshidi, A., Abbasi, S. H., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2006). Crocus sativus L. (petal) in the treatment of mild-to-moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized and placebo-controlled trial.Phytomedicine, 13(9-10), 607-611. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2006.08.006
 Hausenblas, H. A., Heekin, K., Mutchie, H. L., & Anton, S. (2015). A systematic review of randomized controlled trials examining the effectiveness of saffron (Crocus sativus L.) on psychological and behavioral outcomes. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 13(4), 231-240. doi:10.1016/s2095-4964(15)60176-5
 Noorbala, A., Akhondzadeh, S., Tahmacebi-Pour, N., & Jamshidi, A. (2005). Hydro-alcoholic extract of Crocus sativus L. versus fluoxetine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A double-blind, randomized pilot trial. Journal of Ethnopharmacology, 97(2), 281-284. doi:10.1016/j.jep.2004.11.004
 Akhondzadeh, S., Fallah-Pour, H., Afkham, K., Jamshidi, A., & Khalighi-Cigaroudi, F. (2004). Comparison of Crocus sativus L. and imipramine in the treatment of mild to moderate depression: A pilot double-blind randomized trial [ISRCTN45683816]. BMC Complementary and Alternative Medicine BMC Complement Altern Med, 4(1). doi:10.1186/1472-6882-4-12
 Hausenblas, H. A., Saha, D., Dubyak, P. J., & Anton, S. D. (2013). Saffron (Crocus sativus L.) and major depressive disorder: A meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. Journal of Integrative Medicine, 11(6), 377-383. doi:10.3736/jintegrmed2013056
 Sampathu, S. R., Shivashankar, S., Lewis, Y. S., & Wood, A. B. (1984). Saffron ( Crocus Sativus Linn.) — Cultivation, processing, chemistry and standardization.C R C Critical Reviews in Food Science and Nutrition, 20(2), 123-157. doi:10.1080/10408398409527386
 Hosseinzadeh, H., & Talebzadeh, F. (2005). Anticonvulsant evaluation of safranal and crocin from Crocus sativus in mice. Fitoterapia, 76(7-8), 722-724. doi:10.1016/j.fitote.2005.07.008
 Hosseinzadeh, H., Karimi, G., & Niapoor, M. (2004). Antidepressant Effect Of Crocus Sativus L. Stigma Extracts And Their Constituents, Crocin And Safranal, In Mice. Acta Hortic. Acta Horticulturae, (650), 435-445. doi:10.17660/actahortic.2004.650.54
 Agha-Hosseini, M., Kashani, L., Aleyaseen, A., Ghoreishi, A., Rahmanpour, H., Zarrinara, A., & Akhondzadeh, S. (2008). Crocus sativus L. (saffron) in the treatment of premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind, randomised and placebo-controlled trial. BJOG: Int J O & G BJOG: An International Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, 115(4), 515-519. doi:10.1111/j.1471-0528.2007.01652.x
 Fukui, H., Toyoshima, K., & Komaki, R. (2011). Psychological and neuroendocrinological effects of odor of saffron (Crocus sativus).Phytomedicine, 18(8-9), 726-730. doi:10.1016/j.phymed.2010.11.013