Depression and anxiety can hit any of us at any time and when it does, taking time to prepare food and eat well can be incredibly difficult.
You can feel overwhelmed by life, paralysed by anxiety, and have little interest in cooking and eating.
The irony is that certain foods and nutrients can support mental wellbeing, and good nutrition is an important step on the path to recovery. The key to making these changes is to keep them practical and manageable, Take small sustainable steps, one at a time. Attempting a full diet overhaul can be a step too far and a bit too challenging when you feel this unwell.
Let’s look at some of the important nutrients that support mental wellbeing, and easy ways to incorporate them into your daily routine.
Go with your gut
As always, we need to start with digestion. If you’re not breaking down your food properly and absorbing the nutrients it doesn’t matter how many fancy foods and supplements you take – none of them will work.
The trillions of bacteria living in our digestive system – also known as our microbiome – are the subject of ongoing research. Our gut and brain are communicating constantly via nerve pathways and chemical messengers, many of which are produced or influenced by friendly gut flora (probiotics).
Many of the research studies looking at probiotics and mood balance are small scale but the results are promising and it is now known that certain species, including Bifidobacteria which thrive in the colon, can positively affect mood.
Small Steps to Big Changes
– Nourish your microbiome by including fermented foods 3-4 times a week. Try sauerkraut, kefir (dairy or coconut water), natural plain yoghurt, or kimchi. Do not use if you have histamine problems as fermented foods are rich in histamine.
– Swap raw foods for warm, cooked foods that are easy to digest; for example swap your lunchtime salad box for a vegetable soup or reheated leftovers.
– If you have ongoing digestive problems seek help! Food sensitivities, Irritable Bowel Syndrome, Inflammatory Bowel Disease and Coeliac Disease can all contribute to depression and anxiety so do get in touch with me or a BANT Registered nutrition practitioner in your area for support. Remember to download your copy of ‘Your 3 Easy Steps to All Day Energy’ too; it’s packed with tips for supporting digestion!
Fats are your brain’s best friend
Your brain contains 25% of your body’s cholesterol, and an awful lot of polyunsaturated omega-3 fats. If you’re still buying ‘fat-free’ and ‘low-fat’ foods you are doing your brain a great disservice – please stop!
Fats provide structure to our brain cells and help them communicate with each other. Without fats the messages between brain cells are like a bad mobile phone signal, all crackly and broken up and we are at risk of mood fluctuations and depression.
The long-chain omega-3 fats also have anti-inflammatory actions. Increased inflammation is associated with several mental health disorders, including depression. Inflammation is known to alter the balance of mood chemicals like serotonin and dopamine, and affect areas of the brain linked to motivation and perception of threat. Not every person with depression has increased inflammation but it is a key factor for many, making anti-inflammatory foods part of a brain-health food plan.
Small Steps to Big Changes
– Include oily fish 2-3 times a week. Think SMASHT – salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines, herrings and trout!
– If you’re not keen on the taste of oily fish, sneak it into a fish pie or mix tinned sardines / mackerel in tomato sauce into a tomato based veggie sauce.
– Vegetarians & vegans: make sure to include pumpkin seeds and oil, flax oil, walnuts, or a blend like Udo’s Oil every day to top up your levels of Alpha Linolenic Acid (ALA). This converts to EPA and DHA (the omega-3 fats found in the brain) but a lot of it is lost in the conversion process hence the daily intake.
Proteins – brain building blocks!
Mood chemicals like serotonin and dopamine are made from amino acids, the little building blocks that make up proteins. A low protein diet means there may not be enough amino acids to support the production of mood chemicals in the brain.
Small Steps to Big Changes
– Keep a Food & Mood diary for a week and see how often you eat good quality protein rich foods.
– Aim to include a palm-sized serving of protein with every meal: choose from eggs, good quality meat or fish, lentils, chickpeas, nuts and seeds.
The sunshine vitamin is a biggie for mental health. There are vitamin D receptors throughout our brains, and low levels are thought to play a role in the development of SAD – Seasonal Affective Disorder.
Here in the UK low levels of vitamin D are common thanks to our often cloudy weather. Before jumping in with a supplement, I recommend getting your levels tested by either your GP, your nutrition practitioner, or use the simple home test kit available from www.vitamindtest.org.uk
Once you know your levels, you can decide whether to supplement or not. Optimum levels (based on cancer research studies) are between 75-100nmol/l.
Magnesium, folate & B6 – mental health teammates
During times of stress we need to eat plenty of foods packed with these nutrients to give our nervous system extra back-up. Magnesium and B-vitamins (particularly B6 and folate) are essential for mood chemical production and function, as well as supporting our energy levels.
Small Steps to Big Changes
– Go green. Dark green vegetables are rich in both folate AND magnesium. See if you can include 2 generous handfuls of green leafy veg everyday. Try adding a big handful of baby spinach to a smoothie or omelette. Serve broccoli or peas with your evening meal. If you haven’t got the motivation to prepare fresh veg, buy the ready chopped frozen stuff – at this moment in time it is more important for you to eat the veg than worry about it being fresh.
– Include two B6 foods everyday: choose from avocado, chicken, turkey, lentils, banana, carrots, brown rice, nuts, and seeds.
– Relax in an Epsom Salt bath! Epsom salts are rich in magnesium sulphate which can be absorbed through your skin. Make sure the water is comfortably warm, add a few drops of essential oil if you fancy, and soak for a good 20 mins. Remember to ban everyone else from the bathroom so you can bathe in peace!
I hope you find these tips inspiring, and feel able to try them out one at a time. Feeding yourself well is one of the kindest things you can do, and you are TOTALLY WORTH the extra ten minutes it takes to prep something tasty!
If you would like more personalised support for managing depression and anxiety do get in touch at firstname.lastname@example.org
Hop over to the Facebook group too – it’s a friendly place to share conversations and challenges all about digestive health and mental wellbeing; find us at Nutrition in York
Photo by Jurica Koletić on Unsplash
Image from www.alzheimers.org.uk
Here in the UK there are currently 850,000 people living with dementia. Because we are an ageing population, this figure is set to grow massively over the next few years, placing a huge strain on our already beleaguered healthcare system.
Last week I had the privilege of attending a lecture by Dr Dale Bredesen, a Professor of Neurology at the Buck Institute in America. He is pioneering research into dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease (which accounts for 62% of all dementia) and achieving incredible results.
His protocol combines nutrition, lifestyle, supplement and medications – a truly holistic approach for what is a complex condition. You can read more about his work here at the Dementia Alliance International website.
The problem with all the new dementia drugs that keep hitting the headlines is they are only focusing on 1 aspect of the problem: the accumulation of protein tangles in the brain. Stopping these protein tangles will not halt or reverse the progression of dementia in the long term because this is only part of a much broader picture.
Dr Bredesen likens dementia to a leaky roof that has 36 holes in it. The drugs plug 1 or 2 of these holes but the roof will still leak! Taking nutrition, exercise, lifestyle and key nutrients into consideration is crucial in order for the roof to become watertight again.
The causes of dementia vary from person to person, but 3 main areas have been identified:
1. Inflammation in the brain
2. Exposure to brain-damaging toxins such as aluminium, mercury – and for some individuals, gluten – and infections
3. Chronic lack of nutrients needed to maintain brain function
So, if you’re concerned about cognitive decline or simply want to keep your faculties as sharp as possible for as long as possible, what can you do?
Investigate your genes
The presence of the homozygous APOE-4 gene variation causes a 90% increased risk of developing dementia. This is an increased risk – it’s not a definite destiny! How your genes are expressed is determined by your diet and lifestyle: you have the power to positively influence your genes.
For more information on genetic investigations and nutritional support please contact me.
Balance your blood sugars
Alzheimer’s has been termed ‘diabetes in the brain’ because the brain cells lose their ability to respond to insulin and use sugars effectively for fuel. If your diet is high in refined sugars and processed foods, cut these out. Switch to wholegrain versions and include a wider variety of naturally gluten-free carbohydrates like buckwheat, quinoa and brown rice. Include good quality protein with each meal. Aim to have a mini-fast each night by not eating for 12 hours e.g. 8pm to 8am.
Go for full fat!
When brain cells struggle to utilise sugars properly, they can still use a type of fat called MCT (medium chain triglycerides). Coconut oil is an excellent source of these fats, and anecdotal evidence demonstrates improvements in dementia symptoms from including 1-2 tablespoons of coconut oil each day.
Your brain also relies on ample levels of cholesterol: 25% of your body’s cholesterol lives in your brain. This works alongside omega-3 oils from oily fish, nuts and seeds to keep your brain cells communicating properly.
Check your Vitamin D
Vitamin D receptors are found throughout the brain and low levels of this nutrient are linked with increased inflammation – a key trigger for dementia.
Reduce your exposure to toxins by switching to natural cleaning products and bodycare products. Stop smoking (that’s obvious!), avoid aluminium pans and utensils and include plenty of antioxidant foods: coriander, spirulina, chlorella and dark green leafy vegetables, eggs and onions are some of the best sources of powerful antioxidant nutrients.
Movement and mental stimulation!
Movement of all kinds improves circulation and blood sugar balance. Including movement each day, whether its walking, swimming, yoga, Tai Chi or a full on gym workout is vital.
Keeping your brain stimulated by learning new things is just as important. Your brain cells grow and restructure themselves each time you learn new information or have to solve problems. Learning a new language, doing a daily crossword or Sudoku puzzle can all help stimulate ‘neuro-plasticity’ – the reshaping and growth of brain cells.
Concerned about your mental wellbeing?
Looking for naturopathic nutritional support for depression, anxiety or poor memory?
Spring and autumn are nature’s seasons of change and transformation. We can tap into these natural rhythms and enjoy a cleansing programme of our own to boost circulation, digestion, energy and vitality.
An effective cleanse is more than just drinking plenty of water and taking a few supplements, it involves supporting all the detoxification pathways in your body from the cellular level right through to actual wastes being eliminated via stools, urine and sweat.
So, what are the benefits of a seasonal cleanse?
– Simplifying your diet by removing refined sugar, wheat, dairy and processed foods gives your hardworking digestive system a well earned break. At the end of the cleanse, if you start to reintroduce these foods you may be able to pinpoint any that cause particular problems or intolerances for you.
– Boosting lymphatic circulation with dry skin brushing and regular movement can improve skin appearance and texture giving you a wonderful fresh glow!
– Your liver works tirelessly to process and detox hormones, nutrients, medications and alcohol. By avoiding alcohol for the duration of the cleanse and enjoying luxury levels of vitamins, minerals and amino acids needed for liver function you are supporting these vital detox pathways.
– Caring for your immune system: around 80% of your immune system is located in your gut! Healthy digestion and beneficial gut bacteria = a strong, robust immune system: helpful when faced with spring allergies like hayfever or the onset of the cold & flu season in winter!
– More energy! Think of your body as a complex machine. Any machine that is serviced and well oiled will run effectively and the same goes for your amazing body: give it plenty of vital nutrients, regularly remove the wastes and tend to any weak spots. Energy is produced in each cell of your body and requires a constant supply of magnesium, B-vitamins, co-enzyme Q10, vitamin C and zinc – to name but a few of the nutrients involved.
Are you ready to enjoy a seasonal cleanse?
Drop me a line at email@example.com or on 07910 705272 and lets get you started!
Earlier this year I looked at the effects of CFS and why people choose Nutritional Therapy as a way of managing their symptoms. Now lets look at some of the Nutritional Therapy ideas and techniques:
– Optimising digestive function; this is the first step in a treatment plan because nothing else will get better if the digestive system cannot effectively absorb nutrients! All the pills in the world will be useless if they aren’t absorbed! So, symptoms of bloating, indigestion, constipation, diarrhoea and stool formation are looked at. Often, digestive enzymes and good quality beneficial bacteria are recommended to support the breakdown of food and absorption of nutrients.
– The ‘friendly’ gut bacteria; the millions of bacteria in our gut do more than digest food, they also regulate our immune response so they need plenty of support. Supplements of beneficial flora and naturally fermented foods are most helpful.
– Easy to digest foods; when the body is fatigued and struggling, lots of raw foods can be overwhelming. Eating soups, stews and broths makes the job of digestion easier.
– Foods rich in energy nutrients; we look at food sources of magnesium, B-vitamins, essential fats and antioxidants.
– Hydration; drinking plenty of water and hydrating foods before cooking them; soaking grains, nuts, seeds and pulses means they bring more hydration into the body.
– Investigating food intolerances; for some clients, this proves incredibly helpful and can go a long way in supporting their recovery. A range of tests are available, please contact me for more information.
– Once the digestion is settled and a food plan is in place, we look at certain supplements which may be beneficial. These may include a comprehensive vitamin & mineral formula, magnesium spray, malic acid, vitamin D3, COQ10 – it all depends on the clients individual symptoms.
– Relaxation techniques; these are paramount for recovery from CFS. The body needs to be able to relax deeply, every day in order to allow healing and repair processes to take place. Frequently, CFS has developed after prolonged stress and the body is crying out for relaxation and nourishment. Mindfulness practises, yoga, deep breathing, massage, hypnosis – there are many techniques to try!
This is a snapshot of some of the ways Nutritional Therapy works with CFS. If you have any questions or would like to discuss your own health with me, please do drop me an email or call on 07910 705272. Its a mobile number so if you would prefer me to call you back, please leave me a message with your number.