Our Better Health

Diet, Health, Fitness, Lifestyle & Wellness


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Boost Bacteria to Bolster Your Brain

How can boosting bacteria in your body improve your brain health? Called the “second brain” by leading scientists, a healthy balance of flora in the gut helps to determine whether you’ll have a great memory and a strong resistance to brain disease.

And what happens in the gut plays a significant role in your brain health.  Restoring beneficial bacteria and some healthy yeasts in your intestines (yes, some yeasts are beneficial, just not the ones that cause yeast infections) can go a long way toward protecting your mental faculties and preventing brain diseases altogether.

Frequently when I tell people about this connection between intestinal and brain health—what is known as the gut-brain axis, they tell me that they are covered because they eat yogurt on a regular basis.  While yogurt may (or may not) help boost intestinal flora depending on whether it contains any live cultures at all, we need to give our guts a lot more than yogurt to help us establish a strong and healthy brain for life.

Let’s explore some of the exciting research into the link between beneficial microbes in our gut and our overall brain health.

Some probiotics actually function as antioxidants within the body, which can not only reduce the effects of free radical damage and aging, it is especially good news in the prevention and treatment of brain diseases.

That’s because the brain is vulnerable to free radical damage. Additionally, research at the University of California at Los Angeles (UCLA) found that consuming certain strains of probiotics could actually produce many brain health benefits, including improved sensory and emotional processing.

Since the brain plays a significant role in whether we suffer from mental health conditions like anxiety and depression, probiotics may also be helpful in addressing these serious health concerns. In animal studies conducted by the Department of Medicine at McMaster University, Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and published in the medical journal Gastroenterology, the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum eliminated anxiety and normalized behavior.  It appeared to work by reducing the excitability of the nerves in the gut that connect through the vagus nerve to the central nervous system, and in doing so, eliminated anxiety.

Hungarian researchers found that intestinal inflammation is one of the key factors involved in depression and that treating the inflammation with probiotics (along with B complex vitamins, vitamin D, and omega 3 fatty acids) reduced depressive symptoms.

Additional French research demonstrates the power of boosting specific strains of probiotics to boost mood and psychological health.  They found that healthy study participants experienced reduced psychological stress, depression, anxiety, and anger and hostility, as well as improved problem-solving skills when taking the Lactobacillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum for 30 days.

While you can still enjoy yogurt if you are already doing so, please keep in mind that the above strains are not typically found in yogurt.  I’m not aware of any yogurt that contains the best brain-boosting strains.

Take a probiotic supplement containing proven strains of brain-boosting probiotics such as  Lactobacillus plantarum, Bifidobacterium longum, and Lactobacillus helveticus on a daily basis.  Store your probiotics in the refrigerator, and take them on an empty stomach. First thing in the morning with a large glass of water tends to work well for most people.

Additionally, kimchi—the national dish of Korea which is typically a fermented mixture of cabbage, chilis, and garlic—frequently contains a much more diverse group of beneficial microbes than yogurt, making it an excellent choice as a brain boosting food. Some types contain fish sauce so if you’re vegan be sure to choose a fish sauce-free option. It is delicious on sandwiches, over brown rice, or as a side-dish to many foods.  Be sure to choose kimchi that hasn’t been pasteurized to ensure the cultures are still intact.

By: Michelle Schoffro Cook           October 5, 2017
source: www.care2.com
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This Social Media Behaviour Triples Depression Risk

Depression and anxiety risk much higher in some people using social media.

Using over seven different social media platforms is linked to a tripling in depression risk, psychological research finds.

The study asked about the 11 most popular social media platforms: Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Google Plus, Instagram, Snapchat, Reddit, Tumblr, Pinterest, Vine and LinkedIn.

Those who used between 7 and 11 of these, had 3.1 times the depression risk.

They also had 3.3 times the risk of having high levels of anxiety symptoms.

Professor Brian A. Primack, who led the study, said:

“This association is strong enough that clinicians could consider asking their patients with depression and anxiety about multiple platform use and counseling them that this use may be related to their symptoms.
While we can’t tell from this study whether depressed and anxious people seek out multiple platforms or whether something about using multiple platforms can lead to depression and anxiety, in either case the results are potentially valuable.”

There are a number of ways in which using multiple platforms might lead to depression and anxiety, the authors argue:

  • Multitasking is known to lead to poor mental health and weakened thinking skills.
  • Using more platforms might lead to more opportunities for embarrassing mistakes.

Professor Primack said:

“It may be that people who suffer from symptoms of depression or anxiety, or both, tend to subsequently use a broader range of social media outlets.
For example, they may be searching out multiple avenues for a setting that feels comfortable and accepting.
However, it could also be that trying to maintain a presence on multiple platforms may actually lead to depression and anxiety.
More research will be needed to tease that apart.”

The results come from a 2014 survey of 1,787 US adults aged between 19 and 32.

source: PsyBlog


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How To Deal With Negative Thoughts And Anxiety

People in the study were asked to journal about their most stressful experiences.

Accepting negative emotions is the best way to deal with them in the long-run, new research finds.

People who are more accepting of their darker moods have better psychological health.

Dr Iris Mauss, one author of the study, said:

“We found that people who habitually accept their negative emotions experience fewer negative emotions, which adds up to better psychological health.”

Psychologists are still not sure exactly why acceptance is so powerful, said Dr Mauss:

“Maybe if you have an accepting attitude toward negative emotions, you’re not giving them as much attention.
And perhaps, if you’re constantly judging your emotions, the negativity can pile up.”

The results come from research on over 1,300 people.

Those who most strongly resisted negative emotions, or judged them excessively, were more stressed.

Over six months, the people who did best were those who let their dark moods run their course, with little judgement or criticism.

They had fewer symptoms of mood disorders like depression.

Dr Brett Ford, the study’s first author, said:

“It turns out that how we approaach our own negative emotional reactions is really important for our overall well-being.
People who accept these emotions without judging or trying to change them are able to cope with their stress more successfully.”

The researchers ruled out being richer as a factor, Dr Mauss said:

“It’s easier to have an accepting attitude if you lead a pampered life, which is why we ruled out socio-economic status and major life stressors that could bias the results.”

People were asked to journal about their most stressful experiences, in one of three studies the researchers conducted.

In general, those who did not feel bad about feeling bad had the highest levels of well-being and psychological health.

Next, the researchers want to look at where the habitual acceptance of negative emotions comes from.

Dr Mauss said:

“By asking parents about their attitudes about their children’s emotions, we may be able to predict how their children feel about their emotions, and how that might affect their children’s mental health.”

The study was published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology (Ford et al., 2017).

source: PsyBlog    AUGUST 19, 2017 


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Does Too Much Sugar Lead to Depression?

Previous studies have shown that sugar can be just as addictive as cocaine, but recent research suggests the sweet stuff may not be doing any favours for our mental health, either.

According to a recent report by the University College London, published in the Scientific Reports journal, men who consumed a high intake of sweet food and drinks were more likely to develop common mental health disorders like anxiety and depression after five years.

“Our research confirms an adverse effect of sugar intake from sweet food/beverage on long-term psychological health and suggests that lower intake of sugar may be associated with better psychological health,” researchers wrote.

Looking into the research

To find patterns between eating sugar and developing mental health disorders, civil participants in the U.K. were monitored between 1985 to 1988, and then were asked to filled out questionnaires ever few years until 2013. The experts studied more than 8,000 people, but a majority of them (around 5,000) were men.

Researchers noted men who consumed more than 67 grams of sugar a day had a 23 per cent increased chance of experiencing a mental health disorder — compared to those who ate less than 39.5 grams per day, the Guardian reports.

But the study has also received some criticism, including the fact that consumption was self-reported, and sugar intake from alcohol was not included.

“The dietary analysis makes it impossible to justify the bold claims made by the researchers about sugar and depression in men,” dietitian Catherine Collins, a spokeswoman for the British Dietetic Association, told AFP. “Reducing intake of free sugars is good for your teeth, and may be good for your weight, too. But as protection against depression? It’s not proven.”

 

A new study claims high sugar intake
can lead to depression and anxiety among men.

But previous research also points to similar results — sugar was not good for your mental health. One 2004 report published in the National Center for Biotechnology Information found a high intake of refined sugar and dairy increased the risk of depression and was even worse for people who had schizophrenia, Psychology Today reports.

The site adds The Standard American Diet, which is full of fat and sugar, didn’t increase the likelihood of developing anxiety but made anxiety symptoms in individuals worse.

Digging deeper into sugar

Abby Langer, a Toronto-based registered dietitian, says we should take studies like these with a grain of salt.

“[There are] always limitations with a questionnaire,” she tells Global News. “Depression is subjective and the reporting could be subjective.”

She adds the study also didn’t look at the consumption of straight sugar. She says if participants were mostly eating sugary foods, it could have also been the saturated fat, for example, affecting their mental health. “[Research has shown] people who are mentally ill tend to eat more sugar, there is a link for sure, but this study doesn’t prove that sugar is the cause.”

Langer argues instead of focusing so much on sugar, a highly processed diet high in sugar and refined carbs can result in low energy levels. “A diet high in protein, veggies and fruit can help your energy levels,” she says.

Cutting back on sugar this summer

And while criticisms of this particular study doesn’t mean you should load up on sugar, Langer says summer can be a tricky time to limit consumption.

“It is very important to avoid sweetened beverages,” she says. “I know you may want Gatorade, but if you aren’t running a marathon, you don’t need it.”

Iced hot drinks (think iced coffees) and the increased consumption of alcohol during warmer months, can also add up in the long-run. And instead of reaching for ice cream or another trendy summer dessert, opt for seasonal fruit instead.

“Just have frozen desserts less often,” she continues. “Limit the treats to once or twice a week.”

 

 By Arti Patel     July 28, 2017      National Online Journalist, Smart Living      Global News
source: globalnews.ca


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This Cure For Social Anxiety Works For 85% of People

The most common anxiety disorder is social anxiety disorder.

Cognitive therapy on its own is the best treatment for social anxiety disorder, new research finds.

It is better than just taking drugs and better than taking drugs as well as having therapy.

Cognitive therapy resulted in either a cure or significant improvement in 85% of patients.

Professor Hans M. Nordahl, who led the study, said:

“We’ve set a new world record in effectively treating social anxiety disorders.
This is one of the best studies on social anxiety disorders ever.
It’s taken ten years to carry out and has been challenging both academically and in terms of logistics, but the result is really encouraging.”

Being anxious in some social situations is normal, but those with social anxiety disorders find it hard to live a normal life.

They may experience dizziness, flushing and other acute anxiety symptoms in social situations.

It is common for medications to be prescribed for social anxiety.

Professor Nordahl said:

“Patients often rely more on the medication and don’t place as much importance on therapy.
They think it’s the drugs that will make them healthier, and they become dependent on something external rather than learning to regulate themselves.
So the medication camouflages a very important patient discovery: that by learning effective techniques, they have the ability to handle their anxiety themselves.”

Cognitive therapy works by encouraging people to accept their feelings.

At the same time people try to focus on what they want to say and do in challenging social situations.

Professor Nordahl said:

“We’re using what’s called metacognitive therapy, meaning that we work with patients’ thoughts and their reactions and beliefs about those thoughts.
We address their rumination and worry about how they function in social situations.
Learning to regulate their attention processes and training with mental tasks are new therapeutic elements with enormous potential for this group of patients.”

The study followed over 100 people for a year.

Cognitive therapy was easily the best treatment, said Professor Nordahl:

“This is the most effective treatment ever for this patient group.
Treatment of mental illness often isn’t as effective as treating a bone fracture, but here we’ve shown that treatment of psychiatric disorders can be equally effective.”

The study was published in the journal Psychotherapy and Psychosomatics (Nordahl et al., 2016).

source: PsyBlog


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Just 10 Minutes of Meditation Boosts Mood and Focus for People With Anxiety

It also prompted a shift away from future-oriented worrying and helped people focus on the present. 

People who suffer from anxiety are often plagued by repetitive thoughts, which can distract from the task at hand and affect mood and productivity. But a new study suggests that just 10 minutes of daily meditation can help reduce episodes of mind wandering, especially for people who report high levels of emotional stress.

Previous research has found that meditation can help prevent “off-task thinking” in healthy individuals, but this study, published in the journal Consciousness and Cognition, aimed to determine the benefits of mindfulness specifically as they relate to anxiety.

Researchers from the University of Waterloo asked 82 college students, all of whom met the clinical criteria for anxiety, to perform a monotonous computer task that measured their ability to stay focused. At random points throughout, the participants were asked to reveal their thoughts “just prior to this moment.”

Then they divided the participants into two groups: One listened to an excerpt from The Hobbit, and the other listened to a 10-minute meditation that instructed them to focus on breathing and “remain open-minded to their experience.” (You can listen to the same recording, called Mindfulness of Body and Breath, here.)

The groups then repeated the computer task. This time, 43 percent of thoughts in the meditation group were considered “mind wandering,” meaning they weren’t related to the task or to things going on around them, down slightly from 44 percent in the pre-test.

In the group that listened to the audio story, the percentage of mind-wandering thoughts actually increased—from 35 percent in the pre-test to 55 percent in the post-test.

The meditation group also reported a significant decrease in “future-oriented thoughts,” from 35 percent before the mindfulness exercise to 25 percent after. This could indicate a shift in thinking from internal worries (about tomorrow’s exam, for example) to things going on around them in the moment (say, a dirty computer monitor or a flickering light), the authors say. That’s important, because stressing about future events is a hallmark of anxiety.

And while meditation didn’t reduce all forms of off-task thinking in the study (like being distracted by external stimuli), it did appear to lessen performance disruptions associated with those thoughts. Both groups also experienced a decrease in negative emotions between the pre-test and the post-test.

“In short, meditation is beneficial in both improving mood and helping people stay focused in their thoughts and also behaviors,” says lead author and PhD student Mengran Xu. “The two do go together.”

Mind wandering accounts for almost half of humans’ daily stream of consciousness, Xu adds. It can cause us to make errors on everyday tasks, like mailing an envelope without its contents, but it’s also been associated with an increased risk of injury and death while driving, difficulties in school, and impaired performance in everyday life.

By Amanda MacMillan        May 3, 2017


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How to Train Your Brain To Avoid Anxiety

“The thing that makes fears and phobias so persistent is that virtually anything you do to oppose, escape, or distract from the anxious feelings and thoughts will be turned against you, and make the anxiety a more persistent part of your life.” – Dr. David Carbonell

While the exact cause of anxiety, particularly anxiety disorders, remains unknown, there are a few theories on why some people struggle with this mental state. Factors in one’s environment, genetics, and alteration of neurochemistry are all potential “triggers” of anxiety.

An important distinction must be made. Having anxious feelings – like many other forms of stress – from time to time is not irregular. Our brains have evolved to detect and avoid threats – a mechanism known as the “fight or flight response.”

The reasons why persistent anxiety poses a real threat to both mental and physical health is two-fold: (1) some cannot distinguish “normal anxiety” from a true threat, and (2) repeated exposure to #1 alters brain chemistry; thereby altering thoughts, feelings, behaviors, and emotions.

“Prevention is the best cure” is a well-known axiom within the medical community, and it is true for virtually every known physical and mental disease in existence. Problems with anxiety are not different in this respect.

HERE ARE FIVE WAYS OF “TRAINING” YOUR BRAIN TO AVOID (AND PREVENT) UNHEALTHY ANXIOUS THOUGHTS:

1. BECOME AWARE

The AWARE technique is another method of “interrupting” anxious thoughts before they take hold. Practitioners that advocate this approach cite its powerful impact in reducing and prevent anxious thoughts.

A – Acceptance: This simply means to accept what’s happening – and to “go with it.” Attempting to counteract, fight with, or succumb to anxiety only heightens its effects.

W – Watch: To “watch” anxiety in action is to remain a distant observer of its activities. Observe the anxiety without hesitation or judgment – a practical approach that prioritizes mindfulness. Remember: the anxiety and you are two different things.

A – Act: More specifically, act as you normally would and carry on about your day. Think about the task in front of you. Also, notice your breathing patterns to avoid shallow inhalation.

R – Repeat: Repeat “A-W-A” until the anxiety either dissipates or becomes entirely manageable.

E – Expect: Anxiety provokes fear – a fear that almost never surfaces. Expect the best outcome.

Repeated practice of this technique will work given proper attention and focus.

2. ESTABLISH A ROUTINE

People that struggle with anxiety often feel that their lives are out of control. In fact, many that struggle with anxiety (e.g. OCD patients) attempt to control every facet of their lives; when their plans fail, anxiety often comes back with a fervor.

A relatively simple way to overcome this problem is to establish a routine. Set a schedule and apply some self-discipline to stick with it. It’s important to understand that a routine (or schedule) needn’t place restrictions on how you live. In fact, those with a well-kept routine often discover additional free time to enjoy life.

Arrange a schedule for work, family, activities, and interests. Also maintain a sleep/wake time throughout the week.

3. GET PLENTY OF RELAXATION TIME

Trying to relax while experiencing anxiety is often difficult. Instead, setting aside time to get some R&R while not in an anxious state is more beneficial. The idea here is to take advantage of a balanced state of mind; something that will serve as an effective countermeasure to anxiety yet to surface.

Make it a priority to get away from stressful distractions, even if it’s just 20 minutes per day. This time is your time to do what you wish. Mindful breathing is an excellent way to spend this allocated time, but anything that brings you joy and contentment is a wonderful anecdote to anxiety.

4. STOP THE ANXIETY BEFORE IT KICKS IN

Anxiety is a process – a complicated process, but a systematic one nonetheless. It is important to understand this, as it allows us to distance ourselves from its intended effects.

First, understand that anxious feelings are separate from yourself. You are not your anxiety. Second, know the condition(s) that trigger anxiety and try your best to mitigate or eliminate them. Third, in the anxiety should fully surface, refuse to take part in its ploy to discombobulate the mind.

Numerous methods are promoted to help stop anxiety in its tracks. Here are some examples:

  • Picture a red “STOP” sign in your mind
  • Reassuring thoughts, such as “I’m okay,” or “It shall pass.”
  • Pinch yourself (not too hard)
  • Or…just find something fun to do if you can

5. EXERCISE

If you regularly visit our site, you’ve surely noticed that we’re huge proponents of physical activity. The simple reason is that exercise, perhaps more than any other drug, supplement, or self-medication, produces numerous health benefits – and, arguably, does so more effectively than anything else we can do.

Of course, exercise is beneficial to the brain. Therefore, exercise benefits many adverse states/conditions of the brain, including anxiety. We’ll leave it to the experts to explain the rationale behind such claims.

According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA):

“Scientists have found that regular participation in aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, improve sleep, and improve self-esteem. About five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to stimulate anti-anxiety effects.”

Further:

“According to some studies, regular exercise works as well as medication for some people to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long-lasting. One vigorous exercise session can help alleviate symptoms for hours, and a regular schedule may significantly reduce them over time.”

The ADAA’s message is a simple one: management of physical health manifests into mental health benefits, especially when exercise becomes a routine practice.

RESOURCES:
ANXIETY AND DEPRESSION ASSOCIATION OF AMERICA. EXERCISE FOR STRESS AND ANXIETY. (2014, JULY). RETRIEVED JANUARY 29, 2017, FROM HTTPS://WWW.ADAA.ORG/LIVING-WITH-ANXIETY/MANAGING-ANXIETY/EXERCISE-STRESS-AND-ANXIETY
OTTO, M. W., & SMITS, J. A. (2011). EXERCISE FOR MOOD AND ANXIETY: PROVEN STRATEGIES FOR OVERCOMING DEPRESSION AND ENHANCING WELL-BEING. NEW YORK, NY: OXFORD UNIVERSITY PRESS