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How to Avoid the Post-Holiday Blues

Simple, healthy choices can decrease the risk of Seasonal Affective Disorder.

The shortest day of the year, the Winter Solstice, is a marker that the darkest days are behind us and the sun is going to be shining longer each of the coming days as we end one year to begin another. Unfortunately, by the time that we reach this milestone and a promise of a less distant Spring, your body may still be suffering ill effects from the recent weeks of decreasing periods of sunlight as well as exhaustion from all of the pre-holiday preparations that so many of us allow to suck up too much of our time.

Staying “Merry and Bright” Takes a Lot of Energy

It makes sense that the human response to the naturally increasing darkness is to fill it with light and activities to combat the gloominess of the late autumn and early winter days. In November, when we really notice that daylight is shifting its balance with the night sky, we are beginning the preparations for family gatherings and keeping the oven humming and the sideboard groaning with rich and decadent foods. We’re eating more simple carbohydrates, often increasing alcohol intake, and spending less time engaged in outdoor activities. Workout regimens also may be more frequently disrupted by lack of motivation or schedule conflicts. Many find it easier to expend calories baking or reaching for another treat than to show up at the gym. And once motivation starts falling, it can take a lot more energy to build it back up than if it had been maintained all along.

The Winter Doldrums Are a Real Thing

The onset of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is ushered in as the level of natural sunlight available each day decreases. Many species in the animal world adapt to this change with hibernation periods. In the US, many humans adapt to this change by spending winters as far south as they can to avoid the bitter cold and the darker days.

Essential Cycle: Sunlight to Serotonin to Melatonin to Sleep to Peace and Contentment

The shortening of our daylight hours can wreak havoc on our Circadian rhythms. Exposure to sunlight positively influences our brain’s production of neurochemicals that keep our moods balanced. Sunlight cues our bodies to produce Vitamin D, which is often found to be deficient in individuals who suffer from depression (Cuomo, Giordano, Goracci, & Fagiolini, 2017). Serotonin production is helped along by natural light exposure and serotonin leads to melatonin production, which helps ensure our sleep-wake cycle stays organized. When there’s less light, there’s less serotonin, which leads to less melatonin, which leads to less sleep, which can lead to feeling tired, cranky, and depressed. Our brains are amazing machines that do their best to keep up with the rapidly changing world, but when we try to force our brain chemistry to respond to unnatural, controlled environments such as work schedules that don’t shift with the seasons, exposure to non-stop electronic entertainment/bombardment, and other treats/risks of modern life, we can end up having to “treat” problems that might not occur if we were able to follow the natural order of things.

Finding the Right Balance/Light Balance

While sunlight encourages the production of serotonin, it’s also tangentially increasing the production of melatonin, the chemical that regulates healthy sleep. One way to handle SAD is to integrate light therapy (bright natural light; lightboxes; high quality, non-flickering fluorescent light bulbs; sunlight-mimicking bulbs) at the start of your morning. This jumpstarts the brain into producing the feel-good, do-good neurochemical serotonin.

While serotonin production is ramping up through light exposure, the production of natural melatonin is kick-started, too. At the end of the day, when you are preparing for sleep, you can take a melatonin supplement to help re-regulate your Circadian rhythm. As the brain’s chemistry is getting back on schedule, your mood will also reflect the balance and symptoms of depression should ease up.

Eat Healthy to Decrease Depression

Avoid simple carbohydrates, processed foods, and sugar. All of these can upset your brain’s delicate neurochemical symphony. Stick to complex carbohydrates that provide better “fuel economy” to your body than junk food can. In fact, a healthy diet has been linked to stronger feelings of optimism (Kargakou, Sachlas, Lyrakos, et al., 2017). Avoiding preservatives and choosing fresh foods will be better for your body and your attitude. Depression is marked by feelings of hopelessness; this suggests that the optimism borne of a healthy diet is worth the effort.

Keep Hydrated with Water, Not Lubricated with Alcohol, or Hopped Up on Caffeine

Dehydration can mimic symptoms of depression, so make sure that you’re taking in an adequate supply of water (Pross, Demazieres, Girard, et al., 2014). Avoid or limit caffeine, alcohol, and other high-sugar or artificially sweetened beverages. These beverages affect sleep, too, which affects mood. No component of our amazing body works independently of any other system – simply being alive is the production of a symphony made up of many players and many well-calibrated movements of every cell.

Out-Run, Out-Stretch, and Outsmart the Winter Doldrums

Physical activity, rather than couch-potato sitting, will help you get through the darkest winter day with as bright a mood possible. Aerobic exercise is especially helpful in getting your brain on track with the production of serotonin and endorphins (Munuswamy, Preetha, & Priya, 2018). Walk the dog, park far away from the grocery store or after-holiday sales, or get on the treadmill. All of these can help stimulate the body’s natural mood-balancing techniques.

Meditation and Yoga balance Moods

Aside from the heavy-duty physical work-outs, you can also exercise your mind and body through more gentle means that can lead to a balanced mood state (Travis, Valosek, Konrad, et al., 2018). Mediation has been proven to enhance well-being and bring calm even in times of catastrophic illness and stress (Lemanne & Maizes, 2018). When your brain is in a meditative state, you’re actually quieting the regions of the brain associated with stress and worry while providing greater opportunities for the work of the regions associated with healthy psychological and physical functioning. Tai Chi is another gentle method for combatting feelings of depression (Zou et al., 2018). Activities that bring a balance between mind and body are highly effective in bringing balance to all aspects of your life.

Hopefulness about the Future

The frenzy of the winter holidays can lead to an overall post-holiday, gloomy January funk for many. Comparing the “blah” of January with the “bling” of December is not a pleasing thought. Add in a couple of quickly failed New Year’s resolutions and the days seem even more depressing. Recognize that what you’re feeling is a normal reaction to what’s going on around you. Also, recognize that you have the tools needed to ensure that you don’t fall too far into a bout of SAD. For protection against SAD, eat right, drink plenty of healthy fluids, and get active. If you are suffering from seasonal depression, research shows that light therapy is as effective as psychotherapy such as CBT might be (Meyerhoff, Young, & Rohan, 2018). Not only that, light therapy provides more rapid relief to symptoms such as insomnia, anxiety, hypersomnia, and social withdrawal. Make healthy choices, keep your body moving, and find the light and you’ll be well prepared to tackle the winter blues.
Feeling hopeful about the future is key to feeling better about the now.

References
Cuomo, A., Giordano, N., Goracci, A., & Fagiolini, A. (2017). Depression and Vitamin D deficiency: Causality, assessment, and clinical practice implications. Neuropsychiatry, 7(5), 606-614.
Kargakou A., Sachlas A., Lyrakos G., Zyga S., Tsironi M., Rojas Gil A.P. (2017) Does Health Perception, Dietary Habits and Lifestyle Effect Optimism? A Quantitative and Qualitative Study. In: Vlamos P. (eds) GeNeDis 2016. Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology, 988. Springer, Cham.
Lemanne, D., & Maizes, V. (2018). Advising Women Undergoing Treatment for Breast Cancer: A Narrative Review. Journal of Alternative & Complementary Medicine, 24(9/10), 902–909. https://doi.org/10.1089/acm.2018.0150
Meyerhoff, J., Young M. A., & Rohan K. J. Patterns of depressive symptom remission during the treatment of seasonal affective disorder with cognitive‐behavioral therapy or light therapy. Depress Anxiety. 2018;35:457–467. https://doi.org/10.1002/da.22739
Munuswamy, S., Preetha, S., & Priya, J. (2018). A study on the effects of aerobics on depression. Drug Invention Today, 10(11), 2169–2171. Retrieved from http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=a9h&AN=132173465&site=ehost-live&scope=site
Pross, N., Demazières, A., Girard, N., Barnouin, R., Metzger, D., Klein, A., Perrier, E., … Guelinckx, I. (2014). Effects of changes in water intake on mood of high and low drinkers. PloS one, 9(4), e94754. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0094754
Travis, F., Valosek, L., Konrad, A., Link, J., Salerno, J., Scheller, R., … Konrad, A. 4th. (2018). Effect of meditation on psychological distress and brain functioning: A randomized controlled study. Brain & Cognition, 125, 100–105. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.bandc.2018.03.011
Zou, L., Yeung, A., Li, C., Wei, G.-X., Chen, K. W., Kinser, P. A., … Ren, Z. (2018). Effects of Meditative Movements on Major Depressive Disorder: A Systematic Review and Meta-Analysis of Randomized Controlled Trials. Journal of Clinical Medicine, 7(8), N.PAG. https://doi.org/10.3390/jcm7080195

Suzanne Degges-White Ph.D.         Dec 18, 2018
 

 

winter

How Can You Cope With Seasonal Affective Disorder?

Does winter bring you down every year? We give you some tips on how to manage seasonal affective disorder.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression that comes and goes with the four seasons, typically manifesting during the cold autumn and winter months, when the days are shorter, darker, and chillier.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, the main risk factors for SAD are age, sex, distance from the equator (since regions farther to the north and south tend to have shorter days and less sunlight in winter), and a history of depression or other mood disorders.

Studies have shown that “young adults and women are most likely to experience SAD with the reported gender difference ranging from 2:1 to 9:1.”

People with SAD can experience a range of symptoms, but some of the most commonly reported ones include a sense of fatigue paired with oversleeping, chronically low moods, and strong cravings for carbohydrates, which can lead to excessive weight gain.

SAD can seriously impact productivity and day-to-day lifestyle, as the symptoms — if severe — can prevent individuals from going out, seeing other people, and engaging in some of the normal activities that they would otherwise pursue.

So what can you do if the winter months are getting you down? How can you cope with the lack of motivation, feelings of hopelessness, and debilitating fatigue? Here, we give you some tips on how to tackle SAD head-on.

Hunt down that light

Lack of exposure to natural light is one of the apparent reasons behind winter SAD, so it doesn’t come as a surprise that light therapy — also known as “phototherapy” — would be beneficial in keeping the symptoms at bay.
light box for phototherapy

Many studies have indicated that light therapy is usually helpful in treating this seasonal disorder, and for this purpose, you can use one of the many dedicated light boxes that are now available on the market.

But to be effective, you should make sure that the light box generates at least 10,000 lux — 100 times stronger than a normal lightbulb, meaning that a regular desk lamp won’t do — and that it has white or blue (not yellow) light.

Also, check that the light box was especially made to treat SAD, depression, and other mood disorders, and that it’s not made for a different purpose (such as treating psoriasis or other skin conditions).

Light boxes for skin treatments are another kettle of fish altogether, as they emit ultraviolet (UV) B, which is not safe for the retina. Instead, dedicated SAD treatment light boxes filter out UVs, so they’re safe to use.

Dr. Norman Ronsenthal — who first described SAD’s symptoms and pushed for it to be recognized as a valid disorder — offers some advice on how to use light therapy in his book, Winter Blues: Everything You Need to Know to Beat Seasonal Affective Disorder. He writes:

  1.     Obtain a suitable light box.
  2.     Set the light box up in a convenient place at home or at work, or both.
  3.     Sit in front of the light box […] between 20 and 90 minutes each day.
  4.     Try to get as much of your light therapy as early in the morning as possible.
  5.     Be sure to sit in such a way that the correct amount of light falls on your eyes. [Dr. Marlynn Wei says it should be placed at eye level or higher, 2 feet away from you.]
  6.     Repeat this procedure each day throughout the season of risk.

At the same time, you can add to the beneficial effects of light therapy by making a little extra effort to “hunt down” natural daylight, if possible, and take advantage of it as much as you can.

You could do this by waking up earlier in the morning and going outside where the sunshine is, for as long as it lasts, to allow yourself to feel as though you’re soaking in the light and taking advantage of the whole day.

Eat well, and watch out for the carbs

Research has shown that individuals with SAD tend to eat more carbohydrate-rich foods, especially sweets and starchy foods. They also have a tendency to overeat during these periods of “seasonal lows,” so it’s important that they look after their diets in order to feel more energized.
vegan suitable food

Over the winter months, as we get less and less sunlight, vitamin D is insufficiently produced in our bodies. Research has also suggested that ensuring we get enough vitamin D may help to prevent and manage depression.

To make sure that you’re getting enough vitamin D during autumn and winter, you could take dietary supplements. Vitamin D is also found in a range of foods that you can easily incorporate into your daily meals.

Salmon, for instance, is naturally rich in D-3, though some studies suggest that wild-caught salmon contains much larger amounts of the vitamin than farmed salmon.

Eggs are a good source of the vitamins D-2 and D-3, and mushrooms also have a high D-2 content, though research suggests that we should stick to wild mushrooms rather than cultivated ones.

Some studies also suggest that people with mood disorders may have an omega-3 fatty acid deficit, and so supplementation of this nutrient may help to keep symptoms in check.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), some good food sources of omega-3 include various types of fish (salmon, herring trout, and mackerel), chia seeds, flaxseed, and soybean.

Also, research published last year in the American Journal of Public Health points to fruit and vegetables as the foods of choice when it comes to increasing happiness and well-being.

“Eating fruit and vegetables apparently boosts our happiness far more quickly than it improves human [physical] health,” notes study co-author Prof. Andrew Oswald.

The psychological benefits of fruit and vegetable consumption were confirmed by a recent study, from February this year, which focused on the positive effect of a “green” diet on young adults — one of the groups most at risk of SAD.

Make an effort to stay active

Precisely because some of the main symptoms of SAD are fatigue and lethargy, specialists advise that making an effort to stay physically active can offer a boost of energy and improve mood.

A review of existing studies surrounding SAD and the effects of exercise on this disorder suggests that the low moods and other symptoms involved in it may be caused by disruptions to the body’s circadian rhythm. The circadian rhythm regulates our sleep, eating, and activity patterns according to day-night cycles.

Review author Benny Peiser — from the Research Institute for Sport and Exercise Sciences at Liverpool John Moore University in the United Kingdom — explains that taking part in regular physical exercise during the autumn and winter months can help to maintain an appropriate circadian rhythm, thereby keeping SAD symptoms at bay.

A study recently covered by Medical News Today also demonstrates that even low-intensity exercise done for as little as 1 hour per week can effectively counteract depression.

Don’t give in to reclusiveness

On those dark, cold days, you may be sorely tempted to just stay inside and hide from the weather and world alike. If you have more severe SAD symptoms, going out may seem unachievable, but if you want to keep the low moods and lethargy at bay, then you should do your best to resist these solitary tendencies.

Try not to give up on seeing people and doing things.

Much the same as light exercise, studies show that a leisurely walk in the great outdoors can improve your mood and well-being.

Just taking one moment every day to notice a detail in your natural surroundings, and asking yourself what feelings it elicits, can make you feel happier and more sociable, according to research from the University of British Columbia in Canada.

The American Psychological Association advise that you keep in touch with friends and family, go out with them, and speak to trusted people about what you’re experiencing. Enlisting someone else’s help in keeping you active, and helping you get out of your shell during the cold months, may make it easier to cope with the effects of SAD.

Advice regarding how best to cope with SAD from Johns Hopkins Medicine also includes finding a winter-appropriate hobby that will both keep you busy and give you pleasure, such as a DIY project or a winter sport.

Moreover, don’t forget that there is help available for people who experience SAD. Cognitive behavioral therapy has been proven to be effective in the treatment of this disorder, and a specialist will be able to recommend antidepressants if you find yourself struggling.

Friday 24 November 2017    By Maria Cohut   
Fact checked by Jasmin Collier
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Why Suicide Is More Than A Mental Health Issue

Suicide prevention efforts shift towards improving mental health of everyone

Renowned chef Anthony Bourdain has been found dead in France while working on CNN program. He’s part of an age cohort with rising suicide rates in the U.S. (Frank Gunn/Canadian Press)
The deaths this week of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain and designer Kate Spade come at at a time when new numbers from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show suicide is on the rise.

The CDC said suicide rates in the U.S. increased more than 30 per cent between 1999 and 2016. The reasons for the rise are complicated and multidimensional.

“Suicide is more than a mental health issue,” Dr. Anne Schuchat, principal deputy director of the CDC, told reporters on Thursday.

“We don’t think we can just leave this to the mental health system to manage.”

Multiple circumstances

Bourdain took his own life, CNN said Friday. New York City’s chief medical examiner ruled that Spade’s death earlier this week was also a suicide.

Spade’s husband and business partner, Andy Spade, said she suffered from depression and anxiety for many years, but was seeing a doctor regularly and taking medication.

In its Vital Signs report, the CDC said that nearly 45,000 Americans died by their own hand in 2016. The latest U.S. data suggests in 54 per cent of completed suicides, there were no known mental health conditions.

In a sampling of 27 states, relationship problems were considered a contributing factor in 42 per cent of all suicides in 2015. “Problematic substance use” was listed in 28 per cent of cases.

Even so, the CDC acknowledges that poor mental health isn’t always easy to detect. The agency said there could be a number of reasons why the reported level of mental illness could underestimate its actual effect, including:

  • Not all illnesses are formally diagnosed.
  • Stigma still surrounds a diagnosis.
  • Loved ones might not have been aware of a mental health condition.

 

‘Disturbing’ age findings

Bourdain and Spade died at 61 and 55, respectively — an age cohort with strikingly high suicide rates in the U.S., according to the CDC.

“Middle-aged adults had the largest number of suicides and a particularly high increase in suicide rates. These findings are disturbing,” said Schuchat.

Patrick Smith, CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association in Toronto, said he isn’t aware of a similar increase among that age group in Canada. But he said Bourdain and Spade’s deaths show that high-profile status is no bulwark against depression and other mental illnesses.

“Someone doesn’t say, ‘Wow, they had everything. I can’t believe they got cancer.’ But we still say that about suicide or depression,” said Smith.

“That’s really the societal challenge — to try to understand that depression and other mental illnesses can be found in every postal code and every income bracket.”

In the U.S., middle-aged adults also have higher rates of drug overdoses, Schuchat said. She pointed to emerging social science research suggesting increases in suicide correlate with “deaths of despair” among middle-age populations who may be harder hit by economic downturns.

suicide

 

The need for intervention

Suicide ranked as the ninth-leading cause of death in Canada in 2009, the last year for which numbers are available, and is the 10th-leading cause of death overall in the U.S.

In both countries, suicide prevention efforts are shifting toward meeting people’s needs before they reach crisis. Just as doctors don’t wait until cancer reaches stage 4 to intervene, Smith said experience in the U.K. shows that after community-based programs to provide support to people in workplaces and schools were introduced, prison populations were reduced and there was a dramatic drop in emergency room visits.

In countries with more community support, rates of feeling suicidal will be similar, Smith said, but there’s a better chance of having lower suicide rates.

Everyone has to take care of their mental health and the goal is to normalize conversations to improve and enhance it, Smith said.

Bourdain spoke to CBC last year about some of the psychological challenges he faced separating from his second wife and missing his daughter while travelling the globe for his show Parts Unknown. He’d also talked about his struggles with mental health and a history of drug use.

The CDC recommends teaching children, teens and adults coping and problem-solving skills, building social connections and maintaining dialogue. The agency also encourages safe storage of pills and guns.

Where to get help:

Canada Suicide Prevention Service

Toll-free 1-833-456-4566

Text: 45645

Chat: crisisservicescanada.ca

In French: Association québécoise de prévention du suicide: 1-866-APPELLE (1-866-277-3553)

Kids Help Phone:  1-800-668-6868 (Phone), Live Chat counselling at www.kidshelpphone.ca

Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention: Find a 24-hour crisis centre

If you’re worried someone you know may be at risk of suicide, you should talk to them about it, says the Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention.

Here are some warning signs:

    • Suicidal thoughts.
    • Substance abuse.
    • Purposelessness.
    • Anxiety.
    • Feeling trapped.
    • Hopelessness and helplessness.
    • Withdrawal.
    • Anger.
    • Recklessness.
    • Mood changes.
CBC News      Jun 08, 2018
With files from CBC’s Amina Zafar and Associated Press
source: www.cbc.ca
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Massive Study Yields Exciting Findings about Gut Health and the Microbiome

Gut health could be the biggest trend in the health field right now. Everywhere I turn people are discussing the importance of their gut health and how it is linked to their overall health, as well as the benefits of probiotics. And, for good reason: a growing body of research shows that what happens in our gut expands well beyond the gut.

Now new research shows that the health of your gut is significantly influenced by what you eat. A new study assessed 15096 fecal samples provided by 11336 people, published in the journal of the American Society for Microbiology, found some exciting facts about gut health and the microbiome, which is the total of all the microbes in a living being.

We each have a microbiome and no two microbiomes are alike, although there can be some similarities between them. The microbiome is a sort of microbial fingerprint. And, thanks to the new research, we have greater insight into the effect of diet on our microbiome. Here are some of the findings from this exciting study:

1) Plant-based diets produce the most diverse microbiomes. Diverse microbiomes seem to confer health benefits. Consider people who struggle to lose weight: earlier research in the journal Beneficial Microbes shows that they tend to have less diverse strains of beneficial bacteria and a lower ratio of beneficial microbes to harmful ones.

2) Eating more than 30 types of plant foods weekly yields the most diverse microbiome. In other words, it’s important to eat a plant-based diet but also one that has tremendous diversity. So, expand your horizons when it comes to trying new vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds and grains. Your microbiome will thank you. And, who knows? You might even discover a new favorite food.

3) There is a lower incidence of bacterial resistance in those who eat the greatest variety of plant foods weekly. This is great news since more and more varieties of harmful bacteria like E. coli and MRSA are, not only becoming more prevalent, they are also becoming resistant to the typical drug treatment: antibiotics. This is an astounding discovery on its own. We tend to assume that all of a certain variety of bacteria have the same level of potency against humans, but the research shows that people who eat a large variety of plant-based foods are less likely to be host to these disease-causing, resistant bacteria. People who ate more than 30 types of plant foods weekly had less resistance to antibiotics.

4) The gut bacteria of people suffering from mental health issues, including: post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia, depression or bipolar disorder were more similar to others suffering from mental disorders than to those who do not suffer from mental disorders. While the scientists conducting the study did not draw any conclusions, there may be a possible connection between gut health and mental health. Certainly other research suggests that is indeed the case. Research in the Journal of Physiological Anthropology found a link between gut bacteria and increased activity in brain pathways that improve brain health and reduce depression risk.

microbiome

How can you reap the benefits of this exciting research?

There are endless ways to boost the variety of plant-based foods you consume, but the following ones should help you get started:

  1.    Start by replacing meat in your diet with plant-based options. Start with Meatless Mondays but don’t hesitate to go meatless the rest of the week as well
  2.    The next time you pass by that odd-looking fruit or vegetable in the produce section of your grocery store, add it to your cart. It’s easy enough to find recipes for lesser-known foods using a quick Internet search. And, most importantly, add the food to your diet.
  3.    Instead of just snacking on almonds or another nut, branch out to try Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, pecans, pistachios, etc. Choose raw, unsalted varieties.
  4.    Rather than just add a can of kidney beans to your soup, stew, or chili, opt for bean varieties you are less familiar with. That could include: chickpeas, lentils, pinto beans, Romano beans, black beans, navy beans, etc.
  5.    The next time a snack attack strikes, choose a piece of fruit or a bowl of mixed berries.
  6.    When you have a craving for salty foods, choose traditionally-fermented pickles, pickled green beans, pickled beets or other foods with live cultures. Not only will you be getting a wider variety and a greater quantity of plant-based foods, you’ll also help expand the beneficial microbes you consume. Be sure to choose pickled foods that state “live cultures” or “unpasteurized” on the label.

 

Dr. Michelle Schoffro Cook, PhD, DNM is the publisher of the free e-newsletter World’s Healthiest News, the Cultured Cook, co-founder of BestPlaceinCanada, and an international best-selling and 20-time published book author whose works include: The Cultured Cook: Delicious Fermented Foods with Probiotics to Knock Out Inflammation, Boost Gut Health, Lose Weight & Extend Your Life.

By: Michelle Schoffro Cook May 31, 2018
 Follow Michelle at @mschoffrocook
 
source: www.care2.com


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Connecting the Dots Between Physical and Emotional Health

There’s a link between your emotional health and your physical well-being, so take time to nurture both.

To be completely healthy, you should take care not only of your physical health, but your emotional health, too. If one is neglected, the other will suffer.

What’s the Connection Between Emotional and Physical Health?

There’s a physical connection between what the mind is thinking and those parts of the brain that control bodily functions. According to Charles Goodstein, MD, a clinical professor of psychiatry at New York University’s Langone School of Medicine in New York City, the brain is intimately connected to our endocrine system, which secretes hormones that can have a powerful influence on your emotional health. “Thoughts and feelings as they are generated within the mind [can influence] the outpouring of hormones from the endocrine system, which in effect control much of what goes on within the body,” says Dr. Goodstein.

“As a matter of fact, it’s very probable that many patients who go to their physician’s office with physical complaints have underlying depression,” he says. People who visit their doctors reporting symptoms of headache, lethargy, weakness, or vague abdominal symptoms often end up being diagnosed with depression, even though they do not report feelings of depression to their doctors, says Goodstein.

While unhappy or stressed-out thoughts may not directly cause poor physical health, they may be a contributing factor and may explain why one person is suffering physically while someone else is not, Goodstein adds.

stronger

 

How Exactly Does the Mind Affect the Body?

There are many ways in which the mind has a significant impact on the body. Here are a few:

  • Chronic illness and depression Depression has been shown to increase the risk for chronic illnesses, such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and diabetes, according to an article published in 2013 in the Primary Care Companion for CNS Disorders. A review of studies on diabetes and depression, published in August 2015 in the Canadian Journal of Diabetes, found that depression put people at a 41 percent higher risk for the condition. Researchers aren’t yet clear on how mental health influences physical health, but according to a study published in September 2017 in the journal Psychiatria Danubina, it may be that depression affects the immune system, and that habits associated with depression, such as poor diet or lack of physical activity, may create conditions for illness to occur.
  • Depression and longevity According to a review published in June 2014 in World Psychiatry, many major mental illnesses are associated with higher rates of death. Another study, published in October 2017 in the Canadian Medical Association Journal, suggests that those with depression may have life spans from about 7 to 18 years shorter than the general population.
  • Physical symptoms of emotional health distress People who are clinically depressed often have physical symptoms, such as constipation, lack of appetite, insomnia, or lethargy, among others.
  • White-coat syndrome This is a condition in which a person’s blood pressure increases the minute they step into a doctor’s office. In white-coat syndrome, anxiety is directly related to physical function — blood pressure. “If you extrapolate from that, you can say, what other kinds of anxieties are these people having that are producing jumps in blood pressure? What is the consequence of repeated stress?” asks Goodstein.

And on the other hand: “Those individuals who have achieved a level of mental health where they can manage better the inevitable conflicts of human life are more likely to prevail in certain kinds of physical illness,” says Goodstein.

How Should You Care for Your Emotional and Physical Well-Being?

It’s hard to do, but slowing down and simplifying routines can go a long way to strengthening your mental and physical health.

  • Eat right. A healthy, regular diet is good for the body and mind.
  • Go to bed on time. Losing sleep is hard on your heart, may increase weight, and definitely cranks up the crankiness meter.
  • If you fall down, get back up. Resilience in the face of adversity is a gift that will keep on giving both mentally and physically.
  • Go out and play. Strike a balance between work and play. Yes, work is a good thing: It pays the bills. However, taking time out for relaxation and socializing is good for your emotional health and your physical health.
  • Exercise. A study published in October 2017 in Reviews in the Neurosciences shows that exercise improves your mood and has comprehensive benefits for your physical health.
  • See the right doctor, regularly. Going to the right doctor can make all the difference in your overall health, especially if you have a complicated condition that requires a specialist. But if your emotions are suffering, be open to seeing a mental health professional, too.

Total health depends on a healthy mind and body. Take time to nurture both.

By Madeline R. Vann, MPH
Medically Reviewed by Kathryn Keegan, MD
11/14/2017


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The Benefits of Cultivating an Attitude of Gratitude

We shortchange our well-being by reserving this resource just for Thanksgiving.

“When I look back on the suffering in my life, this may sound really strange, but I see it now as a gift. I would have never asked for it for a second. I hated it while it was happening and I protested as loudly as I could, but suffering happened anyway. Now, in retrospect I see the way in which it deepened my being immeasurably.” ~Ram Dass

It’s that time of year. In addition to providing an opportunity to gather with family and friends to gorge ourselves on food and football, Thanksgiving is an annual culturally compelled celebration of our various blessings—a specific occasion to “give thanks.” As meaningful as this holiday can be and as helpful as it is to have structured encouragement to express gratitude, once a year is quite simply not enough. The bio-psycho-social-spiritual benefits of gratitude are myriad. Cultivating conscious contact with gratitude is a skill, and we can profit immensely by learning and practicing it.

Gratitude is about feeling and expressing appreciation: for all we’ve received, all that we have (however little it may be), and for all that has not befallen us. It functions as an antidote for attachment to what we want but don’t have and aversion to what we have but don’t want. Gratitude is the opposite of being discontented.

It’s valuable to be aware that nearly all experiences have both “positive” and “negative” aspects. Consistent with the above quote from Ram Dass, even circumstances that are brutally physically and/or emotionally painful, often contain considerable psycho-spiritual blessings in the forms of learning, growth, and healing. Sometimes we have to work harder to locate the positive and unearth its gifts (and sometimes these become manifest only in retrospect)—but if we make the time and invest the energy to look closely and search consciously, we will find them. There is always something to be grateful for, no matter how negative or desperate things may seem.

Gratitude changes perspective—it can sweep away most of the petty, day-to-day annoyances on which we focus so much of our attention—the “small stuff” situations that bring up feelings of impatience, intolerance, negative judgment, indignation, anger, or resentment. Gratitude is a vehicle to diffuse self-pity and self-centeredness, increase feelings of well-being, and prompt mindful awareness of that which is beyond oneself—of belonging to a greater whole, and of connection to others, as well as to the world.

gratitude

Over the past decade, numerous scientific studies have documented a wide range of benefits that come with gratitude. These are available to anyone who practices being grateful, even in the midst of adversity, such as elderly people confronting death, those with cancer, people with chronic illness or chronic pain, and those in recovery from addiction. Research-based reasons for practicing gratitude include:

•    Gratitude facilitates contentment. Practicing gratitude is one of the most reliable methods for increasing contentment and life satisfaction. It also improves mood by enhancing feelings of optimism, joy, pleasure, enthusiasm, and other positive emotions. Conversely, gratitude also reduces anxiety and depression.

•    Gratitude promotes physical health. Studies suggest gratitude helps to lower blood pressure, strengthen the immune system, reduce symptoms of illness, and make us less bothered by aches and pains.

•    Gratitude enhances sleep. Grateful people tend to get more sleep each night, spend less time awake before falling asleep, and feel more rested upon awakening. If you want to sleep more soundly, instead of counting sheep count your blessings.

•    Gratitude strengthens relationships. It makes us feel closer and more connected to friends and intimate partners. When partners feel and express gratitude for each other, they each become more satisfied with their relationship.

•    Gratitude encourages “paying it forward.” Grateful people are generally more helpful, generous of spirit, and compassionate. These qualities often spill over onto others.

Two specific ways you can practice the skill of being grateful are by writing gratitude letters and making gratitude lists. A gratitude letter is one you write to someone in your life to express appreciation for ways they have helped you and/or been there for you. Gratitude letters can be about events that have happened in the past or are happening in the present, and often help to strengthen or repair relationships. A gratitude list consists of writing down 3 – 5 things for which you’re grateful every day, each week, at other intervals, or under situation-specific circumstances.

You can test the effectiveness of these methods by tuning in to your current emotion(s), mood, and attitude. Once you’ve done that, take a few minutes and identify 3 things or people that you are grateful for and briefly describe to yourself or in writing the reason(s) for your gratitude. Then notice how the way you feel has shifted after doing this simple brief exercise.

For five years during the 1990s, I was the clinical director of a hospital-based addiction treatment program outside of New York City. I worked closely with the program’s medical director, a psychiatrist who was in recovery for many years through a twelve-step program.

At a conference on addiction he gave a talk that focused on his personal recovery experience. During a powerful and moving presentation, he described being grateful that he was an addict. He went on to say that, in contrast to most people who operate more or less on automatic pilot and effectively sleepwalk through life, embarking on a process of recovery had given him the awareness to live life much more intentionally. As a result, he took little for granted and appreciated much. Although his reasoning made sense, it was difficult for me to comprehend the idea of having such profound gratitude for an experience that involved so much suffering . . . until I found my way to my own recovery.

There are no guarantees of anything and we can take nothing for granted in this life. Every day is a gift; every breath is a gift. What we do with them is a choice.

by Dan Mager, MSW       Nov 18, 2014
Dan Mager, MSW is the author of
Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain.
He received his MSW from Hunter College.
In Print:  Some Assembly Required: A Balanced Approach to Recovery from Addiction and Chronic Pain
 


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How Your Next Meal Could Help Fight Depression And Stress

Do you find that food deeply affects your mood? Science is beginning to back up such gut feelings.

The link between poor diet and mood disorders has been long known, but what has been less clear is the direction of causality. When we’re depressed, we tend to reach for lower-quality comfort foods, but can more comfort foods contribute to depression? And if we’re depressed, can improving our diets improve our symptoms?

New research is helping to pave the way toward greater clarity. One small but important trial was recently published from Deakin University’s Food and Mood Centre (the center’s very name a testament this burgeoning line of research). It involved men and women who were taking antidepressants and/or were in regular psychotherapy.

All of the 67 subjects had unhealthy diets at the start, with low intakes of fruits and vegetables, little daily dietary fiber and lots of sweets, processed meats and salty snacks. Half of the subjects were then placed on a healthy diet focusing on extra-virgin olive oil, nuts, seeds, eggs, fruits, vegetables, fatty fish and grass-fed beef. The other half continued eating their usual diets and were required to attend social support sessions.

Before and after the three-month study, the subjects’ symptoms were graded on a common depression scale. After three months of healthier eating, those in the intervention group saw their scores improve on average by about 11 points. Thirty-two percent had achieved scores so low that they no longer met criteria for depression. Meanwhile, people in the social support group with no dietary intervention improved by only about 4 points; only 8% achieved remission.

What this early research demonstrates is that even for patients with major depression, food may be a powerful antidepressant. And with no negative side effects.

One way a healthier diet may improve one’s mood is through our bodies’ immune systems. The same process by which we respond to acute injuries or threats also puts out fires initiated by our diets and lifestyles. That’s why poor diet can lead to chronic low-grade inflammation, a risk factor for noncommunicable diseases such as Type 2 diabetes and even Alzheimer’s disease. These sorts of illnesses now account for 60% of deaths worldwide, according to the World Health Organization.

disease & diet

Though the mechanisms linking inflammation to depression are just beginning to be understood, other studies involving compounds with a known anti-inflammatory effect, such as curcumin (a component of the spice turmeric), have also demonstrated some efficacy in reducing symptoms. Though the studies are small and warrant further research, they strengthen the notion that depression may be the brain’s response to inflammation in the body, at least for some.

Whole, healthy foods also provide micronutrients that help the brain better cope with daily stress. Today, with 90% of Americans deficient in at least one vitamin or mineral, it has left our brains weaponless as it attempts to repair from the damage. Case in point: Nearly 50% of Americans don’t consume enough magnesium, a mineral involved in DNA repair. And yet it is easily found in foods such as almonds, spinach and avocado.

Some of the most nutrient-dense foods include dark leafy greens, cruciferous vegetables, eggs and even properly raised red meat. A large study found that women who consumed less than three to four servings of red meat per week were twice as likely to have a diagnosed depressive or anxiety disorder. The study was performed in Australia, where more of their meat comes from grass-fed cows, a caveat the researchers call out as noteworthy.

What foods should we avoid consuming to maintain a healthy, balanced mood? Sugar and highly refined, processed oils, which include canola, corn and soybean oil (the use of which has skyrocketed up to 1,000% over the past century). These foods have been linked to mental health issues including depression, and both now saturate our food supply, constituting in large part the ultra-processed foods that now make up 60% of our caloric intake. These foods, when consumed chronically, drive inflammation and deplete our bodies’ protective resources, compounding the damage done.

Although the science regarding diet and mood has a long way to go before being settled, there’s little reason to wait given that switching to a healthier diet may help and is definitively better for your overall health. Research suggests that a better diet may even be easier on your wallet.

Max Lugavere is a health and science journalist and the author of “Genius Foods: Become Smarter, Happier, and More Productive While Protecting Your Brain for Life.”

By Max Lugavere     Tuesday, March 20, 2018
 
source: www.cnn.com


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What Are Oxalates?

What is oxalate?
Oxalate is a naturally occurring molecule found in abundance in plants and humans. It’s not a required nutrient for people, and too much can lead to kidney stones.

In plants, oxalate helps to get rid of extra calcium by binding with it. That is why so many high-oxalate foods are from plants. In humans, it may work as a “prebiotic,” feeding good bacteria in the gut.

How does the body process it?
When we eat foods with oxalate, it travels through the digestive tract and passes out in the stool or urine. As it passes through the intestines, oxalate can bind with calcium and be excreted in the stool. However, when too much oxalate continues through to the kidneys, it can lead to kidney stones.

Calcium oxalate kidney stones are the most common type of kidney stone in the North America. The higher your levels of oxalate, the greater your risk of developing these kinds of kidney stones.

What is a low-oxalate diet?
If you are at high risk for kidney stones, lowering the amount of oxalate that you eat may help reduce this risk.

However, new research indicates that boosting your intake of calcium-rich foods when you eat foods that are high in oxalate may be a better approach than simply eliminating it from the diet. As they digest, oxalate and calcium are more likely to bind together before they get to the kidneys, making it less likely that kidney stones will form.

What causes oxalate buildup?
Foods that are high in vitamin C can increase the body’s oxalate levels. Vitamin C converts to oxalate, and levels over 1,000 milligrams (mg) per day have been shown to increase oxalate levels.

Taking antibiotics, or having a history of digestive disease, can also increase the body’s oxalate levels. The good bacteria in the gut help get rid of oxalate, and when the levels of these bacteria are low, higher amounts of oxalate can be absorbed in the body.

What can reduce oxalate?
Drinking enough fluid each day can help clear kidney stones or even keep them from forming. Spreading liquids throughout the day is ideal. Choosing water over other drinks is preferable.

Getting enough calcium is also helpful. Getting too little calcium can increase the amount of oxalate that gets to the kidneys, which will increase the risk of kidney stones.

Lowering your salt intake can also lower your risk of kidney stones. High-salt diets tend to cause more calcium to be lost in the urine. The more calcium and oxalate in the kidneys, the greater the risk of kidney stones.

How is oxalate measured?
Lists that provide the oxalate content in foods can be confusing. The oxalate levels reported in foods can vary depending on the following factors:

  • when the foods are harvested
  • where they are grown
  • how their oxalate levels were tested

 

oxalates





High-oxalate foods
Foods that are highest in oxalate include:

  • fruits
  • vegetables
  • nuts
  • seeds
  • legumes
  • grains

High-oxalate fruits include:

  • berries
  • kiwis
  • figs
  • purple grapes

Vegetables that contain high levels of oxalate include:

  • rhubarb
  • okra
  • leeks
  • spinach
  • beets
  • Swiss chard

To reduce how much oxalate you get, minimize consumption of:

  • almonds
  • cashews
  • peanuts
  • soy products

Some grain products are also high in oxalate, including:

  • bran flakes
  • wheat germ
  • quinoa

The following foods are also high in oxalates:

  • cocoa
  • chocolate
  • tea

High-calcium foods
Increasing your calcium intake when eating foods with oxalate can help lower oxalate levels in the urine. Choose high-calcium dairy foods such as milk, yogurt, and cheese. Vegetables can also provide a good amount of calcium. Choose among the following foods to increase your calcium levels:

  • broccoli
  • watercress
  • kale
  • okra

High-calcium legumes that have a fair amount of calcium include:

  • kidney beans
  • chickpeas
  • baked beans
  • navy beans

Fish high in calcium include:

  • sardines with bones
  • whitebait
  • salmon

How to avoid kidney stones
To lower your risk of kidney stones, add a high-calcium food to a meal that contains a food with higher levels of oxalate.

For example, if you add wheat germ to your oatmeal, be sure to add some milk as well. If you are cooking spinach, don’t feel guilty about combining it with pizza or lasagna. If you have a craving for a berry smoothie, add some regular or Greek yogurt to help provide balance.

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