Tag Archives: mental health

stress

Mental Health Awareness Week: Stress Busters

Focusing on Stress

May 14th is the beginning of National Mental Health Awareness week. Hosted by the Mental Health Foundation, this year the focus is stress. Tackling stress early is crucial for good health because ongoing stress can lead to depression and anxiety, and is also linked to physical diseases such as heart disease and immune problems.

The stress response is actually a healthy response to threat or danger. It is designed to give us a quick boost of energy to fuel our fight or flight response. When stress becomes an everyday experience, however, the body struggles to cope. Blood pressure rises, inflammation is triggered and hormone levels are disrupted. Experts call this ‘allostatic overload’ and it can result in anxiety, depression and insomnia.

Several key nutrients have been found to help deal with stress and support the organs that are involved in the stress reaction. Taking time to nourish the body in this way can therefore offer protection against the effects of stress.

The ‘Fighting Five’

Nutritionist Ian Marber emphasises five key nutrients – which he calls the ‘fighting five’ – needed to support the body under stress (1). These are vitamins A, C and E, and the minerals zinc and selenium.

Each of these nutrients helps in disarming the free radicals produced when the body is under stress. Free radicals are molecules that harm cells in the body through oxidative damage. They have been linked to diseases such as heart disease, diabetes, arthritis, and accelerated ageing.

The ‘fighting five’ antioxidants help by neutralising these free radicals, helping to prevent the cell damage caused by stress. While antioxidant supplements can help to ensure a good intake of these nutrients, it is recommended that dietary sources should be included every day. The best sources of these valuable antioxidants include plums, tomatoes, dark green vegetables, pumpkin and sesame seeds, and seafood.

Cortisol and Stress

Another hazard associated with stress is elevated levels of cortisol. When the body is under stress, the adrenal glands begin to pump out higher levels of cortisol, a hormone that powers the ‘fight or flight’ response.

Over time, elevated levels of cortisol can become a problem, leading to anxiety and depression, as well as weight gain and breakdown of muscle and bone. Early signs of high cortisol include sleep problems, weight gain, raised blood pressure and difficulty concentrating.

Several nutrients have been found in studies to be effective in lowering cortisol levels. The most effective of these include the herb ashwaganda root extract, and the nutrient phosphatidyl serine. Both of these nutrients have been found to improve mood and lower feelings of stress and anxiety (2, 3 & 4).

Adrenal Health

Finally, protecting the health of the adrenals is particularly important for anybody experiencing ongoing stress. The key nutrients required by the adrenal glands are vitamin B5, vitamin C and magnesium.

Because our body cannot store vitamin C, it is important to provide it with a regular daily supply, particularly when stress levels are high. The adrenal gland requires higher levels of vitamin C during times of stress. The richest sources are black and red berries, citrus fruits and red peppers. Similarly, vitamin B5 cannot be stored by the body, and so including wholegrains and green leafy vegetables daily would be a sensible measure to help protect the body from the effects of stress.

The mineral magnesium is crucial to the health of the adrenals, and requirements for magnesium increase when the body is under stress (5). Stressed individuals may therefore benefit from supplementing around 300mg magnesium each day. Good dietary sources include leafy greens, wheatgerm, almonds, cod and mackerel.

While we may not be able to influence everyday stressors, such as commuting, financial worries or workload, we can certainly give the body the fuel it needs to cope with the stress response. Taking early measures to protect the body from the effects of stress is a sensible way to safeguard long term health and wellbeing.

References
1. Marber & Edgson (1990) The Food Doctor. USA: Collins and Brown.
2. Indian J Psychol Med. 2012 Jul-Sep; 34(3): 255–262.
3. Lipids Health Dis. 2014 Jul 31;13:121.
4. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2008 Jul 28;5:11.
5. Tarasov et al (2015) Magnesium deficiency and stress: Issues of their relationship, diagnostic tests, and approaches to therapy. Ter Arkh 87(9):114-122

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mood

How to Beat Blue Monday: Natural Energy and Mood Boosters

The holiday season is behind us and the most depressing day of the year is on the horizon. Blue Monday (the third Monday of the year) is cited to be the ‘perfect storm’ of post-holiday blues, gloomy weather, work stress and financial woes following Christmas over-indulgence.

Read on for tips on how to bring some post-Christmas cheer to your January with natural energy and mood boosters.

Probiotics for the Brain

New research shows that the health of our digestive tract has a direct impact on mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Our brain and our gut are in constant communication. In fact, our gut microbiome – the microbes naturally present in our gut – influences the function of the brain because of its affect on the immune system, our hormones and neurotransmitter pathways.

“Our habits – including our diet – are important factors modulating the microbiome-gut-brain axis, so an appropriate diet is important for adequate mental health”, says physician Juan Lima-Ojeda, who specialises in mental health research.

Indeed probiotic supplements have been shown to relieve symptoms of depression and even show improved brain function in areas of the brain linked with mood.

For anyone looking to support a healthy mood it would be wise to focus on a diet aimed at optimising gut bacteria. Overindulgence at Christmas usually means an abundance of sugar and a lack of healthy fibre. Redress the balance with prebiotic foods such as bananas, garlic, leeks and onions to encourage a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotic yoghurts and good quality probiotic supplements can also help to replenish healthy bacteria, supporting mood and wellbeing.

Amino Acids improve Energy and Mood

Tyrosine is an amino acid used to make brain chemicals such as dopamine, and noradrenaline. It is often used in supplement form to support energy levels and to protect against the effects of stress.

When you experience stress, your brain uses tyrosine to make noradrenaline. This stimulates your central nervous system and increases your energy and mental power. It can, however, take time to then replenish tyrosine stores and so tyrosine supplementation may be helpful during stressful periods. Some studies suggest that both memory and performance under stress are improved with tyrosine supplementation.

Tyrosine may also be helpful after periods of sleep deprivation. Studies have found that tyrosine supplementation may help to improve memory, reasoning and vigilance in sleep-deprived adults.

To ensure a healthy intake of tyrosine, be sure to include plenty of tyrosine-rich foods such as fish, eggs, almonds, lima beans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats and bananas. Those who supplement normally take around 500mg to 2000mg daily, split into two doses.

A second amino acid linked to mood is tryptophan, which is used to make serotonin, your brain’s ‘feel good’ hormone.

Low serotonin levels are linked with conditions such as depression. There is a lot of interest in a form of tryptophan called 5-HTP, a natural supplement that has been found in preliminary studies to be as effective as antidepressant drugs such as imipramine and fluvoxamine. Other studies have found that 5-HTP enhances feelings of wellbeing in healthy people.

The richest sources of tryptophan are beans, seafood, chicken and eggs. The supplement 5-HTP is believed to be effective at boosting brain levels of serotonin, especially if it is taken separately from food. The usual dosage for depression is 100mg, taken two or three times a day.

DHA: Brain Food

The human brain is almost 60% fat, and so the right type of fats are essential to support optimal mental health. The type of fat that makes up the cell membranes in the brain is an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. Without good levels of DHA, the brain has trouble utilising serotonin. Low levels of DHA are therefore linked with depression and anxiety.

In studies, 300mg fish oil daily – a rich source of DHA – has been found to be effective in the treatment of mild depression. Fish oil has also been found in double blind studies to be helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety at a dose of 2g daily.

The best sources of DHA are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. While flaxseed provides some omega-3, vegetarians and vegans can actually obtain DHA through marine algae. Omega-3 supplements made from algae are just as effective as fish oil supplements, and provide a simple and direct source of vegetarian DHA.

References
Juan M. Lima-Ojeda et al. “I Am I and My Bacterial Circumstances”: Linking Gut Microbiome, Neurodevelopment, and Depression” Frontiers in Psychiatry. Published online August 22 2017
Tillisch K et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology. 2013 Jun; 144(7):1394-401, 1401.e1-4.
. Dash S et al. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Jan; 28(1):1-6.
Maria Ines Pinto-Sanchez et al. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: a Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 2017
Badawy A. Novel nutritional treatment for manic and psychotic disorders: a review of tryptophan and tyrosine depletion studies and the potential of protein-based formulations using glycomacropeptide. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013
Iovieno N et al. Second-tier natural antidepressants: review and critique. J Affect Disord. 2011
Kiecolt-Glaser JK et al. “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial.” Brain Behav Immun 25:1725-1734 (2011)

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