Tag Archives: depression

Five ways eating more vegetables makes you happier

By Marcus Guimarães - Flickr, CC BY 2.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=3240482

New research shows increasing your intake of fresh fruits and vegetables can boost your well-being in as little as two weeks. Although the study didn’t explain why, previous studies show eating more vegetables impacts brain, immune, and gut health — all of which affect your mood.

The New Zealand study divided more than 170 young adults into three groups. The researchers personally gave one group two servings on fresh fruits and vegetables each day. The second group was given vouchers and text reminders to consume extra produce. The third group was not given any produce or vouchers.

The first group given the extra produce in person consumed an average of 3.7 servings a day of fruits and vegetables. After two weeks they reported feeling improvements in mood, vitality, motivation, as well as a flourishing of well-being.

The other two groups reported no change.

5 ways eating more produce makes you feel better

When you look at the effects of a plant-based diet on health, the results of this study are no surprise.

Here are five reasons why eating more fruits and vegetables can make you happier and more motivated:

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that promotes relaxation. Brain scans show healthy gut bacteria promotes relaxation.

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower brain inflammation. A Harvard-affiliated study found that healthy gut bacteria lowers brain inflammation, thus lowering the risk of dementia. Brain inflammation is also linked with depression, anxiety, and irritability.

Eating more vegetables increases the gut bacteria that lower depression, anxiety, eating disorders, autism symptoms, and obesity. By now you get the picture. Studies continue to find links between gut bacteria and a variety of mood and mental disorders. Eating a wide variety of plenty of produce is the best way to create a healthy diversity of gut bacteria.

Regular bowel movements from increased fiber of a high-vegetable diet improve your mood. It’s no mystery why constipated babies are so fussy. Research shows a higher prevalence of mood disorders in those with chronic constipation. Although myriad factors can cause constipation, often it’s as simple as too little plant fiber. Eating ample amounts of vegetables and fruits promotes regular, healthy bowel movements (unless you have a gut disorder that makes digesting produce difficult). Constipation increases circulating toxins in the body, which can inflame the brain and lead to bad moods.

What does a serving of vegetables look like?

The new recommendation from the American Institute for Cancer Research is to eat at least five servings a day of fruits and vegetables, but ideally you should eat seven to ten. Five of those servings should be vegetables and two to three fruit (to avoid consuming too much sugar). In other words, two-thirds of each meal should be vegetables.

A “serving” is a vague reference. Here are some ideas of what a serving looks like:

  • ½ cup of fruit
  • 1 medium piece of fruit
  • ¼ cup of dried fruit
  • 1 cup of leafy vegetables
  • ½ cup of cooked or raw vegetables

Most Americans don’t eat near enough vegetables. It takes some practice and discipline to develop a vegetable habit (vegetable for breakfast, anyone?), but once you do you’ll be motivated by how much better you feel.

Pre-prep veggies for quick salads, and make big batches of veggie soups and stews to facilitate the transition.

Your gut bacteria can play a role in anxiety and PTSD

Probiotic w/ prebiotic foodsNew research has found a link between gut bacteria and anxiety — the diversity and quantity of your gut bacteria can affect your anxiety levels. Scientists believe this could play a role in treating PTSD, or post-traumatic stress disorder.
In the study, researchers subjected mice to stressful conditions until they showed signs of anxiety and stress: shaking, diminished appetite, and reduced social interaction. Fecal samples showed the stressed mice had less diversity of gut bacteria than calmer mice who had not been subjected to stress.
When they fed the stressed mice the same live bacteria found in the guts of the calm mice, the stressed mice immediately began to calm down. Their stress levels continued to drop in the following weeks.
Brain scans also showed the improved gut flora produced changes in brain chemistry that promotes relaxation.
These biomarkers, according to researchers, can indicate whether someone is suffering from PTSD or is at a higher risk of developing it. Improving gut microflora diversity may play a role in treatment and prevention.

The role of healthy gut bacteria in the military

Because about 20 percent of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans suffer from PTSD, the military is interested in the potential of influencing gut bacteria to manage and predict the risk of PTSD, anxiety, and depression. Enhancing gut microflora may also help submarine crews who go for long periods in confined spaces and with no daylight.

How to improve the health of your gut bacteria for anxiety, PTSD, depression, obesity, eating disorders

The quality and diversity of gut bacteria, or the “gut microbiome,” has been linked to not only anxiety, but also depression, obesity, eating disorders, autism, irritable bowel syndrome, and many other common disorders.
In other words, if you want to improve your health, you need to tend to your inner garden and make it richly diverse and bountiful. Although we’re still some way off from a magic-bullet approach, there are many ways you can enrich the environment of your gut microbiome:

Cut out foods that kill good bacteria and promote harmful bacteria: Sugars, processed foods, processed carbohydrates, alcohol and energy drinks, fast foods, food additives, and other unhealthy staples of the standard American diet.

Eat tons of fiber-rich plants, which good bacteria love: All vegetables but especially artichokes, peas, broccoli, Brussels sprouts, as well as fruits. Either way, eat a large diversity of veggies on a regular basis instead of the same thing every day.

Use probiotic supplements: Live, “friendly” bacteria in supplement form will bolster your gut’s population of healthy microbes. Read the label to make sure they are high in multiple strains of live bacteria. Dietary fiber nourishes these friendly probiotic bacteria, earning it the title “pre-biotic”. This combination of pre- and probiotic support is vital for healthy gut bacteria.

Eat fermented foods: Sauerkraut, kimchee, kombucha, and yogurt contain live microbes, and can also help boost the probiotic content of your digestive tract. Not all fermented foods have live cultures so make sure to read the labels.

Protect your existing gut flora: Medications, age, health status, and stress influence your gut microbiome. Eating a fiber-strong, gut-friendly diet and supplementing with probiotics and fermented foods is one of your best strategies for supporting gut health, a healthy mood, and stress resiliency.

Concussions triple suicide risk

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While concussions have gained attention for their link to dementia, did you know they also increase the risk for suicide? Just one concussion can triple the long-term risk of suicide in otherwise healthy people.

Although brain-injured football players have been receiving all the attention lately, the typical concussion patient is a middle-aged adult. Most concussions happen during traffic accidents, falls at home, and in other everyday situations.

study looked at a quarter-million subjects who had been diagnosed with a mild concussion during the last 20 years. Researchers found suicide occurred at three times the norm in this population. They also found that on average suicide occurred nearly six years after the concussion. Also, the risk increased with additional concussions.

Why does a concussion increase suicide risk? 

In functional medicine we know a concussion causes brain inflammation, from which the patient may never fully recover. Unlike the body’s immune system, the brain’s immune system does not shut off once triggered. As a result, unchecked brain inflammation damages and destroys healthy brain cells.

Brain inflammation is tied to various brain-based disorders, including depression and mental illness. In fact, a 2014 study concluded that sustaining a head injury leads to a greater risk of mental illness later in life.

When patients fail to employ strategies to dampen brain inflammation, post-concussive inflammation continues its crawl through the brain like a slow-burning fire, consuming neurons in its path. This can go on for years after the concussion, impacting mood, memory, and general function.

What’s more, thanks to intimate communication between the brain and the gut, a concussion often impacts gut health and function. Many people report the onset of digestive issues after a concussion.

This is bad news because research shows an inflamed and unhealthy gut is directly linked to depression, giving post-concussive patients a double whammy of depression-inducing inflammation that travels back and forth between the gut and the brain.

Functional medicine strategies for concussions 

For every person who dies from suicide, many others think about it or suffer from chronic depression. 

This study shows a clear need for better long-term care of patients with concussion.

Fortunately, functional medicine offers many strategies to reduce brain inflammation and lower the risk of mood disorders such as depression after a concussion:

  • Stabilizing blood sugar
  • Removing inflammatory triggers from the diet (such as gluten) or the environment (such as synthetic scents or toxic cleaning products)
  • Improving gut health and gut bacteria diversity
  • Identifying and addressing autoimmune diseases, situations where the body’s immune system attacks body tissue, creating chronic inflammation. Autoimmune reactions in the brain are more common than people realize.
  • Addressing chronic infections.
  • Improving blood flow and oxygenation flow in the brain.
  • Stabilizing hormones.
  • Using nutritional compounds to reduce inflammation in the brain.

These are among the foundations of functional medicine that can make the difference between a post-concussive downward spiral or be the springboard to a more brain-healthy way of living. 

If life hasn’t been the same since your concussion, ask me how functional medicine strategies can help.

Many girls’ ADHD misdiagnosed as depression, anxiety

girls and adhd

When we think of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) we think of the boys — they’ve received the lion’s share of diagnoses and attention. But turns out we’re focusing mainly on characteristically boys’ symptoms, leaving a lot of girls in the dust with their symptoms and very bad outcomes in adulthood.

While boys act out and are hyperactive, ADHD in girls expresses itself more as disorganization and inattentiveness.

Symptoms include a tendency toward daydreaming, trouble following instructions, and making careless mistakes.

These symptoms can lead to feelings of shame for girls who feel the pressure to perform. They see these symptoms as personal flaws instead of a neurological condition.

Sadly, this continual sense of failure can lead to anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, eating disorders, and a four to five times greater risk of self-harm and suicide.

These girls are more likely to have fewer friendships and get into unhealthy and abusive relationships that mirror their inner lack of self worth.

Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys and it can get worse as they get older. Many don’t get diagnosed until adulthood and spend their lives trying to manage it on their own and feeling shame about it.

Missing the cues of ADHD in girls

The diagnosis of ADHD in girls has increased 55 percent in recent years, compared to 40 percent for boys. Despite this increase, many girls still go undiagnosed (while there is over diagnosis of boys).

This is because the symptoms of feeling unfocused and disorganized lead to depression and anxiety. As a result, girls miss out on services that may help their symptoms in childhood and instead are prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications, which can exacerbate symptoms of ADHD. Many doctors also believe girls can’t get ADHD.

ADHD in adult women

As women take on careers and raising children, masking their symptoms of ADHD can become more difficult.

The researchers found that adult women with high IQs and ADHD suffer from constant feelings of being frantic and overwhelmed trying to manage day-to-day basics. Adult women have become the fastest growing users of ADHD medications.

ADHD and functional medicine

With any neurological disorder, including ADHD, we always seek to support the brain as much as possible. This can mean looking at foods that are inflammatory to the brain (gluten is a primary one) and gut health, another known link to brain health. For more advice, please contact my office.

Loneliness is bad for your health

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Everyone feels lonely from time to time. Maybe you miss a party, move to a new city, or lack a close circle of friends. Ideally, loneliness is temporary, but when it becomes chronic, it can have far-reaching consequences for our health. While we’ve known for decades that perceived social isolation, or loneliness, is a major risk factor for chronic illness and death, only more recently have we gained deeper clues into why loneliness is such a health risk.

Studies show loneliness affects immunity

In a study of overweight but otherwise healthy people, those with loneliness showed higher levels of inflammation when faced with stressful activities; another set of subjects experienced more inflammation, pain, depression and fatigue than normal, plus a reactivation of dormant viruses in the body. More recently, it was shown that loneliness reduced the ability to fight off viruses and bacteria.

Researchers say the body perceives loneliness as a stressor, causing it to go into a “fight or flight” response and release adrenal hormones. Over time this chronic stress response leads to chronic inflammation, setting the stage for numerous disorders, including depression, coronary heart disease, Type 2 diabetes, arthritis, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer.

This explains why lonely people have been shown to be at increased risk for cancer, neurodegenerative disease, and viral infections.

Compounding the problem is the fact that chronic inflammation is linked with depression and other mental health issues, which may cause a lonely person to further isolate themselves in a vicious cycle that’s hard to break.

The remedy for loneliness

Clearly, healthy social relationships are the best antidote to loneliness. Relationships don’t just happen – you have to make them happen.

Ideas to remedy loneliness include: Join Meetup.com groups, or start one; schedule time with friends or acquaintances; attend local events; sign up for classes to learn something new with other people; join a volunteer organization; join a church or spiritual community. If you look outside yourself you will find a cornucopia of healthy social opportunities.

Humans are designed to commune. It’s vital to health because in our history it was vital to survival. The stress response to loneliness and isolation is a red flag that you need the feeling of protection and inclusion socialization brings.

If you feel depression and lack of motivation are holding you back from reaching out to form a healthy social community, I can help you with diet and specific supplementation that can help boost your desire to socialize.

Five things doctors don’t tell you about depression

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Do you suffer from depression? People succumb to depression for different reasons. It’s important to look for the underlying cause of your depression. Consider these five:

1. Poor communication between brain cells

Depression happens when neurons in certain areas of the brain don’t communicate well with each other, or “fire.” This causes poor brain function and symptoms of depression.

Many factors cause poor firing in the brain, which I’ll talk about more in this article.

The primary question when you have symptoms of depression is, “What is causing neurons not to fire in areas of the brain associated with mood?” Continue reading

Do you have an inflamed brain? How to tell and what to do

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When most people think of inflammation they think of arthritic joints, or maybe a sprained ankle. But did you know your brain can become inflamed, too?

The problem is an inflamed brain won’t hurt. Instead you should look for other symptoms of brain inflammation. These include brain fog, slow thinking, fatigue, and depression.

Brain fog is a hallmark symptom of brain inflammation. The inflammation slows down communication between neurons. This is what causes you to feel foggy, dull, and slow.

Brain inflammation is serious because it means nerve cells in the brain are dying. In other words, brain inflammation is causing your brain to atrophy and age too fast.

What causes brain inflammation

A common cause of brain inflammation is head injury. Injuries cause immune cells to turn on in order to begin the healing process. But unlike immune cells in the body, the brain’s immune cells do not turn off. This means brain inflammation can continue to be a problem long after the injury. This is one reason football players have high rates of the chronic degenerative brain disease called chronic traumatic encephalopathy.

Other common causes of brain inflammation include chronic inflammation in the body, leaky gut, high blood sugar and diabetes, hormone imbalances, hypothyroidism  food intolerances (gluten is a notorious brain inflamer), stress, and brain autoimmunity — a disorder in which the immune system erroneously attacks and damages brain tissue. It is more common than people realize.

Depression and brain inflammation

Depression is a common symptom of brain inflammation (although different things can cause depression, depending on the person). Immune cells called cytokines that are created by inflammation impair brain function. Cytokines also hamper the activity of serotonin, the “joy and well-being” brain chemical commonly linked with depression.

A good illustration of this is the fact that many patients given the anti-viral drug interferon  which increases cytokine activity, develop depression. Conversely, many people who tame inflammation relieve depression.

Brain inflammation: Autism to Alzheimer’s

Brain imaging and autopsies show brain inflammation is more common in individuals with autism.

Brain inflammation is also increasingly being linked with dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. The inflammation both degenerates brain tissue and increases amyloid beta, the hallmark of Alzheimer’s.

Take brain inflammation seriously to save your brain

If you have brain fog or other symptoms that suggest brain inflammation, this means your brain is degenerating (aging) too fast. Be proactive in saving your brain health:

  • Take flavonoids. Flavonoids are plant compounds that have been shown to reduce inflammation in the brain. Ask me for more information.?Balance your blood sugar. Low blood sugar, insulin resistance (high blood sugar), and diabetes all inflame the brain. Don’t skip meals or overdo carbs.
  • Food sensitivities. Gluten is a common cause of brain inflammation. Rule out a sensitivity to gluten or other commonly inflammatory foods, such as dairy, soy, eggs, and other grains. 
  • Balance hormones. Low sex hormones (such as estrogen and testosterone) and low thyroid hormones contribute to brain inflammation. 
  • Heal your gut. The gut and the brain profoundly influence one another. An inflamed gut causes an inflamed brain.
  • Take glutathione precursors. Glutathione is the body’s master antioxidant and can help quench brain inflammation. Sufficient essential fatty acids and vitamin D are important, too.

Moody and need meds or just a healthy, normal female?

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Do you feel you need anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medications, or has your doctor said you do? Although true depression or anxiety disorders need management, many women are misled into believing they need treatment for what is actually normal behavior. Women are designed to be sensitive to their environments, emotionally in tune with their children and loved ones, and intuitive — traits that ensure survival. Women are also wired to express emotions and to pick up on the emotions of others.

Unfortunately, emotionality is not socially acceptable despite being a sign of good health in women. What is not so healthy is the constant pressure to apologize for and restrain emotionality for fear of being regarded as weak or hysterical.

Pharmaceutical companies, astute in the psychology of selling, spin this into sales targeted at women. In ads for antidepressants  93 percent feature a woman, usually a lonely single woman or stressed-out single mom. One in four American women take an antidepressant compared to one in seven men.

Women are more likely than men to express negative feelings through sadness and worry, which can be interpreted as a psychiatric disorder requiring medication. Men are more prone to express negative feelings as anger or through substance abuse, which are not as easy to address pharmaceutically.

Furthermore, when we paint depression and anxiety as women’s problems, men truly suffering from these problems are more likely to go overlooked. Women are almost twice as likely than men to receive a diagnosis of depression or anxiety.

Is it a lifestyle issue or a true disorder?

Many women turn to prescription drugs to help them manage feeling that are actually natural responses to unnatural stressors: chronic sleep deprivation, too little time outdoors, unhealthy diets, social isolation, over exposure to toxins and electric light, and over packed schedules. The human animal simply wasn’t designed to live optimally in today’s highly artificial, stressed-out environment.

Again, this is not meant to dismiss or minimize genuine depressive or anxiety disorders. But is your state of mind a reasonable response to your situation or a mental disorder? For instance, crying  which is seen as a sign of weakness, is actually a healthy way for many women to express sadness, frustration, fear, or other strong emotions. Women who take SSRI antidepressants (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) find it’s difficult to cry. They also experience more apathy and indifference.

Natural approaches to sadness and worry

Unfortunately, we can’t wave a magic wand and remove the stressors from life. However, it’s helpful and important to prioritize basic biological needs: plenty of sleep, good nutrition, healthy socialization, physical activity, and time outdoors.

Also, many natural compounds can address brain chemical imbalances to help boost your mental well being and function. Adrenal adaptogens are herbs that help buffer the effects of stress on your body and brain. Dietary strategies that balance blood sugar and tame inflammation can also result in profound improvements in mood.

It’s also important, though, to know that what you’re experiencing may just be a part of being that finely tuned emotional instrument known as a woman.

Gluten can cause depression, anxiety, brain fog and other brain disorders

gluten depression anxiety brain fog

Do you suffer from depression, anxiety disorders, brain fog, memory loss, or other brain-based issues? While conventional medicine turns to drug treatments, recent research points to poor gut health as the root of mental illness. This is because inflammation in the gut triggers inflammation throughout the body, including in the brain, bringing on depression, anxiety, brain fog, memory loss and other neurological symptoms. Although many factors affect gut health—and hence brain health—one of the more profound is a sensitivity to gluten, the protein found in wheat, barley, rye, and other wheat-like grains. In fact, a gluten sensitivity has been found to affect brain and nerve tissue more than any other tissue in the body.

Gluten sensitivity once was thought to be limited to celiac disease, an autoimmune response to gluten that damages the digestive tract and is linked to depression. However, newer research has confirmed the validity of non-celiac gluten sensitivity, an immune response to gluten that causes many symptoms, including digestive problems, skin rashes, joint pain, and neurological and psychiatric diseases. Recent research shows gluten degenerates brain and nervous tissue in a significant portion of those with gluten sensitivity.

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Hanging out with friends vital to prevent disease

3 05 socialization prevents dementia

While we eat well and exercise to prevent disease, studies show one of the best ways to stay healthy is to hang out with friends. Studies have linked socialization with better 
heart health, warding off 
depression, and preventing 
memory loss.

In fact, research shows social isolation carries the same health risks as smoking, obesity, and physical inactivity, and that regular social interaction can improve your odds of survival by 50 percent.

More people than ever live alone today, almost one third of the US population. This means people have to make an effort to socialize.

And if you think all those hours on Facebook are a substitute for in-person socialization, think again. Although social media is great for connections, online conversations tend to center around what’s “cool” or socially relevant, while in-person conversations go more in depth into sharing life experiences. Important social cues such as body language, facial expressions, and vocal inflections also go missing online.

Continue reading