I often talk about the connection between the body and the mind, but what about the MIND diet?
The MIND diet is the happy hybrid of two other great diets – the Mediterranean and the DASH (Dietary Approaches to Stop Hypertension) diets. As you might have guessed, the MIND diet is heavy on vegetables and wholefoods, but it does go further to emphasise specific brain-healthy foods groups.
So far the evidence points to it assisting in slowing down age related negative effects on brain health. This is particularly important given dementia is the second leading cause of death of women in Australia (behind heart disease). While dementia is often thought of as a memory disorder, it’s more accurate to define it as a fatal brain failure – a terminal disease that can cause physical death.
In research studies, those who closely followed the diet had a 53% reduced risk of developing Alzheimer’s disease and a brain age 7.5 years younger than those who didn’t follow the principles. Even those moderately following the diet benefited with a 35% reduction in Alzheimer’s risk compared with those who followed it loosely or not at all.
So what should you be eating??
Eat a rainbow across the week
No, this doesn’t mean you should only eat red things on Monday, yellow things on Wednesday, blue things on Friday and violet things on Sunday!
A central aspect of the MIND diet is its emphasis on a variety of healthy foods, as well as overall diet quality, rather than overly focusing on individual nutrients. Aim for a wide variety of foods that includes colourful fruit, vegetables and legumes, as well as different types of wholegrain cereals, protein and plant-based oils. If you’re comfortable with the Mediterranean diet, the MIND diet is just a few small inclusions away!
Green means go!
As always, green leafy vegetables are the superstars because they are nutritional goldmines. High in healthy-brain nutrients such as folate and flavonoids, as well as essential vitamins and minerals, eating several serves per day can slow your cognitive decline by as much as 11 years when compared to those who eat very little.
If you want to really nourish your brain, berries – especially blueberries – are your low sugar, high antioxidant and anti-inflammatory winners. Blueberries in particular are rich in polyphenols, plant compounds linked with beneficial changes for ageing. Fresh or frozen makes no difference – aim to have a serve each day. If blueberries are not an option for you, then plums, prunes, blackcurrants and black grapes (noticing a pattern here?) are also high in polyphenols.
The fats you eat can affect brain health, given your brain is approximately 60% fat! Eating daily serves of healthy fats, such as omega-3s found in oily fish, can help to limit inflammation and oxidation. These are vital aspects of brain protection given oxidation plays a significant part in age-related cognitive decline.
Over two decades of research points out that Omega-3s (especially DHA) may help delay cognitive decline, including Alzheimer’s disease. Eating more fish helped in slowing down age-related memory decline with even one fish meal per week lower dementia risk, however eating fish 2-3 times per week showed even better risk reduction.
Not all fish are created equal though – the best for your brain are the ones with the highest amounts of omega-3 fats. Aim to eat sardines, mackerel, herring, salmon, trout, tuna and calamari.
Vegetarians or vegans aren’t left out either, as linseeds, hemp seeds and chia seeds are valuable plant sources of omega-3 fats.
What else is different?
The MIND diet focuses heavily on a variety of vegetables, nuts, beans, wholegrains, poultry, olive oil and red wine (in moderation!) because of the valuable nutrients in each of them.
It’s all about balance…
While foods that nourish the brain have beneficial effects, some foods can have the opposite effect when eaten too often. Treats can be part of your life, but they shouldn’t be the core of your diet!
A diet high in processed foods (such as biscuits, snack foods, sweets, fried foods and processed meats) and even obesity appear to be a contributing factors to the development of age-related mental impairment. While the mechanism behind the link is still largely unknown, future research will likely focus on the impact of insulin resistance, imbalanced gut bacteria and inflammation.
If you’re already following eating patterns that minimise heart disease risk, these may also protect against dementia development, especially Alzheimer’s disease. A good rule of thumb is if it’s good for your heart, there’s a good chance it will be good for your brain!
Ready to start?
Want a taste of what you could be enjoying on the MIND diet? Try these out!
- Breakfast booster (GF) – Mix 2tbs seeds, ½ tsp cinnamon, 2tbs chopped walnuts and ½ cup blueberries. Add to morning yoghurt or porridge or yoghurt for flavour and brain boost.
- Dried fruit and seed balls (GF, WF, DF, Veg/Vegan) – In a food processor mix ingredients until mixture starts to come together. Roll into balls, then roll in desiccated coconut to coat. These high-fibre treats will help satisfy your chocolate cravings and are made with anti-inflammatory ingredients.
- Date & ginger – 1 cup macadamia nuts, 1-2cm fresh ginger, ½ cup dates, ½ dried figs, ¼ cup cacao, ½ cup linseeds
- Prune & almond – 1 cup soft pitted prunes, 1 cup almonds, ¼ cup cacao, ¼ cup goji berries, ½ tsp cinnamon, ½ cup sesame seeds.
- Warm rainbow salad – This nutritionally fulfilling and colourful Mediterranean salad lets you swap ingredients according to taste or sensitivities. Toss together 2 potatoes (steamed & cubed), 1 can beans (cannellini, borlotti or butter beans), 2 handfuls leafy greens (baby spinach or rocket or even wild greens, if your garden has them!), 1 cup each of red and green salad vegetables (cherry tomatoes halved, red capsicum and red onion; sliced fennel and cucumber), some protein (1 tin mackerel in olive oil or 2 boiled eggs), ¼ cup black olives, 1-2 cloves minced garlic, large handful of chopped fresh herbs (dill, coriander or flat-leaf parsley), 30-50g goat’s or sheep’s feta, crumbled. Dress with extra virgin olive oil (EVOO) and apple cider or wine vinegar.
Life is busy. Time is short. How are we supposed to look after ourselves when we’re looking after everyone else?
Everyone knows I have five basic rules to good health, but how can you incorporate them into your life?
Here are five ways to include positive steps into your life without thinking too much about it.
1. Eat Mindfully
This means paying active attention to your food with all five senses and noticing everything about it, before you even take your first bite! To start with, don’t eat while watching TV or reading as your attention is focused on something else. It will help you feel fuller and more satisfied with your meal earlier than when paying attention to something else, potentially stopping the urge to binge or consume excess food without even noticing.
2. Introduce Incidental Exercise
While not everyone can get off a stop early from the bus or train, take the stairs instead of the lift, or walk down to the corner shop instead of being tempted to drive, there are ways to include additional exercise in your day. It’s recommended that we exercise for at least half an hour every day, but it doesn’t have to be all at once. Doing small chunks of exercise might be easier and has been found to be just as beneficial to health.
3. Go On A Tech Fast
Taking temporary a time out from social media and constant availability to everyone via your mobile phone can help you slow down and relax. You can stop worrying about what everyone else is doing, give work a break (except when you’re at work, of course!) and be more mindfully present with your family or loved ones.
4. Give Up Sugar
Just for a little while! Ok, so everyone is doing is and you’re probably sick of your neighbour/colleague/friend from school/sister-in-law telling you how sugar is bad and fruit causes all kinds of problems. In all honestly, there’s likely no nutritionist who will tell you that free sugar (the extra that is added to drinks, coffee, tea, cakes, biscuits and sweets) is necessary for your health. Giving it up for a few weeks can help your skin and help you make better food choices. If you quit for at least three weeks (ideally two months), you’ll help reset your sense of taste and need less of it in the future to reach the same level of satiety – win, win!
5. Set An Alarm
A regular bedtime can help you create strong and healthy sleep patterns. Sleep is your scheduled maintenance and downtime – it’s absolutely essential for physical and mental health! It’s too easy to lose track of time in the evenings and before you know it it’s nearly midnight (or later!). Why not set an alarm for sleep time, just like you do for wake time?
What exactly is a plant-based diet?
A plant-based diet is not a diet of vegetables alone. It is a diet based on fruits, vegetables, whole grains and legumes, which may exclude or minimize animal products, including chicken, dairy products and eggs. The aim is to also exclude foods made from refined flour and sugar, and certain refined vegetable oils.
Be inspired by the delicious foods you can enjoy! Many of these can be included as ingredients in familiar dishes you may want to prepare, such as pizza, mashed potatoes and burrito bases.
- Fruit: mangoes, bananas, grapes, strawberries, blueberries, oranges, cherries, plums, lemons etc
- Vegetables: lettuce, dark green veggie varieties, broccoli, cauliflower, cabbage, kale, cabbage etc
- Starchy vegetables: potatoes, yams, yucca, squash, peas, sweet potatoes, peas, green beans
- Whole grains: millet, barley, brown rice, whole wheat products, oats, whole grain cereals
- Legumes: All varieties of beans such as black beans, lima beans, kidney beans and cannellini beans, as well as legumes like chickpeas and lentils.
Iodized salt may be added to your food as it is a great source of iodine to help maintain a healthy thyroid, although excessive sodium intake should be avoided.
The basis of a plant-based diet
Starch-based foods and fruit form the basis of a whole-food plant-based diet. Leafy greens play an important part in the diet as they are very nutritious, but they are low in calories and may not provide enough calories, resulting in decreased energy levels and leave you feeling hungry. When combined with starch-based foods (such as corn, peas, potatoes, etc) however, they provide fantastic all-round nourishment and keep the energy pumping.
The idea of a plant-based diet is not to eat one food for a single nutrient, such as oranges for vitamin C, but rather s a package of the foods that you enjoy, which contain all the essential nutrients to be of enormous benefit to your general health.
Health benefits of a plant based diet
- A plant-based diet often lowers blood pressure because of the potassium- rich legumes and nuts
- Plants contain no cholesterol (although some is required for hormone production, too much can be detrimental to your health)
- The fibre in plants helps control high blood sugar by slowing down the absorption of sugars into the blood stream
- A low fat, plant-based diet significantly lowers your risk of developing a variety of cancers
- Weight management is easier when you eat wholesome, unrefined foods, lots of fibre, take in natural vitamins and minerals, while avoiding animal fats and sugary, floury foods
- Research has shown that replacing saturated animal fats with mono-unsaturated fats (found in nuts, avocados and olive oil) substantially lowers your risk of cardiovascular and heart disease
- Sugary and fatty foods contribute to systemic inflammation and can lead to other problems like constipation. The fibre in a plant based diet will also help keep your colon healthy.
The best way to start a plant-based diet
Changing to a vegetarian or almost vegan-type diet is not always easy, especially if you have not been a healthy eater in the pasts. Whether you want to embrace a fully plant-based diet, or perhaps keep some animal products as part of your diet is a decision that only you can make. But there is no doubt that reducing your meat intake, and following a plant diet is one of the best things you can do for your health.
If you are finding it difficult to immediately flip over to a new diet, here are some tips to help you on the way.
- Begin with including legumes in your regular diet, as they are generally feel-good foods, will make you feel full and give you energy
- You can also substitute one or two refined items with a plant-based food in a meal each day
- Gradually exclude red meat from your diet.
- If retaining chicken and fish in your diet, make sure that the chicken is skinless and opt for healthy fatty fish such as salmon, sardines, tuna or mackerel for maximum omega 3 content.
- Try replacing one or two days of your week’s meals with a full vegetarian meal.
Backed by science
The health benefits of a plant-based diet are supported by scientific research. Cardiac disease is rated as the biggest single cause of death in first world nations, mainly due to poor lifestyle habits and unhealthy diets. Embracing a healthy diet can help lower your risk of a future heart attack and cardiovascular disease.
Have you heard of Moringa before? I’ve had a few patients bring it up recently and thought I’d share a little information about it.
Moringa (Moringa oleifera) is also known as the Ben Oil Tree, Drumstick Tree, or Indian Horseradish. It is a fast growing tree typically cultivated in India, tropical Asia, Africa and Latin America, yielding long seed pods that resemble drumsticks, hence the name Drumstick Tree.
Moringa has long been used in eastern medicine to treat many ailments such as low energy, adrenal fatigue and helps to naturally support the liver. As a dietary supplement, moringa is high in protein, Vitamins A, B and C and contains minerals such as calcium and iron.
It is also rich in flavonoids, a class of compounds found in plants that contribute to essential plant functions. According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations, “Moringa products have antibiotic, antitrypanosomal, hypotensive, antispasmodic, antiulcer, anti-inflammatory, hypo-cholesterolemic, and hypoglycemic properties”. In essence, this makes moringa a wonderful food addition that is nutritious and medicinal.
Moringa is particularly mentioned in Ayurvedic treatments as the most nutritious tree in India. In traditional Indian Ayurvedic treatments, moringa is used as a natural and safe detox, often used as a regular tonic of the body. Apart from wellness from within, moringa leaves and barks can be processed into a balm for external application, alleviating joint pains and rheumatism as the plant has a mild analgesic effect.
In western herbal medicine, moringa products come in various forms, with the most convenient and widely-available form being powder ground from dried leaves or taken as a supplement in pill form.
Some of the health benefits of moringa include:
- Nutrient-packed – vitamins A, C, and E; calcium; potassium; and protein.
- Reduces free radicals, molecules that cause oxidative stress and cell damage
- Reduces inflammation – helping to prevent chronic diseases like diabetes II, respiratory problems, cardiovascular disease, arthritis, and obesity
- Reduces diabetes symptoms – reducing lipid and glucose levels
- Cardioprotective – prevents plaque formation and reduces cholesterol levels
- Hepatoprotective – with high concentrations of polyphenols in the liver
- Antimicrobial and antibacterial properties to fight infections
The best way to take moringa depends of what suits your needs and lifestyle best.
In Tablet Form
Due to different manufacturing styles and ways to process the plant, the dosage can be varied. Always check the label for recommended dosage given they have different concentration of active ingredients. Most manufacturers will prepare their formula for easy dosage of a single tablet per day.
In Powder Form
Moringa leaf powder is typically sold in packets or jars. For the most effective health benefits, it’s best taken raw, as heat may destroy some of the useful and healthful compounds. The general suggestion is to start off slow and add more powder day by day. Start off with a quarter teaspoon added to your smoothies, iced tea, water or sprinkled on your breakfast such as yoghurt or overnight chia pudding and slowly build up to 1 tablespoons a day.
Seeds and Leaves
You might come across roasted whole Moringa seeds or even whole leaves. These are usually hard to come by so if you want to use these, it’s best to check your local health food store, Asian markets or Traditional Chinese Medicine practitioners. The seeds are typically bitter and astringent though; how much you use will depend on personal taste. To use Moringa seeds, remove the shell and chew five to ten seeds a day if possible, or grind them into powder and sprinkle on your food.
When it comes to cooking moringa leaves and seeds, the spices used in Indian cooking, such as cumin and turmeric, complement the anti-inflammatory effect of moringa. If eaten raw, start off with a quarter cup of leaves per day, and build up to half cup a day.
No matter how you choose to have your moringa for its therapeutic effect the key is moderation and consuming it in line with you and your body. For some that means being able to handle more at first, for you it might be to only take a quarter of the recommended dosage.
It’s important to remember that moringa is ultimately not medication, but a nutrient-rich food that supports a healthy diet and lifestyle. It’s not meant to be a food that gives you everything you need or a cure for all your ailments.
If you are pregnant, never consume moringa tree bark or root as it could cause early labour or uterine contractions. If you are menstruating, it may cause excessive bleeding.
As always, consult your healthcare professional before incorporating moringa into your daily diet.
The alarm goes off and you are rushing around preparing for a busy day ahead. Whether you have children to get ready for school or papers to read for a morning meeting, by the time you’ve watched the news, brushed your teeth and sorted your make-up, you are already exhausted – sound familiar?
It’s no wonder so many busy women end up skipping breakfast and just grabbing an expensive coffee which is drunk in the car on the way, but there are many reasons why this habit is bad for our health.
Breakfast Provides Many Benefits to Our Health and Wellbeing
When you wake up in the morning, your body has had no fuel since your evening meal the night before – potentially 12 hours beforehand. Think about the words – “break” & “fast” – literally the meal which breaks the fast you have been on while sleeping. You need the energy to kick-start your system and get your body ready for the day ahead.
According to nutritionists, a healthy breakfast should give you around 30% of your daily calorie requirements. It should provide you with energy, protein, calcium, iron, fibre and B vitamins which are all needed to get you through the day. If your body doesn’t receive these first thing, studies have shown your body is less effective at taking them on during the rest of the day.
How Eating Breakfast Helps You Lose Weight
If you skip breakfast you are not providing your body with what it needs for energy – you will soon feel hungry and are more likely to then reach for high sugar, high fat snacks to compensate. People who skip breakfast tend to end up reaching for the snacks around 10am which doesn’t help if you are trying to lose weight.
Ideally, breakfast needs to be eaten between 45 minutes and two hours of waking up. This timing gives you the chance to put the needed fuel into your body to make sure your metabolism is balanced throughout the day. It is also the premium time for your body to absorb any of the carbohydrates you consume, which helps balance out your insulin levels. All of these aspects mean breakfast really sets your body up for the day and can help curb those mid-morning sugar cravings.
A recent study published in Obesity showed that people who not only ate breakfast, but made it their largest meal, lost almost 8kg over a three month period. The other people who took part in the study ate the same calories during the day, but most of these for their evening meal, lost only around 3kg.
Other Health Benefits Beyond Weight Loss
Breakfast brings a large number of health benefits, besides weight loss – providing more reasons why it really is important not to skip this particular meal.
- Brain Function – Studies have shown that children who eat breakfast do better at school as they are better able to concentrate and improve their behaviour. Breakfast helps to establish good levels of glucose which are necessary for brain function. This helps to improve memory, concentration and mood and also lowers stress levels. We all know that feeling of increased irritability that rises up through being hungry. Breakfast can help us avoid becoming hangry!
- Energy Supply – Breakfast is the first supply of energy your body receives after you wake up. A nutritious breakfast will give you all the energy you need to take you through to lunchtime and should be around 300 calories (as a general rule, though this may differ based on your individual caloric needs). If you think about the energy you burn, you need the most in the morning and you need the least in the evening when you are more likely to be relaxing and winding down before resting for the night. Make breakfast your energy supply priority!
- Diabetes – A study published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition revealed that not eating breakfast could actually increase the risk of developing diabetes for women. The study showed that women who did eat breakfast between 0-6 times a week were at far higher risk of developing the disease than those who ate it daily.
Fab Ideas for Quick and Nutritious Breakfasts for Busy Women
So it’s all very well telling you why you should eat breakfast and why it’s good for you, but realistically you probably knew most of those things already and yet here we are! Knowing you need to eat breakfast doesn’t mean you suddenly gain time in the morning to start preparing and enjoying amazing morning meals, does it? That’s why I have come up with some tips for tasty breakfasts that are super quick to make.
- Instant Porridge – There are many instant porridge options around now – all you need to do is add water and microwave for a few minutes and then you have a healthy breakfast. Avoid the ones with added sugar and flavours to keep the calories down, but a plain version provides an easy breakfast virtually instantly and you can add fruit such as berries or coconut flakes to change the flavour quickly and easily.
- Greek-Style Yoghurt – Go for natural plain Greek-style yoghurt and add in fresh fruit for a nutritious, quick and healthy breakfast on the run. Again, this only takes a minute or so to prepare and can make a big difference to your health and wellbeing. Sprinkle over some muesli for crunch and you’re setting yourself up for a good day!
- Boiled Eggs and Fruit – The combination of a piece of fruit and some boiled eggs creates a very portable balanced breakfast providing protein, carbohydrates, fibre and vitamins. What can be quicker than just peeling a pre-boiled egg and a piece of fruit and eating them straight away?
- Smoothies – Where a solid morning meal is just not going to happen, a smoothie may be a better option. It can contain anything you like in an easy to consume and portable format that will provide your body with a good start to the day. Adding fruit, greens, spices, protein powder or even compounded nutritional powders can make such a difference to your health. Make sure you avoid the sneaky sugar filled flavoured powders as these will increase your calorie intake while not necessarily being nutritious. Check the nutrition panel before adding to your morning smoothie.
For many women a busy lifestyle means rushing in the morning and skipping breakfast is a common bad habit easily developed. Breakfast can make a big difference to our health and weight and there are many options which are quick and easy to make, so no more excuses!
When we are stressed it’s quite easy to develop negative thinking patterns as we become frustrated by our challenges and increasing feelings of being overwhelmed. This negative outlook then makes it even harder for us to manage those challenges and move forward and break through the stress cycle.
Practicing positive thinking helps to focus on our strengths and accomplishments, which increases happiness and motivation. This, in turn, allows us to spend more time making progress, and less time feeling down and stuck. The following tips provide practical suggestions that you can use to help you shift into more positive thinking patterns:
- Take Good Care of Yourself
It’s much easier to be positive when you are eating well, exercising, and getting enough rest. Easier said than done, but still important to say it!
- Remind Yourself of the Things You Are Grateful For
Stresses and challenges don’t seem quite as bad when you are constantly reminding yourself of the things that are right in life. Taking just 60 seconds a day to stop and appreciate the good things will make a huge difference.
- Look for the Proof Instead of Making Assumptions
A fear of not being liked or accepted sometimes leads us to assume that we know what others are thinking, but our fears are usually not reality. If you have a fear that a friend or family member’s bad mood is due to something you did, or that your co-workers are secretly gossiping about you when you turn your back, speak up and ask them. Don’t waste time worrying that you did something wrong unless you have proof that there is something to worry about.
- Refrain from Using Absolutes
Have you ever told a partner “You’re ALWAYS late!” or complained to a friend “You NEVER call me!”? Thinking and speaking in absolutes like ‘always’ and ‘never’ makes the situation seem worse than it is and programs your brain into believing that certain people are incapable of delivering.
- Detach From Negative Thoughts
Your thoughts can’t hold any power over you if you don’t judge them. If you notice yourself having a negative thought, detach from it, witness it, and don’t follow it.
- Squash the “ANTs”
In his book “Change Your Brain, Change Your Life,” Dr. Daniel Amen talks about “ANTs” – Automatic Negative Thoughts. These are the unhelpful thoughts that are usually reactionary, like “Those people are laughing, they must be talking about me,” or “The boss wants to see me? It must be bad!” When you notice these thoughts, realise that they are nothing more than ANTs and squash them!
- Practice Lovin’, Touchin’ & Squeezin’ (with consent!)
You don’t have to be an expert to know the benefits of a good hug. Positive physical contact with friends, loved ones, and even pets, is an instant pick me-up. One research study on this subject had a waitress touch some of her customers on the arm as she handed them their checks. She received higher tips from these customers than from the ones she didn’t touch!
- Increase Your Social Activity
By increasing social activity, you decrease loneliness. Surround yourself with healthy, happy people, and their positive energy will affect you in a positive way!
- Volunteer for an Organization or Help Another Person
Everyone feels good after helping. You can volunteer your time, your money, your knowledge or your resources. The more good you put out into the world, the more you will receive in return.
- Use Pattern Interrupts to Combat Rumination
If you find yourself ruminating, a great way to stop it is to interrupt the pattern and force yourself to do something completely different. Rumination is like hyper-focus on something negative. It’s never productive, because it’s not rational or solution-oriented, it’s just excessive worry and stress. Try changing your physical environment – go for a walk or sit outside. You could also call a friend, pick up a book, or turn on some music.
It’s important to understand the signs of stress and react with a positive way of handling it such as these 10 tips. The key to busting stress is making sure that you look after YOU. As your happiness levels increase, your stress levels decrease. Have a look at your work life, your personal life and social life to see if there are any areas you can create more happiness. You might be surprised on what you find.
If you feel that you need a little more of a helping hand and support in implementing these tips, then seeing a qualified integrative naturopath and therapist is a great start to making the small changes that can have huge positive impacts.
What Is Gut-Health?
There has been lots of talk recently about what has become known as “gut-health.” The Johns Hopkins Medical Center, one of the most well-respected hospitals and Medical Schools in the United States, notes there is a good reason for this. Hidden within the walls of your digestive system is what is known as “your second brain” and this “brain in your gut” is changing the way that we look at the links between mood, digestion, health and even the way that we think.
Does Disease Begin with Gut-Health?
There’s no simple answer to this one. Not all diseases start in the gut, such as genetic or inherited diseases, acquired infections and trauma based disorders. But, there is evidence that many of chronic metabolic disorders and mental health conditions do begin in the gut, or are at least heavily influences by gut health. We can help prevent these diseases by following some easy steps.
Step 1: Know What Second Brain Is and Why It Matters
This “little brain” is called the “enteric nervous system” or ENS and it comprises of two thin layers of over 100 million nerve cells that line your GI tract from your esophagus to your rectum. The role of the ENS is to control digestion, including swallowing, releasing enzymes that help break food down, and control of blood flow to immediate tissues which aids with both nutrient absorption and elimination. The ENS communicates with our brain and body surprisingly effectively.
When you have an unhealthy gut the symptoms may manifest in other parts of your body. It’s your body trying to tell you that something is wrong or out of balance and needs attention.
Studies have found that increasing your gut-health can lead to improvements in:
• Immune function – 80% of our immune system is located in our guts
• Brain function
• Symptoms of disproportional anger, sadness, anxiety and depression
• Irritable Bowel Syndrome (IBS)
• Chronic Fatigue Syndrome
How Is This Even Possible?
The ENS may ‘sense’ things that our cerebral brain can’t. Evidence has been found that when the GI tract is irritated it sends signals to the central nervous system (CNS), which can trigger our mood and ultimately affect it. Considering that between 30%-40% of the population have bowel problems of some kind and a high percentage of these individuals develop depression and/or anxiety, it’s reasonable to consider a possible connection.
Our bodies are filled with bacteria – good and bad, depending on whether they’re where they’re supposed to be in the right numbers. There are more bacteria in a human body than there are cells and there are an estimated 100 trillion microorganisms living in our bowels alone. The key here is to have more good than bad bacteria in your gut.
Probiotics help us do things like:
• Digest food;
• Absorb nutrients;
• Break down medications; and
• Kill some of the bad bacteria that lead to negative symptoms.
Step 2: Get More Probiotics
There are quite a few ways to get good gut bacteria, but one of the easiest is to take a supplement called a probiotic. There are many different kinds and brands and talking to your qualified naturopath will ensure you get the the most appropriate one for your needs.
There are foods that are also high in probiotics, including:
• Apple Cider Vinegar
Getting more probiotics into your system is one of the best ways that to improve your gut-health!
Step 3: Play in The Dirt!
This is true both literally and figuratively. Gardening is good for getting outside, exercise, and putting your hands in soil introduces your body to the microorganisms that are found on the plants and in the ground.
In a more figurative way, and leading on from last months post, avoid over-cleaning with antimicrobial substances. There has been a recent push to reduce the amount of antimicrobial agents in cleaning and personal care products because both good and the bad are affected. Pets are another way to get dirtier – in a good way! Studies have shown that children who grow up with a dog have both a lower risk of allergies and a generally healthier immune system. Dog companionship also helps in other ways by increasing exercise and outdoor time and lowering stress.
Bonus Step: More Probiotics, What Else?
Now we get to the ones we hate to be told because they’re painfully obvious. Stress Less. Laugh More. Stress, especially long-term stress, not only affects our gut bacteria, but also affects the production of hormones and neurochemicals. In long-term stress these chemicals and hormones can change permanently (unless you specifically work to change them back). Long-term stress may also lead to high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GORD), stomach ulcers, IBD, IBS, and potentially food allergies/intolerances.
Laughter really is the best medicine. It helps to reduce stress and floods your body with happy hormones and neurochemicals. This study even compared healthy people and those with atopic dermatitis (a condition often associated with gut bacteria imbalances) and asked participants watch funny movies daily for one week. In only one week, the patients’ gut microbes had changed and more resembled that of the healthy participants!
It may well be that a large part of maintaining good health is maintaining good gut-health. There are many ways that you can do this, however, some of the easiest changes that you can make include:
• Probiotics – through supplements and food
• Stress management, including exercise and time outdoors
• Avoiding over-cleaning and overuse of antimicrobials
There are a few ideas I’ve been toying with to do with how overt cleanliness is more closely linked with anxiety or desire for control and the effect this is having on our physical and mental health. It’s an extremely complicated area and there are so many variables at play that it is certainly difficult to unravel them from one another – so why unravel? Let’s look at the whole mess and see where we end up!
We live in a society that values cleanliness – I mean, we’ve all heard that “cleanliness is next to godliness”, right? There is also the obsession with ‘clean’ eating (which is not strictly the same kind of clean, but funnily enough also ties into the same areas of anxiety, desire for control and need to eliminate all ‘bad’ things from ones life). So why is it that we are living longer, yet the quality of our lives (especially in the last few decades) is plummeting? Increased rates of allergies and intolerances are certainly popping up in my clinic, but is it all down to better diagnostic techniques or is there something more to it?
Where antimicrobial gels and sanitisers were once only used in hospitals and labs, they are now staples in many handbags, nappy bags and backpacks. In Australian society, showering morning and night (or even more often!) using surprisingly harsh products is widely accepted, despite the massive amount of water used and detergent run-off damaging our water systems – those who shower less often or with minimal detergents are seen as inherently dirty and somehow even unvirtuous. The use of bleach or ammonia based cleaning products is standard in many homes, yet we still seem to be getting sicker.
Is the obsession with super-clean homes and bodies starting to kill us? Not only are we avoiding useful triggers in building a healthy immune system, increasing rates of allergies and adverse reactions to innocuous triggers (the hygiene hypothesis of allergy), but the massive rise in the use of chemically based anti-microbials in cleaning supplies and personal care products (as opposed to primarily mechanical cleaning using plain soap and water) is not only wiping out the bacteria in your home, but also on your skin and potentially in your gut.
Coupled with the overuse of antibiotics, we are losing our most important companions – our bacteria. The bacteria that we have in our gut and throughout our bodies are essential for so many processes, from aiding digestion to producing Vit K to even modulating mental health. By destroying the delicate balance of microbes in and around us, we are perhaps doing far more harm than good. ‘Fixing’ a broken microbiome is not a quick and easy task, taking months or years to repair damage to a multitude of systems. Perhaps minimising the damage in the first place would be a far better (and more sustainable) option.
This month I had a conversation with a patient about vacuum cleaners and how they only work if you use them, rather than just leave them in the middle of the room. It got me thinking about a new vacuum I bought for the clinic last year (or so I told myself…)
The new little vacuum didn’t even make it into the clinic! I brought it home and there it’s stayed…
The old vacuum is certainly effective, but it is big, cumbersome and lives in a cupboard, while the new one is cordless, light and slots onto a little stand for recharging. You can simply pick it up, vacuum up what you need cleaned up and pop it back with absolutely zero fuss. Since this little vacuum entered my home, I think I vacuum at least ten times as much as before! Why? Because it’s fuss free, it requires so much less effort to use and (most importantly) it’s visible!
This is one example of how small changes to your surroundings can change your behaviours (and even your thoughts about particular situations). In this case, I’m still the same person, but my behaviour changed purely because it was now easier for me to complete the task. Previously, once I actually dragged out the old vacuum I was often surprised about how quickly and easily I completed the task and wondered why I put it off for so long, but then proceeded to follow exactly the same pattern of thoughts and procrastination each and every time.
I broke that pattern by changing something, Any change, however small, can lead to a breaking an unhelpful pattern of thoughts and it’s these small changes that play a part in setting yourself up for successes, rather than repeated failures.
I’ve always advocated for enabling small successes through small changes that lead to big successes and big changes. In general, if something takes more effort then you are less likely to do it, and if it takes less effort then you are more likely to do it. These small changes can be as simple:
– If you have more racing thoughts at night, then keep your journal by your bed rather than in a different room.
– If you are struggling with snacking on sweets at work, keep them off your desk and away in a cupboard – having to walk to your cupboard can be hard compared to reaching into a drawer at your desk!
– If you are finding that time escapes you, take a minute to make a plan and schedule time for yourself. Even committing to paper (and no one else!) can be enough to make it real.
– If you always have a bag of frozen vegetables in your freezer, you’re more likely to add them to meals rather than avoid spending time prepping fresh ones.
It’s human nature to do what is easiest – it’s not a moral failing or character flaw! Your environment can significantly impact your choices, your behaviours and your thoughts – so set yourself up for success and make that environment one that works in your favour rather than against you.
Everyone knows me as a straight-laced, by-the-book, evidence-based health practitioner. In fact, I’m known for my extensive knowledge of rather boring facts that I can recall about almost any topic at will, but did you know I dabble in something softer, more esoteric…?
Yes, I dabble in mindfulness and self examination!
Every now and again I’m reminded that I have majors in both psychology AND philosophy (focusing on epistemology and metaphysics). I often forget about that second one because I focus so much on the clinical aspects of my profession. This month, I had a little reminder…
Growing up, I’d had a book on fortune telling that fascinated me and I was particularly interested in cards. I had a theory in my early adolescent mind that while the cards were face down in the stack the top card was simultaneously all the cards and none of them – that the card ‘became’ itself upon being flipped over and viewed. Later on, I learned about uncertainty principles, observer effects and the beauty of both physics and metaphysics in how we try to understand those ideas.
On a whim, I purchased a set of “Angel Cards” purely because I thought they were pretty and reminded me of the artworks of some of my favourite neoclassicist painters, such as Adolphe William Bouguereau. Reading the booklet that came with them made me laugh because I didn’t feel any connection like that described within – I just liked the art! Still, on a particularly stressful day (just before taking my 4yo son for a surgical consult regarding his recently broken nose) I decided to lay some cards down and do a reading for myself.
As always, the thought that the top card both existed already in that place and didn’t exist until I viewed it popped into my mind, but I completed a layout and read my cards. My cards indicated Strength for upcoming changes, Nature for inspiration and Claircognisance for guidance (that last one added to my collection of random facts because I had to look up what it meant!). I had a giggle and moved on with my day of taking my boy to hospital without giving it much more thought.
During the hours of waiting, however, I had some time to reflect on those cards. I had time to quietly contemplate and assess what those words mean, how they enter my life and the various aspects of my life that could stand to have a little more strength, nature or claircognisance (go on, look it up!). I found that I fixated on those words quite a lot that day and found them to be an effective focus when it was all too noisy, too bright and too hectic around me.
The cards themselves were not particularly special, but I was able to take the exercise of the reading and use it as a calming focus for myself when I needed it. This was a practice of mindfulness and self examination in a place that is usually not conducive to introspective thought, but it was calming and soothing at a time when I needed it most. Some people flip open a book to read a random passage and others look for patterns around them – anything can work as a focus if you are open to letting your mind have a play.
I’m not sure if I’ll do more readings, but the cards are just there, ready to prompt some new words to focus on at any time.