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Mushrooms for the Mind - How Fungi Can Improve Brain Function

Mushrooms for the Mind - How Fungi Can Improve Brain Function

Have you ever thought about  how the food we eat affects brain health? 

It's true, every meal and snack we indulge in influences our mental capacity in some way.

The brain is incredibly intricate, managing everything, from emotions to bodily functions, 

…hence it's unsurprising that keeping it functioning at optimal levels is key to overall wellness. 

While a variety of foods have been known to aid mental performance,

 … mushrooms hold a special spotlight due to their peculiar structures.

Certain strains contain active compounds that enhance cognitive abilities.

Providing sharper focus, as well as aiding with depression & anxiety. 

All while increasing energy levels, and improving performance.

This article will explore the science of mushrooms by outlining the specific types essential for improving brain function.

Analysing how active ingredients work individually.

…as well as tips for a healthy intake into your diet.

Why Should We Focus on Enhancing Brain Function?

As the brain is responsible for managing a wide range of our bodily functions, the health of our brains can impact all areas of our lives. For better or for worse. The World Health Organisation estimates that 280 million people suffer from depression internationally. That’s 5% of the world's population. In the UK, the figures are remarkably higher. 17% of the UK’s population is said to suffer from depression. That’s up 7% since the pandemic struck the UK in 2020.

One staggering figure is that “56% of employees in the UK are experiencing symptoms of depression.” Which seriously impacts both quality of life and the functioning of the UK’s economy. That’s why we should take some time to find natural ways that we can boost cognitive function. Mushrooms seem to be a no brainer (pardon the pun). They are jam packed with compounds that can enhance brain function and have adaptogenic and tonic properties on the body. Medicinal mushrooms have been used in Chinese medicine for thousands of years, modern science is now catching up with ancient traditions.

 Learn more: Looking to Resolve Mental Health Problems Naturally? How These Suggestions Could Make Antidepressants Your Last Resort


The Science Behind Mushrooms and Brain Function

Brain function can benefit from the vast range of active compounds contained within mushrooms. One such group of well known compounds are beta glucans - these are polysaccharides known for their ability to modulate immunity, found in a variety of mushroom types. Ergothioneine is an amino acid found in mushrooms, which has strong antioxidative and anti-inflammatory properties. Mushrooms also contain compounds known as polyphenols which have significant neuroprotective and antioxidant traits.

 The connection between these unique compounds found in mushrooms and the brain is due to various effects on different pathways within the body system. Beta glucans stimulate immune activity - providing protective measures against inflammation induced neural degeneration. Ergothioneine, on the other hand, has been shown to protect neurons from oxidative stress, which is a type of damage that can occur when there are too many free radicals in the body. Polyphenols have been shown to promote the growth of new neurons and improve cognitive function.

 Related: The Benefits of Walking for Heart and Immune Health

Top 3 Brain Boosting Mushrooms

1. Lion's Mane Mushroom

…and its effects on cognitive function

Recognized by its Latin name "Hericium erinaceus” Lions' mane mushrooms are renowned for their potential neuroprotective effects. They’re endorsed through time-honoured use within traditional Chinese medicine, as a natural support for superior brain health. Scientific findings have supported these beliefs through research indicating that regular consumption of lion's mane extract could boost cognition, while shielding brain cells from damage. A study published in Behavioral Neurology found that lion's mane mushroom extract had a protective effect on brain cells, offering improvements in diseases such as: ischemic stroke, Parkinson’s disease, Alzheimer’s disease, and depression. Another study found that consuming lion’s mane for four months reduced anxiety levels in mice. Which shows promise for reducing anxiety in humans too.

Learn more: 6 Ways to Help Prevent Dementia & Alzheimer’s Disease

2. Reishi Mushroom

…and its potential for reducing anxiety and depression

 Reishi mushroom (Ganoderma lucidum) is a type of mushroom that’s been used for centuries in traditional Chinese medicine (TCM) to promote both health and longevity. Recent studies have suggested that reishi mushroom may have anti-anxiety and antidepressant effects. One study published in the Biochemistry and Biophysics Reports found that mice given reishi mushroom extract exhibited reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression. This study also found that the consumption of Reishi Mushrooms could inhibit pain. Another study published in the Journal of Medicinal Food found that reishi mushroom extract reduced symptoms of anxiety and depression in mice by modulating the levels of certain neurotransmitters in the brain.

Related: Can Eating Fruit and Vegetables Boost Mental Health and Mood?

3. Cordyceps Mushroom

…and its impact on energy and focus

 Cordyceps mushroom (Cordyceps sinensis) is a type of mushroom that’s been used in traditional Chinese medicine for thousands of years, to improve physical performance and energy levels. Recent studies have now shown that cordyceps mushrooms may have a positive impact on both energy and focus. One study published in the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine found that participants who consumed cordyceps mushroom extract exhibited improved exercise performance and reduced fatigue compared to those who received a placebo. Another study published in the Journal of Dietary Supplements found that cordyceps mushroom extract improved cognitive function in older adults with mild cognitive impairment.

Learn more: Tips For Boosting Energy During the Summer 

Recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function

While the specific recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function has not been established, incorporating a variety of mushrooms into your diet can provide a range of beneficial compounds that may support brain health. One approach to incorporating mushrooms into your diet is to aim for at least one serving of functional mushrooms per day. A serving size is typically considered to be one cup of raw mushrooms. However, it's worth noting that the nutritional content of different types of mushrooms can vary, so consuming a variety of medicinal mushrooms can help ensure that you're getting a range of these beneficial compounds.

In addition to incorporating medicinal mushrooms into your diet, taking mushroom supplements may also be an option for those looking to boost brain function. However, it's important to note that the quality and effectiveness of mushroom supplements can vary, so it's a good idea to choose a reputable brand and consult with a healthcare professional before taking any supplements. While mushrooms can have potential benefits for brain function, it's important to be aware of precautions and possible side effects.

Related: Does the Gut-Brain-Axis Affect Neurodegenerative Disease?

Precautions and potential side effects

Some people may need to avoid mushrooms altogether due to certain health conditions or medications. For example, people with mushroom allergies should avoid consuming mushrooms. Additionally, people who are taking blood-thinning medications or who have blood clotting disorders may need to avoid consuming certain types of mushrooms that can have anticoagulant effects, such as shiitake mushrooms.

Certain types of mushrooms, such as reishi mushroom, can interact with medications and may cause side effects. For example, reishi mushroom can interact with blood-thinning medications and may increase the risk of bleeding. Additionally, reishi mushroom may interact with medications used to treat high blood pressure, diabetes, and certain psychiatric disorders. So it pays to check what medications you might be taking prior to consuming functional mushrooms.

Learn more: The Healing Power of Mushrooms

Conclusion

Mushrooms have the potential to improve brain function due to their active compounds that interact with the brain. Scientific evidence suggests that mushrooms such as Lion's Mane, Reishi, and Cordyceps may have specific benefits for cognitive function, anxiety and depression. As well as enhancing performance by boosting energy levels and focus.

While the recommended daily intake of mushrooms for optimal brain function is not established, consuming a variety of mushrooms in your diet or through supplements may be a promising strategy for supporting brain health. Whether you sauté them as a side dish or blend them into a smoothie, or take a mushroom supplement, there are endless ways to enjoy the benefits of mushrooms for brain health.

Written by Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach and personal development.

Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.



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Depressed man

Emotions — The Hidden Key to Health

Emotions - The Hidden Key to Health

In my work with men, I have found that there is one thing which is often overlooked, neglected and misunderstood. And although the process of my work addresses more than one level of the inner being, I have always been astonished at the fact that there seems to be one aspect which always, without exception, needs special attention and a brand-new approach.

Unsurprisingly, it is that very thing which inevitably turns out to be a key for better health, in mind, body and spirit. That thing is emotion. Emotion, I have found, although being something we like to talk about today (especially when we encourage men to ‘open up’ and be ‘vulnerable’ — a good thing in itself, I think) is something that we still haven’t got a very good understanding of.

We tend to think of emotional health as something that helps us connect to ourselves and others in a positive way, but we rarely stop to think about the deeper realities which I think we all need to engage with, in order to gain the ability to be healthy in an all-encompassing, holistic way.

The truth is that there are reasons why some of us are healthier than others. There are reasons why some of us function better, in mind, soul, and body. There are reasons why some of us find it easier to improve ourselves while others struggle and fail.

Our emotions, and the life-long history of our relationship with them, have a role to play in our health, personality, physical fitness, appearance, relationships, finances, and indeed, our very calling and destiny. I fully realise that this bold statement might be shocking to some of you; but I implore you to stay with me here, and be willing to trust me as I delve deeper into emotions, their impact on us, and the history which has shaped our view of them, to the point of our inability to recognise their significance and application into our daily life and being. I am not planning to defend my claim about the role of emotions in one’s life; the data — medical, psychological, and experiential — exists, of course, and I think is more than able to prove my point. But another debate is the last thing we need when it comes to health.

Unlike what the world would have us believe, information is not the most important thing to being a fully-functioning human being — after all, we all have the information needed in order to live well and be healthy: but how is that knowledge working for us? We all know which foods are good for us and which are bad. We all know that movement and exercise can make everyone healthier, and that the lack of it works in the opposite way.

We all know what has the power to make us live well and what destroys us… You see? It's not simply a matter of knowledge. The point I am trying to illustrate here lies beyond this argument: we must first look into the reasons behind our very need to make this argument. We must first look at our own limited views of emotions and their role in our lives, and find out how we have ended up with them. I will repeat my bold statement again: Our emotions, and the life-long history of our relationship with them, have a role to play in our health, personality, physical fitness, appearance, relationships, finances, and indeed, our very calling and destiny.

I do not ask you to blindly believe in this; in fact, that’s the last thing I want. I seek to provoke you to be curious; I seek to show you that our current modern views might be, perhaps, insufficient and unable to fully give us the final, most accurate idea of reality — especially of the reality of emotions, their role and purpose for our lives. There is a reason why we hold the views we do; and it does not take an expert to see that those views are not working for us today. Obesity, stress, depression…our world is rife with afflictions.

Even as poverty and hunger is being speedily, gloriously eliminated from our society, those deeper afflictions are not showing signs of going anywhere, and are in fact, taking deeper and deeper roots in our otherwise comfortable, safe world. And I have good reasons to believe that emotions are the hidden key to combating that. I have very good reasons to think that emotions are the hidden way to health in every possible aspect of life. But in order to engage this reality, one needs to begin with exploration.

One needs to look deeper into where we are in the bigger picture, and where we must go in order to gain the wholeness in mind, soul and body. This is why I have prepared this short report on emotions and health. I hope that you enjoy it and are able to benefit from it in any way that you might need to. While it is by no means an exhaustive work that provides an absolute authority on the subject, it is, I hope, able to provide the reader with a start on the journey of wellness and health. May it serve you well.

George Stoimenov July 2022 Eastbourne, East Sussex, Great Britain George's report can be found here Redeeming Emotions Article

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Lettuce, kiwi, apple, banana and water bottle on green backdrop

A Guide to Vitamins and Minerals That Impact Your Mood

A Guide to Vitamins and Minerals that Impact Your Mood

Do you know the #1 cause of acquired insanity? It’s nutrient deficiency! People tend to separate emotions from the physical world. When in effect, they’re intricately linked. There’s a chemical basis for every emotion.

Commonly, B vitamins are cited as affecting mood. This is widely accepted. But there are 12 nutrients that have been scientifically proven to impact our mood.

Sadly, we’ve forgotten about the fact that nutrition can impact the lens through which we experience the world. In part, thanks to the discovery of pharmaceuticals in the 1950s. Relegating previously held nutritional knowledge to folklore.

In this article, we’ll explore the science behind these 12 main nutrients that have been exposed (so far) that affect our mood. Thus altering how we experience life. It’s my hope that people will take this information seriously and begin to use nutrition to live a happier and healthier life.

Although there is substantial evidence of the effects of essential fatty acids, inositol and botanicals (eg. St. John’s Wort) on mood, today we’ll be focusing solely on micronutrients, vitamins and minerals and their impact on mood.

Connecting Nutrients and Mood (The 4 Scientific Models)

In 400 BCE, Hippocrates famously stated:

“Leave your drugs in the chemist’s pot if you can heal the patient with food.”

Thanks to scientific advancements, we’re now beginning to piece together the mechanisms behind this lost art.

There are currently four scientifically accepted mechanisms (or models) that explain how our mood is intricately linked to our vitamin and mineral status. These are:

  1. Errors of metabolism (damaged body systems)
  2. Deficient methylation reactions (lack of detoxification)
  3. Alterations of gene expression (by nutrient deficiency)
  4. Long-latency deficiency diseases (chronic illness)

Errors of Metabolism (Damaged Body Systems)

Our metabolism is a broad term for the myriad of systems that must all function in harmony for us to live a healthy life.

These twelve systems of the body require sufficient detoxification to function effectively.

Psychiatric disorders, even in children, often occur in conjunction with a co-occuring metabolic disorder. Metabolic disorders arise from the build up of toxins, enzymatic defects and protein dysfunction.

Again, primary research begins to point toward detoxification as a method to correct errors of metabolism.

Learn more: Do You or Someone You Know Suffer From An Autoimmune Disease?

Deficient Methylation Reactions (Lack of Detoxification)

Toxins build up in the body in part due to exposure, vitamin and mineral deficiencies,  and also because of insufficient methylation. Methylation is a process that helps the body detoxify toxins.

A good example of methylation detoxifying toxins is when the toxic amino acid (homocysteine) is converted into a beneficial amino acid (methionine). Interestingly, a 2000 research study found that 52% of depressed patients had high levels of homocysteine in their blood. Suggesting that they had insufficient methylation processes. Put simply, they couldn’t detox toxins.

The methylation process can be altered via lifestyle factors such as obesity. Even in pregnancy, if the mother is obese, this can alter the gene expression of their offspring, resulting in altered dopamine and opioid related genes.

This means that healthy lifestyle choices can alter how well our bodies can detoxify and thrive, even in a toxic world.

Learn more: How An Alkaline Diet Incorporates Gentle Detoxing Methods To Promote Lasting Health

Alterations of Gene Expression (By Nutrient Deficiency)

Various vitamin deficiencies alter gene expression. Especially vitamin D deficiency which downregulates a liver gene called Cyp7a1. This is the gene that’s responsible for the metabolism of cholesterol. Making it clear that nutrient deficiencies impact overall health and wellbeing.

Zinc deficiency can alter gene expression, especially in the brain. The main reason is because zinc is involved in DNA repair.

Related: Depressed, Low Immunity, Acne or Cold Sores? You Might Need Zinc

Magnesium is another essential nutrient that is responsible for over 600 reactions in the body. A deficiency in magnesium can be due to your genetics. There’s a bidirectional relationship between gene expression and nutrients. Whereby you must fill up your nutrient reserves to ensure that healthy genes are switched on.

Long-Latency Deficiency Diseases (Chronic Illness)

Nutrient deficiencies don’t just affect short-latency diseases, with a short incubation period. They also affect long latency disease. Which are illnesses that take a longer time to manifest.

The recommended daily intake of nutrition, if depleted over a long period of time, can result in severe deficiencies, which require higher doses if and when a deficiency is established.

It’s important to ensure that you are getting sufficient nourishment from your diet so as to avoid nutrient deficiencies. Over time, these deficiencies can lead to chronic illness, that could have been prevented with adequate nutrition, and clear detoxification pathways.

Folate, folic acid (vitamin B9)

Folate protects brain tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin in the brain. Altering eating behaviours, passivity, violence, addiction, and depression.

Folate also plays a role in the methionine cycle (Met). Which in turn helps the body detoxify and build healthy tissue.

Foods high in folate include: legumes, asparagus, leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts, broccoli, nuts and seeds, papaya and bananas.

Niacin (Vitamin B3)

Severe niacin deficiencies can lead to dementia, pellagra and nervous system damage.

Foods high in niacin include: peanuts, avocado, rice, mushrooms, peas, sweet potatoes and white potatoes.

Cobalamin (Vitamin B12)

Vitamin B12 is one of the more commonly known brain nutrients. A deficiency in B12 can result in folate deficiency, making matters worse. B12 also helps to create neurotransmitters in the brain.

Foods high in cobalamin include: Fermented beans and vegetables, wild mushrooms, edible algae and nutritional yeast.

Thiamine (Vitamin B1)

Vitamin B1 and B6  helps produce GABA – the brainwave most associated with peace and calm.

Foods high in thiamine include: flax seeds, navy beans, green peas, firm tofu, brown rice, acorn squash, and asparagus

Pyridoxine (Vitamin B6)

Vitamin B6 is another widely known and researched micronutrient that helps in the creation of brain healthy hormones dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. B6 is essential in the production of serotonin.

Foods high in Pyridoxine include: peas, fresh and dried fruit, nutritional yeast, pistachio nuts, quinoa, and avocado.

Vitamin E

Vitamin E protects cells from damage from free radicals. Free radicals are damaged cells that cause accelerated aging and illness. Vitamin E offers protection for the cells throughout your body – especially your brain.

Foods high in vitamin E include: sunflower seeds, almonds, avocado, spinach, butternut squash, kiwi fruit, and broccoli.

Choline

Choline plays a role in methylation reactions and cell signalling.

Foods high in choline  include: peanuts, shiitake mushrooms, soy, kidney beans, quinoa, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

Calcium

Calcium is required for enzymes to work properly in the body. Calcium is essential for the brain to function effectively. It plays a role in long-term memory, excitability and many other brain functions.

Foods high in calcium include: firm tofu, spinach, kale, collard greens, black-eyed peas, okra and acorn squash.

Chromium

Chromium is required for learning, recall, and recognition memory tasks. It plays an important role in fat glucose metabolism.

Foods high in chromium include: broccoli, brewers yeast, grape juice, apples, green beans and whole grains.

Iron

Iron helps in the production of ATP energy in the brain. ATP is the energy currency of our body.  As well as ensuring that there is enough oxygen in the blood. Iron is also involved in the production of the hormones serotonin, norepinephrine and epinephrine.

Foods high in iron include: legumes, quinoa, brown rice, nuts and seeds, and green leafy vegetables.

Magnesium

Magnesium is a cofactor in over 300 reactions in the body. When it comes to the brain, magnesium is required for memory, brain development and learning.

Foods high in magnesium include: spinach, pumpkin seeds, lima beans, brown rice, almonds, avocados, and bananas 

Learn more: Best Form of Magnesium for Sleep, Arthritis, Cramps & Anxiety

Zinc

Zinc plays an important role in brain development in children and the maintenance of the brain in adults. It’s essential for over 200 enzyme reactions in the body.

A deficiency of zinc can lead to oxidative stress. Interestingly, zinc plays a role in the sense of smell, learning and also protein synthesis.

Foods high in zinc include: tofu, chlorella, hemp seeds, lentils, oatmeal, and shiitake mushrooms.

Selenium

Selenium is essential for the brain, and is used for many brain functions. Such as motor performance, coordination, memory and cognition.

Foods high in selenium include: brazil nuts, tofu, oatmeal, brown rice, button mushrooms and shiitake mushrooms 

Vitamin D

Vitamin D is required for a healthy brain due to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. 

The main source of vitamin D is sunlight. During autumn and winter, it is advisable to take a vitamin D supplement.

Final Thoughts

There is considerable scientific evidence supporting the view that nutrients play a huge role in brain development and function.

Nutrients such as folic acid are widely prescribed, especially by doctors, due to the role it plays in the development of a healthy brain and central nervous system.

To ward off disease and stabilise mood, a wide range of nutritious foods should be consumed.

Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.


Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.


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notebook with the message today i am grateful

6 Ways to Practice Gratitude and the Health Benefits of Doing So

6 Ways to Practice Gratitude and the Health Benefits of Doing So

Health is often thought of as physical. When in reality everything starts in the mind.

Anyone suffering from depression or anxiety will know how difficult it is to make healthy choices. It can feel as though life is spiralling in the wrong direction. The good news is that there is a simple practice that anyone can do to turn things around. Or at least reboot life, so that life is flowing in the right direction again.

Mounting scientific research shows that regular practice of gratitude offers a multitude of physical and mental health benefits. We all know how nice it is to feel appreciated for our actions. In essence, that is what gratitude is – showing appreciation for the blessings we have in our lives.

We all have a lot of things to be grateful for, but it’s easy to take them for granted.

In this article, we’ll explore the scientifically proven health benefits of gratitude, as well as quick and easy steps that you can take to practice gratitude today.

What is Gratitude?


Be thankful for what you have; you’ll end up having more. If you concentrate on what you don’t have, you will never, ever have enough.” – Oprah Winfrey

In Latin, the word “gratitude” is gratia, which translates as “grace”. The word grace is defined as “smoothness and elegance of movement” and “courteous goodwill.”

Which is interesting, as volunteering (which is an act of courteous goodwill and giving) has been found to counteract anxiety, anger and stress, increase self-confidence, and offer a sense of purpose. As well as bringing fun and fulfilment into your life.

The Latin phrase “gratus animus,” often translated as grateful when broken down, literally – gratus translates to – grateful, agreeable, pleasing, acceptable and welcome. Animus translates as – heart, mind, affections, purpose and feeling.

Related: Related: Which Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Mental Health

Gratitude is powerful, as it can change how we view the world. Which can help us live a thriving, fulfilling life. If you think of the opposite: rudeness, inconsiderate or thoughtless. Then you can begin to see the domino effect that our thoughts and actions can have on our lives.

These are not terms associated with health. These negative attitudes can cause people to turn against us, making life intolerable.

Effects of Gratitude on the Brain


One 2016 study of patients who were entering therapy for anxiety or depression analysed their brain activities with an fMRI neuroimaging scanner, before they took part in a gratitude expression experiment, where they wrote letters of gratitude for three months.

The control group was given therapy as usual, and not advised to perform the gratitude writing.

To quantify the experiment, subjects in both groups were given money and asked to “Pay It Forward” to a charitable cause. They found that the participants who were performing the gratitude writing had a lasting “neural sensitivity to gratitude.”

This meant that those who performed the gratitude practice were more willing to give money to charitable causes.

After three months, the gratitude group was scanned again and the researchers found lasting positive alterations in their prefrontal cortex, which is the area of the brain used for decision-making, planning and judgment.

Therefore, if we begin to practice gratitude, we’ll make better choices and be more kind. This sort of simple intervention can impact all areas of our lives.

Related: Does the Gut-Brain-Axis Affect Neurodegenerative Disease?

Gratitude Practice Leads to Fewer Doctor Visits


A study on gratitude was published by Dr. Robert A Emmons of the University of California and  Dr. Michael E McCullough of the University of Miami. They split their participants into two groups.

One group was instructed to write a few sentences about daily irritations, while a second was to write about things that had happened during the week that they were grateful for.

After 10 weeks the group who had been writing words of gratitude had fewer visits to the doctor and felt optimistic about their lives when compared to the group that focused on aspects of their lives that displeased them.

In another study by Dr. Martin E. P. Seligman, a psychologist at the University of Pennsylvania, 411 people were instructed to write about early memories.

When they were asked to write and personally deliver a letter of sincere gratitude to a person who had impacted their lives, and had never been properly thanked, the participants quickly showed elevated happiness scores.

The benefits of this practice were shown to last for a whole month.

These studies indicate a strong correlation between practicing gratitude and well-being.

Gratitude and Relationships

We all know that it’s nice for our partners or friends to appreciate what we do for them. So it’s no surprise that studies of couples who expressed feelings of gratitude for each other felt more positive toward their partner.

They were also happier to share their feelings. Both of these outcomes are essential for happy relationships, and as such, we should take time to tell people how much they mean to us.

How does this impact our health and wellbeing? In the first instance, social and psychological well-being is just as important as physical health, and can have a tremendous impact on our ability to enjoy life.

Secondly, divorce is an adverse childhood experience (ACE) that produces toxic stress, and can lead to trauma and chronic mental and physical illness in children later on in life.

6 Ways to Start a Gratitude Practice

Now that you know about some of the mounting science around the subject of gratitude and health, it’s time to start a gratitude practice of your own.

Your approach will be unique to your own preferences. However, here are some ideas on how to bring gratitude into your life.

Start a Gratitude Journal

Write out 5 or 10 things that you are grateful for each day, or week.

Start a Gratitude Jar

Wash out a jar and write what you are grateful for and why on a slip of paper and place it in your jar. You can do this every day or week. If you want to multiply the effects of this practice, get your whole family involved.

Write a thank you letter

Send a thank-you note to someone every month to share your appreciation for them. You can even send yourself a thank you note every now and then.

Mentally thank someone

Think about a person that you appreciate and thank them mentally for how they have impacted your life.

Pray

A traditional way to practice gratitude is to pray. This is ideal for people who are religious.

Meditate

Take time to quiet your mind, meditate and be thankful for all of the blessings in your life.

The Bottom Line

We often overlook the impact that our thoughts can have on our health and wellbeing. This can lead to issues that can easily be altered by changing our outlook.

Starting a gratitude practice can change your perspective on life for the better. Why not try and practice gratitude for 30 days and see how it impacts your life?

The act of writing or talking out loud amplifies the effect of your gratitude practice. Pick one of the practices above and do it for 30 full days. The results might just surprise you.

Written by best-selling author and integrative nutrition health coach Rowanna Watson, who has a passion for natural health. Rowanna is an expert in all areas of holistic health, plant-based nutrition, detoxification and personal development.

Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.

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Is Water Nature’s Very Own Antidepressant?

Is Water Nature’s Very Own Antidepressant?

Feeling down is something that we all have to deal with at times. This is especially true in winter, where sunlight is in short supply and seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can creep in.

The modern lifestyle often doesn't help us when it comes to keeping happy. There are many things that can cause low mood, one of which is dehydration or not enough water. How, you might ask?

In this article, we'll cover the many scientific reasons why a lack of water could be the root of mood and cognition issues. But before we dive into how water keeps us happy, let's discuss the science bit…

The Gut-Brain Axis


Mood and cognition are intricately linked to our overall health and wellness. Serotonin is often considered the “happy hormone” and is produced by the synthesis of the ?-amino acid tryptophan.

A depressed mood has been found to be linked to low brain serotonin levels and hence serotonin production must be optimised to enhance health and a positive outlook on life.

The gut and the brain work together, with the help of the microbes in our gut. These microbes work with the brain to produce hormones like serotonin.

Interestingly, the microbes in our gut can morph to survive dehydration. In the short term this is useful, but in the long term can produce deleterious effects.

Water is required to keep all aspects of our gut and brain health mobile and flowing. Without water, the microbes wouldn’t be able to carry out their critical functions.

Related: 3 Key Factors You Must Consider When Trying to Improve Gut Health

Is Serotonin Produced in the Gut?


As mentioned, serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine; 5-HT) is a well-known neurotransmitter that is primarily synthesised in the gut. Researchers have found that a healthy and diverse gut microbiome can increase the amount of serotonin in the body by as much as 30%. It’s estimated that as much as 90% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the gut.

We know that serotonin is important and its precursor tryptophan is essential. But where does water fit into the equation?

Water is the transmitter that is required for all systems in the body to function effectively. Not least the hormones that are required to boost mood.

The Best Water to Boost Mood

One of the keys to boosting mood is making sure the body can effectively rid itself of toxic acidic waste materials. This is done via the kidneys and urine.

Without excreting the acidic waste, the body can get overloaded with toxins. As such, the best water to drink to boost health and mood is clean, pure alkaline water.

Related: What’s the Healthiest Water You Can Drink

Dehydration & Acid Buildup


The body’s pH must be kept at 7.35-7.45 to allow it to function. Excess acidic waste buildup can lead to your brain and vital organs being compromised.

Dehydration means that the body cannot produce enough urine to get rid of its toxic waste. This can throw the whole body – enzymes, microbes, oxygen, blood and minerals out of whack.

To balance and neutralise excess acidic waste, the body will sacrifice essential amino acids. Four amino acids that are used to balance the body’s pH are tryptophan, tyrosine, cysteine and methionine.

When using tryptophan to neutralise excess acid, it’s not available to be used as a mood enhancer. To rectify this situation, we must adequately hydrate the body (ideally with pure alkaline water), so that excess toxic acidic waste can be expelled.

Avoid Diuretics


Diuretics increase the amount of water expelled from the body, however, this is not the correct approach to increasing the amount of urine produced by the body. Mainly because diuretics can cause dehydration.

Alcohol, fizzy drinks and caffeine are all mild diuretics and as such should be avoided by people who are looking to boost brain health.

Prescription, pill-based diuretics often used by athletes are even more dangerous and can lead to serious dehydration.

Circulation & Mood


Water boosts the circulation of all systems in the body. The stagnation of the body, whether due to dehydration or a lack of exercise, will inhibit the body’s ability to transport essential amino acids.

The amino acid tryptophan shares its neurotransmitter network with other amino acids such as valine, leucine, isoleucine, phenylalanine and tyrosine.

A lifestyle where dehydration and lack of exercise become the norm, for example in an alcoholic, will mean that levels of leucine, isoleucine and valine increase. This depletes the ability of tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier (BBB). In turn, this reduces the amount of serotonin in the body, which can lead to the development of diseases related to mood and cognition.

Eat Tryptophan-Rich Foods


Alongside exercising and increasing pure water intake, a diet rich in tryptophan should be consumed to increase serotonin levels in the body.

tryptophan intake of 4mg per kg of body weight is suggested. However, for those who are suffering from memory issues or a depressed mood, higher levels of tryptophan-rich foods can be consumed.

Tryptophan rich foods include: tofu, spirulina, seeds (sunflower and pumpkin), nuts (peanuts and almonds), oats, beans, chickpeas, and buckwheat.

Water Isn't Always Enough

To ensure that the body can function effectively, resulting in the proper synthesis of serotonin, adequate hydration is essential. However, drinking water alone often isn’t enough.

The mineral salts sodium, magnesium and potassium are often referred to as “electrolytes”. These minerals are required for the body to absorb water.

Dehydration can occur if the body is low in these essential mineral salts. Magnesium, in particular, is required for the kidneys to utilise sodium and potassium effectively.

Learn More: The 5 Best Plant Sources of Electrolytes

The Bottom Line

While tryptophan and other amino acids are critical for boosting mood, they are not activated without water. Water is the conduit through which all nutrients are delivered.

Additionally, water absorption requires electrolytes (magnesium, potassium, and sodium). Alkaline water can also be consumed to tip the pH balance of the body and detoxify excess acids.

Written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.

Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.

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elderly man sitting alone on bench, his back to the camera lens, staring across the water

Explainer Guide: Mental Health in Elderly People

Explainer Guide: Mental Health in Elderly People

Mental health is something that can affect our social well-being and emotional and physical health. It affects the choices we make, as well as our effect on others.

The problems can come from biological factors (such as chemistry in the brain or genes), life experiences (such as abuse and trauma) or if there is a family history of mental health problems.

More and more people are relying on medical professionals and home care services to help with mental health issues either for themselves, or for family members. Lifestyle changes can also make a massive difference. Currently, one in four in the world will be, or already is, affected by mental health issues – and they can affect anyone at any time.

What is World Mental Health Day?


World Mental Health Day was celebrated for the very first time on 10th October 1992 with a view to educate the public on mental health.

It is now supported by the WHO (World Health Organisation), who also raise mental health issues and support the developments of communication and technical material.

The day is used by people all over the world to promote talking about mental health and to abolish the social stigma that comes with it. There is a new theme each year, the most recent theme in 2019 being ‘Mental Health Promotion and Suicide Prevention’.

Breaking the Stigma


We have already witnessed the positive impact that World Mental Health Day can make. Topics are being spoken about more often, and people are encouraging each other to open up.

Campaigns such as ‘Britain Get Talking’ by ITV and ‘I’m Fine’ by Mental Health Foundation are breaking down the stigma of mental health, and more and more people are taking to social media to talk about their problems.

Unfortunately, this is where older people tend to get left behind. In the last 30 years, people aged 65 and over grew by nearly half (paradoxically, life expectancy rises are grinding to a halt).

Shockingly, depression affects 28% of women and 22% of men aged 65+ and 85% of these people receive no help with their mental health.

For elderly people, especially those who get illnesses such as cancer, dementia or another physical disability, they are more at risk of mental illness, especially since their generation in the past have been discouraged from talking about it.

Related: Which Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Mental Health

With newer technology and most of it being online these days, older people are less likely to have computers or social media, so their avenues of communication aren’t as wide.

Mental health is a topic that is commonly spoken about between young people and children, but elderly people and mental health is a topic that isn’t spoken about anywhere near as much.

Factors That Influence Mental Health


It’s common to think that mental health problems develop naturally as we get older, but this is actually not true. As with anyone at any age, different factors go into mental health such as your genes or any recent events.

A change in lifestyle, especially for old people who have been used to a particular routine for years, can impact their mental health as it’s something out of their comfort zone that they might feel they don’t have the time to adjust to.

Retiring is something that is completely new for all people who haven’t reached that point yet. For elderly people, it’s a case of planning and making sure they are ready for retirement; for younger people, it’s wondering if they will ever get to retirement, and what it will be like.

It can be a significant life change for older people, especially for those who have worked for the majority of their lives.

The current “silver” generation lived in a different era and, most likely, they will have been working since they were young teenagers. When retirement comes around, it can cause anxiety as there are lots of things to think about: financial security and future costs without a work income, keeping friendships made at work and maintaining self-esteem if they were someone who was valued in their working environment.

In certain cases, some older people will have been forced to take an early retirement against their will – for example, if their employer’s business has gone bankrupt. This can affect older people’s mental health as they just might not be ready for change, especially if early retirement was never a part of their plan.

For some, it can presage anxiety and depression, as they may feel that it’s too late for them to be able to get another job.

The Effect of War

For a lot of elderly people, it’s very likely that they’ve lived through at least one war in their life – whether they’ve taken part in one or whether they have been caught up in one.

People who survived World War 2 are 6% more likely to suffer from depression, and thousands of soldiers suffered from PTSD (post traumatic stress disorder), which has led to a lot of people self-medicating with alcohol and other substances.

After WW2, hospitals may have been full of people with mental health problems, but as there was such negativity around the subject, people would not speak about it and in some cases, it brought shame to families.

Especially in countries such as the UK where people were taught to have a ‘stiff upper lip’, this mentality also stopped people from saying how they really felt.

To this day, this mentality has affected older people as they didn’t get the treatment they needed initially.

Other Factors Influencing the Mental Health of Seniors


Death is something that affects everyone: no matter what age you are, it doesn’t mean you’re ready for it. As death becomes more frequent as we get older, it can affect mental health severely and lead to depression and suicide depending on how much a person is affected.

Loneliness is a big problem in today’s world for elderly people, especially those who have been around people or their spouse for most of their lives.

Generations are different, and the current silver generation came from a time when community culture was encouraged; marrying young was also common.

When these normalities disappear from elderly people’s lives, it can be a big cause of depression and anxiety as they are have been used to it for so long.

Takotsubo syndrome, or as it’s more commonly known ‘broken heart syndrome’, is very real and consists of the heart’s pumping function being temporarily disrupted which increases the risk of death for the sufferer.

Related: Fish Oil Helps Your Heart – Details of the 2019 Harvard Study

It has similar symptoms to a heart attack as the heart weakens during a traumatic event.

This is also why it’s common for elderly couples to die within a short time of each other.

Health Issues Common in Elderly People


Other health issues that are more common in later life, such as cancer, dementia or arthritis, can affect older people, especially those who have led an active lifestyle throughout their life.

Physical disabilities will affect older people from leaving their homes and so loneliness is also an issue.

Related: 6 Ways to Help Prevent Dementia and Alzheimer’s Disease

With these health issues comes medication and common side effects of medication relate to mental health. Since older people are more likely to be taking more than one type of medication at any time, their chances of experiencing mental health problems grows.

To combat these issues, a lot of elderly people are placed into care homes, have a local home carer or rely on a home care agency, especially when their families are unable to look after them anymore.

Personal care assistants are trained to help with specific problems and they do especially well to tackle the problem of loneliness in older people.

The Importance of a Healthy Lifestyle

To help with mental health, it’s always suggested to have a plan regarding retirement, wills and funeral costs. It will serve to lessen anxiety within elderly people and their families.

Doctors always suggest pursuing a healthy lifestyle, including following a mental health-friendly diet. It’s also wise to find a physical activity that keeps the brain and body active, which has the added benefit of improving sleeping patterns and boosting self-esteem.

Related: How Lifelong Exercise Routines Impact Performance Later On

To combat loneliness, it’s a good idea to volunteer somewhere if retired or unemployed, and to join social groups to form new friendships.

It’s always important to have someone to talk to in case there are any issues, whether it’s a friend, family member or specialist. Oh, and write things down if needed!

Conclusion

It’s important to remember that mental health varies from person to person. Some people will feel comfortable talking about it and others won’t be ready. Some mental health illnesses also require doctor’s attention, so a visit to the GP may be necessary in some cases.

Of course, there is a tremendous amount we can do to help ourselves, from practising mindfulness and meditation to improving our diet, ridding our lives of negative influences and stimuli, pursuing a worthwhile hobby like learning a language, exercising, prioritising sleep, spending time in green spaces and so on.

Hopefully mental health will be spoken about even more than it is now, without any labels of taboo. The more the younger generation continues the fight for proper mental health care and talking about it openly, it will be easier for future older generations to get the help and treatment they require.

Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.

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basket of healthy food including carrots and onions

Which Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Mental Health

Which Foods to Eat and Avoid for Better Mental Health

Believe it or not, what and how you eat can positively affect your mood, helping to calm anxiety, balance mood swings and allay anger. It can even help improve symptoms of depression.

The link between food and mental health is not a new one. Indeed, it has been explored for many years. Nutritionists and naturopathic doctors preach that vegetables, particularly greens rich in folate and other beneficial nutrients, stimulate the release of serotonin, dopamine and other compounds which help our body and mind relax.

Fermented foods which regulate intestinal flora can also help us better deal with stress, while offering protection against neurotoxicity and reactive oxygen species.

In this article, we'll summarise the best foods to eat and avoid for improved mental health.

What foods to avoid


Anything that floods your bloodstream with sugar, encouraging blood sugar spikes, mood swings and ‘hanger’ is a no-go.

It doesn’t just affect your moods and energy in the short term, but eating this way in the long-term can lead to depression and chronic anxiety, as well as conditions such as metabolic syndrome, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, cellular ageing, poor skin and weight gain.

When your blood sugar spikes, it then rapidly drops. You get a quick burst of energy, then suddenly feel zapped, cranky, moody, less tolerant and less able to deal with stressful situations. You also start to crave the same carby, sugary foods that made you feel that way in the first place, as your body wants an energy hit – fast.

The more sugar you eat, the more you need, and before you know it, you’re in an energy burst/crash loop which over time becomes less energy and more crash as your hormones are thrown into chaos. (Following a diabetic diet sheet can help.)

Foods that cause sugar spikes include processed, refined carbohydrates, sugary foods such as breakfast cereals, crisps, chips, fries, pizza, muffins, cakes, biscuits, cereal bars, sweets, pastries, pasties, syrups and jams.

Anything made with white grains like white rice, bread, pasta and crackers should be avoided as well as condiments containing hidden sugars including tomato ketchup, brown sauce, relish and hoisin sauce.

Drinks like fruit juice, fizzy pop, energy drinks which are loaded with sugar and caffeine, coffee and tea can upset your blood sugar levels too.

As well as giving you a sugar rush, alcohol can disturb your sleep, compounding low mood and depression.

To help combat high-sugar levels, stick to a natural whole food diet including plenty of fibre, brightly-coloured fruit and vegetables, healthy fats and proteins, trading simple carbohydrates for complex ones.

This will also provide nutrients to feed your brain, nourish your nervous system and balance hormones – all helping with cognitive function and mood.

Don’t buy anything with a long list of ingredients. Scrutinise food labels and be suspicious of words you don’t understand. Simply put, it’s not real food.

Here are eleven helpful foods and habits to feed your brain, keep your blood sugar balanced, and keep you and your mood on an even keel.

1) Drink plenty of water


Did you know that our brains are made up of 80% water? So when we’re dehydrated, it negatively affects our brain function clouding our judgement, concentration and focus.

If you’re dealing with chronic stress, low mood or depression and not drinking enough water, you’ll most likely find it much harder to deal with life’s challenges.

Research has shown that increasing water intake can positively impact your sleep/wake moods as well as generate feelings of calmness and satisfaction while boosting positive emotions

Studies also show that drinking adequate amounts of water can reduce your risk of depression and anxiety. It can also enhance your memory, cognition and concentration, and decrease headaches. 

We are all different, and there is no set amount of water that we should drink. However, as a general guide, aim for 2 litres or 8 x 8oz glasses a day. 

The quality of water you drink is incredibly important too, as these days our water can contain a surprising number of contaminants like oestradiol, a type of oestrogen from the oral contraceptive pill, other pharmaceutical residues, lead, and fluoride.

Tap water also has a higher pH, meaning it is less alkaline. Alkaline water is more hydrating and helps to neutralise the acid in our bodies. It is also rich in antioxidants and minerals. 

Check out our top-notch range of alkaline water filters in our water products section.

2) Healthy protein


Proteins are made up of amino acids, the building blocks of life. We need protein to survive, and it is a critical component of every cell in the body. It helps to grow and maintain muscles, bones and connective tissues, providing the structure and framework of our bodies.

Protein also contributes to several bodily functions including energy production, immune support, the making of hormones and enzymes, muscle contraction and digestion.

Proteins balance blood sugar by slowing the breakdown of carbohydrates. They also keep you feeling satiated, staving your appetite and curbing sugar cravings.

Ensure you’re eating healthy protein such as fish, lean meat, eggs, beans, pulses, nuts and seeds with every meal and snack. If it’s a struggle to meet your daily recommended intake, consider using a protein powder.

3) Oily fish and other healthy fats


Omega-3 fats are crucial for brain function. They are considered essential for feeding the brain and boosting mood, with low levels leaving you more susceptible to depression.

Omega-3 fats can increase dopamine levels, improving mood, alertness and concentration, and they can also reduce inflammation and oxidative stress in the brain.

There’s much research supporting the role of healthy fats in depression and anxiety, particularly the EPA and DHA found in oily fish. It’s best to eat fatty fish three times a week to ensure you’re getting enough.

Alternatively, you could consider taking a good quality fish oil.

Omega-3 rich foods include as shellfish, walnuts and other nuts, seeds such as linseeds, chia, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables, seaweed and algae.

4) Swap white grains for brown whole grains


One of the best things you can do is exchange ‘simple carbohydrate’ white grains for brown ‘complex carbohydrate’ whole grains, such as brown bread, pasta, and rice.

These contain plenty of fibre and have a lower glycaemic load than white grains, helping to balance blood sugar, providing a slow, steady energy release, which in turn helps to balance mood and discourage energy slumps.

Because these are whole grains which haven’t had their outer layer stripped, they are higher in fibre and more nutrient-dense, they ‘feed’ your body and keep you feeling fuller for longer.

Some other excellent complex carbohydrate choices would be oats, quinoa, beans and lentils. 

5) Eat foods high in soluble fibre


Scientists examining data on 46,000 people found that meals which were high in vegetables and fibre were key to reducing “depressive symptoms”.

Food sources of fibre include beans, legumes, oats, nuts, seeds, pears, apples, avocados and most vegetables.

Soluble fibre slows digestion, helping to regulate blood sugar balance and mood.

6) Eat foods containing tryptophan

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression. It also aids sleep and regulates mood.

Eating foods containing the amino acid tryptophan can help to increase this happy hormone.

Regularly include foods like nuts, seeds, organic tofu, cheese, red meat, chicken, turkey, fish, shellfish, oats, beans, lentils and eggs.

7) Feed your gut

Did you know that your gut health affects your brain health and vice versa? This is known as the gut/brain axis. So looking after your gut health is essential if you want to maintain healthy brain function and improve mood.

It is commonly believed that depleted serotonin levels in the brain are linked to low mood and depression but, interestingly, there is more serotonin in your gut than your brain!

Early research suggests that gut-based serotonin may also have an impact on mood. One of the best ways to nurture your digestive serotonin is to look after your gut health: consume plenty of fibre, and eat both pre and probiotic foods every day to encourage lots of healthy gut bacteria.

Prebiotic foods include garlic, onions, leeks (raw as well as cooked), asparagus, apples, underripe bananas, sweet potatoes, oats, chicory and legumes. Probiotic foods include raw fermented sauerkraut, kimchi, pickles, kefir, kombucha, full-fat natural yogurt, organic tempeh and miso.

You might also consider taking a high-strength probiotic.

8) Eat foods high in zinc


Zinc is one of the most abundant trace minerals in the brain, and low levels have been linked to depression.

It’s also vital for healthy brain function, memory and learning, and regulating your mood. We can easily become deficient in zinc as our bodies don’t store it, so we need to stock up regularly.

Foods that contain zinc include oysters and other seafood like mussels, shrimp and crab, beans including butter beans, almonds and pine nuts, leg meat from chicken and turkey, lean red meat, hemp seeds, lentils, eggs, oats, quinoa and whole wheat. 

9) Prioritise magnesium


Nature’s tranquilliser, magnesium calms the nervous system, helps you to relax, buffers the adverse effects of stress, balances your mood and relieves the symptoms of anxiety and depression.

Your body uses magnesium for a multitude of functions, and it’s not uncommon to have insufficient levels as a result of poor diet and depleted minerals in the soil due to industrialised farming methods.

If you’re stressed or depressed, your body will pull on your magnesium stores more intensely, so it’s vital to stock up every single day by eating foods such as dark leafy greens, avocado, almonds, pumpkin seeds, beans including broad beans, tuna, mackerel, brown rice, dried figs, natural yoghurt and bananas.

If you’re under chronic stress, have low mood, poor sleep, anxiety or depression, it may be beneficial to take a magnesium supplement.

You can also absorb magnesium through your skin by having a lovely soak or foot bath in Epsom salts. Try doing it a few nights a week as a relaxation practice before bedtime. It will also help you to drift off to a peaceful sleep. 

10) Stock up on B vitamins


A lack of B vitamins can contribute to depression, particularly B6B12 and folate, and consuming these may reduce your risk of depression.

B vitamins help you to cope better with the effects of stress, improve energy and help to balance low mood. Eating a balanced and diverse wholefood diet should provide you with adequate levels of all the B vitamins: think dark leafy greens, eggs, avocado, shellfish, chicken, beef liver, beans, salmon, mackerel, sweet potatoes and asparagus.

If you are vegetarian and particularly vegan, you may struggle to get enough vitamin B12 as it is mainly found in meat, animal liver and kidneys, seafood, fish and milk. Some foods are fortified with it, such as nutritional yeast, but taking a supplement could be advantageous.

11) Take a vitamin D supplement

 

Several studies have revealed that depressed patients can have significantly low levels of vitamin D, and high doses have also been shown to help improve depression symptoms. 

It’s hard to obtain vitamin D from food, and we mostly make it ourselves from sun exposure. It’s wise to spend lots of time outside during summertime (although take care not to burn), exposing as much of your skin as possible for short bursts.

During the autumn and winter, it’s necessary to supplement with it. If you are concerned that your levels are low, get tested by your GP. Otherwise, Public Health England recommends adults and children over the age of one take over 10mcg of vitamin D daily during the winter months.

The Vitamin D Council, meanwhile, suggests supplementing with 5,000 i.u. daily.

Conclusion

So there you have it – food really can improve your mood. If this article seems overwhelming, choose one or two things from the list and see if you notice a difference.

It’s not unusual to make a small number of significant changes and notice a substantial upturn in your moods, sleep, stress response, concentration and focus.

If you don’t have enough of it, just drinking more water could revolutionise the way you feel. 

This article is written by Rebecca Rychlik-Cunning, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.

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blonde woman clutching her own hair in gesture of anxiety

Anxiety and Gut Problems: A Closer Look at the Gut-Brain Axis

Anxiety and Gut Problems: A Closer Look at the Gut-Brain Axis

Have you heard of the gut/brain connection? It basically means that your gut health affects your brain health and vice versa.

I have seen this first hand in clinic, where patients come in seeking help for their digestive symptoms (IBS, leaky gut, abdominal pain, diarrhoea, constipation, bloating, heartburn, nausea, the list goes on) and it turns out that they are also dealing with significant anxiety and/or depression.

In this article, we’ll take a closer look at the bidirectional nature of the gut/brain connection, and suggest ways and means of managing both anxiety and depression and, simultaneously, healing the gut.

The Impact of Mental Heath Problems on the Gut


Most of us know what it’s like to feel emotional about something, be it frustration, anger, stress, sadness or anxiety; we lose our appetite, feel sick, have butterflies in our stomach or get the runs.

How we feel mentally can have a direct impact on our gut, and this can be short-lived, or if those feelings become chronic, the gut symptoms can become chronic too.

One study showed chronic stress to be a significant predictor of gastrointestinal disorders in 668 students, and researchers surmised that stress-reducing interventions could be beneficial for these patients.

If you suffer from long-term digestive issues, this can directly influence how you feel too, and you may start to experience mood changes, anxiety or depression.

You may also encounter other brain symptoms such as lack of focus and concentration, memory issues and foggy thinking.

This connection between the gut and the brain has received increased attention over the last few years, with research gathering momentum in a bid to find alternative treatments for depression, amongst other things

Psychological Therapies for Gastrointestinal Symptoms


Some research supports the use of psychological approaches for improving digestive issues.

According to Harvard Medical Schoolevidence suggests that methods including cognitive behavioural therapy, hypnosis and relaxation therapies such muscle relaxation, positive visualisation and soothing music can all help to significantly improve severe GI symptoms.

Some trials also support the use of mindfulness and meditation for improving IBS symptoms and easing anxiety and depression.

One study published by the American Journal of Gastroenterology found that a mixture of daily mindfulness (a combination of reading of self-help books, meditation and mindful yoga) improved IBS symptoms, anxiety, psychological distress and the quality of life in women with IBS.

The treatment lasted eight weeks, with a follow-up three months after the trial concluded.

Interestingly, these patients benefited from continuous improvement at the three-month mark, suggesting that mindfulness practice has long-lasting effects.

Serotonin Lives in Your Gut and Your Brain

It is commonly believed that low serotonin in the brain is linked to low mood and depression (although opinions are changing on this). But did you know that there is more serotonin in your gut than in your brain?

Serotonin helps with gut motility, meaning it speeds up digestion and helps with the expulsion of waste. So if you have food poisoning, the serotonin in your gut will encourage the toxins to rapidly leave your intestines.

While more research is needed, it is now thought that due to the gut-brain axis, digestive serotonin may also have an impact on mood.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that increases serotonin, and some research supports increased consumption with improved mood. 

One way that you can increase your serotonin levels is to eat foods high in tryptophan such as bananas, turkey, chicken, tuna, halibut and salmon, shellfish, lean red meat, eggs, non-GMO soy, nuts and seeds – particularly pumpkin seeds and oats.

Probiotics for Stress, Anxiety and Depression


Over 70% of your immune system lives in your gut, and this is down to its diverse microbiota (gut flora) consisting of trillions of microorganisms including over 1,000 different species of gut bacteria, as well as fungi and viruses.

These all co-habit in an intelligent and delicate balance to keep us healthy and robust.

Our gut lining is also a protective barrier, preventing any toxins, harmful substances, bacteria and food waste from leaking into our bloodstream.

Many believe that leaky gut and dysbiosis (microbial imbalance of the gut) is due to exposure to chronic disease, viruses, medications such as antibiotics and NSAIDs, and stress.

Compromised gut health and leaky gut can both lead to inflammation which is now commonly believed to underlie chronic diseases such as type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease, rheumatoid arthritis and other autoimmune diseases.

It may also contribute to depression, anxiety and common mental disorders. And some researchers have found that depressed patients with higher inflammatory markers are less likely to respond to antidepressants and more likely to benefit from taking anti-inflammatory medication.

Probiotics have been shown to reduce inflammation in the gut, and researchers acknowledge the link between probiotics, brain development and behaviour. Indeed, several positive studies link them to improved brain chemistry and mental health.

Probiotics help to aid nutrient absorption and blood sugar balance, improving anxiety and depressive symptoms.

If sufficiently high-quality, they can improve the symptoms of IBS, and in one 2017 study depression and quality of life improved in 64% of IBS patients six weeks after taking the probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001.

Probiotics may also have a neuroprotective role, modulating the stress response.

In one trial on random volunteers, the more depressed the patients, the happier they felt after taking probiotics for three weeks.

In participants who were generally of ‘good mood’, probiotics improved constipation and left them feeling more clear-headed, confident and elated.

Probiotics have also been shown to improve cortisol levels, reduce depressive symptoms and lower the stress response as efficiently as those taking Diazepam or Citalopram (commonly prescribed anti-anxiety and antidepressant medications).

Conclusion

The take-home? A healthy gut means a healthy mind – and vice versa.

The discovery of the gut-brain axis has highlighted the importance of gut health, not only for a fully functioning digestive system but also for good mental and emotional wellbeing.

Practices such as mindfulness, meditation, yoga, walking in nature and feeling gratitude can all help to improve gastrointestinal symptoms, mental outlook and mood.

Taking probiotics may help to reduce depression symptoms and feelings of anxiety while strengthening gut integrity and reducing overall inflammation (a contributing factor to mental disorders).

Another way you can look after your gut, increase serotonin levels and modulate your mood is to eat plenty of tryptophan foods while adding raw fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kimchi to your daily diet.

Ensure you’re eating plenty of fibre as well as prebiotic foods like under-ripe bananas, apples, oats, onions, garlic and leeks. Consuming these as part of a natural, whole-food diet will go a long way to keeping your gut and mind healthy.

To find out more about our premium range of Progurt probiotics, click here.

Written by Rebecca Rychlik, Nutritional Therapist and Homeopath. Follow Rebecca on Instagram, Facebook and Medium, @rebeccabitesback.

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assorted fruit and vegetables

Can Eating Fruit and Vegetables Boost Mental Health and Mood?

Can Eating Fruit and Vegetables Boost Mental Health and Mood?

Eating fruit and vegetables can help us to maintain energy levels, lose weight and keep skin youthful. It can also promote longevity, specifically by lowering our risk of life-threatening diseases such as cancer and heart disease. But what about the effect on our state of mind?

We don’t tend to hear as much about the psychological benefits of such foods. This is somewhat strange given that four million people in England alone are long-term users of antidepressants.

Or the fact that mental health and associated behavioural problems are the main drivers of worldwide disability, causing over 40 million years of disability in 20 to 29-year-olds.

In this blog, we want to look at why fruit and vegetables are so beneficial for mental health, with reference to the latest literature on the topic.

Fruit and Vegetables for Stress and Depression


There is nothing new in the suggestion that certain foods can influence mental health. To take one example, in 2017 we reported on a study from Australia which showed that for every extra vegetable you add to your plate, your stress level is reduced by 5%.

This was not a small study: on the contrary, it took into account data from 60,000 Aussies aged 45 and over. To break it down further, men who consumed between three and four daily servings of vegetables had a 12% lower risk of stress than those who only ate one serving or less. Women, meanwhile, exhibited an 18% reduced risk.

separate study by the University of Otago in New Zealand, meanwhile, established that people who ate produce in an uncooked state exhibited higher levels of psychological health than those who cooked.

This latter survey involved a much smaller group of 422 adults between the ages of 18-25, and found that “fruit and vegetable intake (FVI) predicted reduced depressive symptoms and higher positive mood, life satisfaction and socio-emotional flourishing.”

Although processed (for example, canned) and/or cooked fruit and vegetables still had a net positive effect, they “only predicted higher positive mood.”

One of the great things about this study is that it considered and controlled for a range of additional factors known to influence mental health: everything from subjects’ diet and level of physical activity to their employment/financial status and body mass index.

Diet and Mental Health: The 2019 Study


The most recent study on this topic, at the time of writing, was conducted by the Universities of Leeds and York and published in the journal Social Science and Medicine.

Researchers followed individuals over an extended period of time and, controlling for a broad range of factors including income, education and employment status, age, marital status, lifestyle and general health, sought to clarify the effect of diet on mental wellbeing. The results were frankly incredible.

Entitled “Lettuce be happy: A longitudinal UK study on the relationship between fruit and vegetable consumption and well-being”, the 2019 study looked at three ‘waves’ of data collected from over 45,000 Brits between 2010 and 2017.

It found that subjects responded to both frequency and quantity of fruit and vegetables in a ‘dose-dependent fashion’.

Here is one especially insightful passage of the report: “A five-portion increase in the number of fruits and vegetables consumed (on a day with positive consumption)…would be approximately equivalent in magnitude to the estimated wellbeing loss from widowhood (-0.68), and approximately one third of the estimated impact from unemployment, which is known to have one of the largest effects on subjective wellbeing.”

Increasing the frequency of your vegetable consumption from never to 4-6 days per week was also said to “generate approximately the same estimated increase in life satisfaction as being married, whereas moving in the opposite direction (reducing consumption from 4 to 6 days per week to never) generates approximately the same estimated loss in life satisfaction as being widowed.”

It may be difficult to believe that suddenly eating more vegetables could make you as happy as marriage – and yes, some people will quip that it says more about marriage than anything else! – but amazingly, that is what the study showed.

Eating just one extra portion of fruits and vegetables each day, meanwhile, could have the same effect on mental wellbeing as eight extra days of walking a month. The links between exercise and mental health are of course well known.

One may wonder if the same effects can be found in other foods. But the researchers observed “no significant relationship” between the consumption of bread and milk and self-reported mental wellbeing. In common with previous studies, a statistically significant (negative) relationship between smoking status and mental health was also noted.

Reflecting on the substantive positive effects of eating more fruit and vegetables, Dr Neel Ocean at the University of Leeds said that “while further work is needed to demonstrate cause and effect, the results are clear: people who eat more fruit and vegetables report a higher level of mental well-being and life satisfaction than those who eat less.”

The Best Fruit and Vegetables for Mental Wellbeing

The aforementioned University of Otago study was useful for establishing particularly beneficial raw foods for depression and life satisfaction. If you’re the owner of a good-quality juicer, perhaps you should start incorporating more of them in your daily green drink.

The top 10 raw foods for mental health were dark leafy greens like spinach, carrots, cucumber and lettuce, citrus fruits, kiwifruit, grapefruit, bananas, apples and fresh berries.

Other raw vegetables which correlated with elevated mood included celery, red onion, mushroom, cabbage and tomato.

Of course, eating these foods cooked is also likely to have a positive effect on mental wellbeing, particularly if they are not harshly processed. You should make an effort to choose organic due to the greater micronutrient profile.

In addition to the aforementioned, antioxidant-rich ‘super’ foods such as blackberries, blueberries, grapes, raspberries and goji berries are also believed to be highly beneficial as far as mental health is concerned.

Micronutrients for Mental Health and Mood


While it is instructive to consider the types of food which can affect our psychological wellbeing, it’s also important to pay attention to the micronutrients which are abundant in those foods and which, to a large extent, are responsible for the beneficial effect.

This partly explains why raw foods had a more profound effect on markers of mental health than processed varieties, since raw foods contain greater levels of micronutrients. Such micronutrients are also more easily absorbed than in those foods which have been extensively processed.

So which nutrients are we talking about exactly? In a 2017 study entitled ‘Nutritional Psychiatry: The Present State of the Evidence’, the ones which showed the most promise for improving mood and relieving anxiety and depression were folate, zinc, omega-3 (particularly EPA), magnesium, vitamin D3 and vitamin B. Other nutraceuticals like S-adenosylmethionine, N-acetyl cysteine and probiotics were also discussed.

According to Professor Julia Rucklidge, PhD, an award-winning clinical psychologist who has been studying the impact of micronutrients on mental health for the last decade, there has been “over 30 double blind randomised controlled trials using a variety of combinations of nutrients and doses across a variety of mental health conditions showing that we can induce a substantial and clinically meaningful change in symptoms just by using nutrients.”

Repeat that last part: just by using nutrients. For those averse to pharmaceutical interventions, this really is the ultimate goal. In fact, it should be the ultimate goal for all of us, for who honestly would prefer to pop pills than eat healthily?

Professor Rucklidge, a professor at the University of Canterbury, is in the process of conducting a Randomised Controlled Trial (RCT) to assess the efficacy of a specific micronutrient formulation for treating depression and anxiety. The supplement contains 40 ingredients, many of which are present in fruit and vegetables; they include high concentrations of B vitamins, vitamins C and D, and minerals such as selenium, zinc, iodine and iron.

It is not the first study to be overseen by Professor Rucklidge: she previously achieved great results from micronutrient intervention in 2010 and 2011, following two earthquakes in Christchurch. The conclusion of the former left no doubt about the micronutrient formula’s efficacy: “The 16 participants on the nutritional supplement were more resilient to the effects of the earthquake than the 17 individuals not taking the supplement. This effect was particularly marked for Depression scores.”

Perhaps most notably of all, the mental health benefits in terms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress, were sustained at a one-year follow-up.

How Many Portions Per Day for Mental Health?


We are starting to learn more about the influence of people’s diet on their psychological health, but to understand the optimal intake of fruit and vegetables we must consider factors such as: raw or cooked/processed; organic or otherwise; and the absorption capacity of the individual in question.

According to a 2012 study of 80,000 randomly selected British individuals, “well-being peaks at approximately 7 portions per day”. Well-being is of course a broad term, but in this context, seven ‘measures’ were considered: life satisfaction, WEMWBS mental well-being, GHQ mental disorders, self-reported health, happiness, nervousness, and feeling low.

Independent of psychological parameters, a 2017 study suggested we should aim for 10 portions of vegetables and fruit per day to promote longevity, with the majority of that number being vegetables.

For most of us, aiming for somewhere between 7 and 10 portions a day is no bad thing.

Can Dietary Supplements Help?

Daunted by the prospect of eating 7-10 portions of vegetables and fruit per day? A food supplement can offer dense nutritional support. Take Green Vibrance as one example. This comprehensive formula is composed of vegetables, fruit, algae and cereal grasses, and contains high levels of nutrients known to aid mental wellbeing.

At a glance, Green Vibrance supplies over 100% of your Recommended Daily Amount of vitamins A and D, as well as over 50% of your daily vitamins C and K. It also contains appreciable concentrations of iodine, chromium, vitamins E and B12, numerous plant-based antioxidants and 25 billion live probiotics.

As for the food content, it contains many of the beneficial foods mentioned in the University of Otago study, including spinach and other leafy greens, carrots, apples, berries and tomato.

Due to the effective concentrations of nutrients, this will reduce your need to shoot for 7-10 servings of fruit and vegetables.

Conclusion

In an increasingly over-medicated world, the simple benefits of eating vegetables and fruits should never be taken for granted. On the contrary, we should be shouting the benefits from the rooftops.

While there is much we still have to learn to establish cause and effect, as well as the specifics of the possible mechanisms at work, it’s clear that nutrition plays a major role in moderating our mental health.

And when you factor in the considerable physical upsides, it’s something of a no-brainer.

If you’re interested in learning more about so-called nutritional mental health, this conversation between the aforementioned Professor Rucklidge and Seth J. Gillihan, PhD, is well worth a listen.

Water for Health Ltd began trading in 2007 with the goal of positively affecting the lives of many. We still retain that mission because we believe that proper hydration and nutrition can make a massive difference to people’s health and quality of life. Click here to find out more.

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the word 'mindfulness' written on a sheaf of paper

Mindfulness: Our Own Medication for the Monkey Mind

It was only a year ago I realised I’d spent most of my life in a stupor. When you look that word up in a dictionary, it uses drunkenness in an example sentence: ‘an unconsciousness brought on by intoxicants’.

While I certainly used to enjoy a few glasses of the strong stuff, the stupor I refer to is one of non-presence: of being so intoxicated with reflections upon my past and thoughts (be they worries or wishes) about my future, that I was never really, truly, here.

My memories were a haze, and I saw time flying by faster than I’d like.

Seeing the Beauty in Small Things


Mindfulness made an overdue entry into my life, but how thankful I was: I began to sit in silence and surrender to what was there; scanned my body for how it was feeling; sighed with pleasure at the heady steam from sage-leaf tea.

Suddenly I saw the beauty in small things, witnessed the joy of nature, and felt deeper connection from conversation. I was also able to confront what we typically call ‘negative’ emotions: by finally facing my fears around sadness, anger or loneliness, and feeling them instead of fleeing, they loosened their hold upon me. They became smaller, more manageable, and certainly very human; I noticed that they simply wanted to be heard.

My mental health improved, physical symptoms abated, and as I freed up energy I’d put into fretting or fantasy, I found it easier to heal while accepting my state of health.

To put it simply, mindfulness was my own medication for the monkey mind. It opened a pathway to being present that made me feel calmer, freer, and above all, alive.

Of course, once upon a time in our not-so-distant past, it made sense to listen to the monkey mind. We had to conceive of the past and future to make life-or-death decisions in the present: if you spotted a large, hairy creature with larger teeth than its mouth could accommodate, you’d be wise to reflect on what it did to your ancestors, and see that it’d make short work of you too. Check cave paintings for confirmation, and the conclusion?

“Run!”

It was a means for our survival.

But we don’t have to run any more: large creatures don’t roam our streets; we can grab a panini instead of poisonous berries; we do not fight with peoples living on the next plain. Yet we still try to escape, though not from dangerous situations – now we run from the present moment, from ‘dangerous’ feelings, and the truth of what we are experiencing.

We’ll find ourselves caught in a conflict of our own invention, imagining how we’ll deal with some ill feeling that’s been bubbling to the surface. We return to reality: we’re in the kitchen, and it’s the soup that’s been bubbling over. Other times we’ll dwell in daydreams, creating a desert island to escape our sense of boredom at work. Evading what we feel is more easily done when we’re feeling blue.

Be True to What is Happening Now

The beauty of the present moment, however, is that it’s all that exists. We can’t change the past, and we cannot know the future, so as Alan Watts famously said: “worry is preposterous!” By being true to what is happening at this point in time, be it eating a delicious meal or finding ourselves in the heat of a difficult situation, we honour the truth of our experience.

In good times, we simply enjoy more; in bad times, we’re better equipped to deal with what’s happening. We also begin to develop a more subtle awareness of how we and our loved ones feel, so we can tune in to our physical and emotional needs. As we become aware of our patterns of thought, we can recognise those that are unhelpful, as well as those that may simply be asking that we acknowledge them.

When do you find yourself drifting? Where do you drift to? What comes up most often?

Begin to observe when you are alert and yet dreaming, awake and yet in nightmare. You can make a mental note on what you were thinking when you did so, if you like, before bringing yourself back to what you’re doing right now.

With time, you’ll soon learn what areas need your attention, where your subconscious is seeking action, and what to do to soothe yourself: often that won’t be distraction, but delving into the thing you’re evading.

The magic of mindfulness is that it’s not magic: it’s a tool we can use every day, and a simple state of being that becomes easier with time. While in meditation we may bring our awareness back to the breath, a candle or a sense of loving kindness, and in yoga we may return to feelings of tightness or expansion in the body, with mindfulness we simply return to the present moment, whatever that is, exactly as it is. It may be a meditation or yoga session, but it may not: when you chop vegetables, chop veg; when you listen to a friend, really listen; when you make love, make love!

It really is as easy as that, and there are no elaborate rules to follow.

Exercising the Mindful Muscle

You’ll naturally find yourself slipping, thinking about what that text message meant, what that blind date thinks of you, or conducting another five-year plan – but you can always hop back to the present when you realise you’ve left it.

Drifting off becomes a gift to yourself every time you return. And for the record, it’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by how much you ruminate: I’ve giggled and gasped at how neurotic or self-critical I can be…

But the more you return to awareness, the more you exercise this mindful muscle. And as we all know, muscles strengthen with use.

So use the medication you have inside you, and experience life just as it is. When you step outside the monkey mind, you’ll find it’s often the simple things which prove most extraordinary.

Guest blog by Sophie Gackowski.

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Looking to Resolve Mental Health Problems Naturally? How These Suggestions Could Make Antidepressants Your Last Resort

Looking to Resolve Mental Health Problems Naturally? How These Suggestions Could Make Antidepressants Your Last Resort

Every few years, the Health & Social Care Information Centre publishes a survey of the psychological problems the British public experiences. 

Approximately 25 per cent of people here experience depression, anxiety, or mixed depression and anxiety every year.

Most of us either grab at a synthetic antidepressant or simply suffer through it in silence. 

Before feeling compelled to adopt one of these two approaches, you should try some natural strategies first that may help you combat depression.

Mindfulness

Mindfulness sounds like a new fad, but it is actually a centuries-old approach that many mainstream Western psychologists have just examined and found to be effective. The idea is taken directly from Eastern meditation practices. It involves sitting quietly and focusing on the present. You can start by concentrating on your breathing. Feel how the air feels when it moves in and out of your lungs. Listen to your heart rate. Flex your muscles and count all the different sensations of this simple movement. Can you taste anything in your mouth? If you sit in a quiet room, you will be astounded at how many sounds you can still hear around you. Count them. Pull your attention straight back to present sensations when you feel your mind wander.

Why Mindfulness?

In a scientific literature review of 39 studies with 1,140 participants who received mindfulness therapy, Dr. Stefan Hofmann from Boston University found in 2010 that most studies concluded that mindfulness was an effective treatment for anxiety and mood problems. Even better, the effects seem to last with mindfulness having a lower relapse rate than most other psychological therapies. The effect is primarily explained via the depression sufferers' ability to take control of their thinking. Depression is easily exacerbated when sufferers focus on depressing events. They dwell on their mistakes, on all their perceived shortcomings, on the emptiness of their current lives, on the meaninglessness of their jobs, on distressing past events, on the luxuries that they cannot afford, and so forth. The more they reflect on these issues, the more depressed they become. Mindfulness breaks this cycle by teaching them to pull their attention away from these depressing issues back to the present.

Combine Mindfulness with Cognitive Behavioural Therapy

Once depression sufferers have learnt to control the focus of their attention, another good step is to alter the negative beliefs that they hold about themselves and their lives together with some of their behaviours. For example, if they believe they are unlovable, they can learn to alter that belief together with the behaviours that may make them difficult to live with. This deliberate alteration of beliefs and behaviours is called cognitive behavioural therapy. It works well precisely because most of people's negative beliefs are basically false or at least greatly exaggerated. When mindfulness and cognitive behavioural therapy are combined, it is an effective treatment against depression that cuts the risk of relapse from 78 to 36 per cent for severely depressed people who have had three or more episodes in their lives.

Omega-3 Fatty Acids

It is not only psychological therapies that work, however. Nutrition is also important. After several researchers found that the blood and tissue of people with depression were low in omega-3 fatty acids, they became a topic of interest in psychiatric research. This study found that it was a good treatment for major depression, this one found it to be effective for moderately severe borderline personality disorder, and this one for bipolar (also called manic depressive) disorder. In a review of the scientific literature, two academics found in 2005 that five of six double-blind, placebo-controlled trials in schizophrenia, and four of six such trials in depression found omega-3 fatty acids to be effective. Of the two main types of Omega-3 fatty acids in fish oil, the effect seems to stem primarily from EPA rather than from DHA. It should also be noted that most of these studies gave the omega-3 to people who were already receiving a course of antidepressants that they believed was ineffective. In other words, people on antidepressants who also received omega-3 improved, while people on antidepressants who received a placebo did not improve.

Sources of Omega-3 Fatty Acids

If EPA and DHA are the more important omega-3 fatty acids to help combat depression, you want to stock up on fish oil and fish oil supplements. Anchovies, fresh water trout, sardines, tuna, salmon, herring, and mackerel are the best fish, while marine algae and its oil can supply vegetarians with some of their required omega-3. UnoCardio 1000 is a great omega-3 fish oil supplement for those who do not consume enough fresh fish every week. Vegetarians can also consume ALA, a plant-based Omega-3 fatty acid, found in flaxseed oil, walnuts, canola oil, and soybean oil. While the conversion is not particularly productive, some people can convert a small amount of ALA to EPA and DHA. Organic Flax Seed Oil is a good omega-3 supplement for vegetarians and vegans.

Vitamin D

The human body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight. As people spend more time indoors and cover themselves in sunscreen when they go outdoors, vitamin D deficiency is gradually becoming more common. Like with omega-3, some studies have found that vitamin D deficiency occurs more frequently in people with anxiety and depression. Based on these findings, other researchers decided to test whether vitamin D supplementation could relieve the symptoms of depression. This appeared to be the case. In 2008, a Norwegian research team gave 441 subjects different levels of vitamin D supplementation and discovered that those with the highest levels were also the ones who experienced the most relief from their depression symptoms. Nine years before that, some physicians already understood that a vitamin D supplement could help people with seasonal affective disorder, a condition that renders sufferers depressed during the winter and fully functional during the summer. As not enough can be obtained from food sources, vitamin D must be taken as a supplement.

Magnesium

In an article in the journal Medical Hypotheses, two Texan researchers presented the case histories of some severely depressed people who recovered rapidly after being given 125-300 mg of magnesium with each meal and at bedtime. They speculated that a magnesium deficiency may result from the fact that 84 per cent of the magnesium found in whole grains is removed when it is refined, and that magnesium has been removed from most drinking water supplies. A well designed 2012 study on 402 Iranian postgraduate students studying in Malaysia, a group prone to depression, found that higher magnesium intake mediated the risk of depression. A coral calcium and magnesium and supplement may help with daily magnesium supplementation, while a good alkaline water filter can add a bit of magnesium to every glass of water you drink.

Vitamin B12

While the scientific literature is not unanimous, some researchers have concluded that people with depression have lower levels of vitamin B12 in their blood. In fact, according to another study, the subjects with vitamin B12 deficiency were 2.05 times as likely to be severely depressed as were non-deficient subjects. There is also some literature that shows that subjects given vitamin B12 supplementation experienced an improvement in their depression symptoms, while those whose B12 levels remained the same did not improve. Luckily, it is easy to consume enough vitamin B12. If you do not eat meat and fish, in which it appears in abundance, most tofu is fortified with it. Many brands of almond milk and cereals are also fortified, and you can also occasionally eat some yeast extract spreads, like marmite. Keep this latter to the minimum, however, as such spreads are acidic and high in sodium.

Exercise

Do not overlook the benefits of daily exercise. This does not have to be painful. Spending just half an hour per day outside in nature can be beneficial. That is one of the greatest benefits of dog ownership; you feel bad when you skip your daily walk!

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young woman's face, clear complexion

Is Your Depression and Weight Gain Caused by Chemical Overload?

Diet and exercise alone are no longer enough to keep you healthy and slim. Certain chemicals found in food may contribute to weight gain. These chemicals, called “obesogens,” may alter human metabolism and predispose some people to weight gain. Exposure to obesogens at a young age, even in the fetus, may alter metabolism and fat-cell makeup for life. Other exposures take effect during adulthood.

Jerry Heindel of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) states that there are between 15 and 20 chemicals that have been shown to cause weight gain, mostly from developmental exposure. Chemical exposure is strongly linked with obesity even during fetal and infant development. These chemicals can be found in food and water. The following five chemicals are a few examples of what to look out for.

1) Growth hormones and Antibiotics

Unless the meat you consume is organic/hormone and antibiotic free, there’s a good chance it is full of chemicals. Hormones and antibiotics are given to livestock to promote growth and prevent disease. These hormones include naturally occurring steroids such as estradiol-17, progesterone, and testosterone, as well as synthetic compounds such as zeranol. Most chemicals are processed in the gut and liver, where 70 percent of the immune system lives. These chemicals succeed at killing off good gut bacteria, which increases the risk for digestive symptoms and immune disorders.

To avoid antibiotics and growth hormones, look for animal products that are organic, raised without antibiotics and hormones, and grass-fed. Most organic labels will proudly display this information on their packaging. Hormone use in poultry hasn’t been banned in the UK like it was in the 1950’s in America. Also, organic doesn’t always mean antibiotic free. Check to make sure you see the words “raised without antibiotics” on the package labelling. Grass fed animal products are best as they are pasture raised and high in CLA, DHA and other essential omega fatty acids.

2) Natural and Artificial Flavors

Don’t be fooled by the claim that a food product is “natural.” If it were truly natural, it wouldn’t need an ingredient list. This includes MSG, an additive to food to make it taste better and extend shelf life. MSG is a salt of the amino acid Glutamic Acid. It is often found in canned food.

MSG tricks the tongue into thinking certain foods taste better, which stimulates the sensory effect to eat more. Consumption of MSG stimulates the pancreases to produce insulin. Blood sugar levels drop, even without the presence of carbohydrates, and a person feels hungry shortly after eating a meal with MSG. To avoid MSG and other artificial chemicals such as natural flavors, monosodium glutamate, autolyzed yeast extract and hydrolyzed proteins, stick with non- processed foods, such as fruits and vegetables.

3) Artificial Sweeteners

Artificial sweeteners, such as sucralose, aspartame, acesulfame potassium, saccharin, may cause serious health risks, including severe digestive disorders, weight gain, diabetes, lymphomas, leukemia, cancers of the bladder and brain, chronic fatigue syndrome, Parkinson's disease, Alzheimer's disease, multiple sclerosis, autism, and systemic lupus.

Artificial sweeteners may have negative effects on glucose regulation. To avoid, use natural sugars instead, such as raw honey, maple syrup, and coconut and date sugars. Or better yet, replace all added sugars with the real thing: whole fruit.

4) Pesticides

Pesticides are used to maintain health of a plant or crop from anything that might be threatening to it, such as other plant and animal life. Most studies on non-Hodgkin lymphoma, leukemia, and other cancers showed positive associations with pesticide exposure. Organophosphate pesticides are known to cause neurological problems in children when exposure is too high. Half of all foods often eaten by children contain organophosphate pesticides, including apples, apple juice, bananas, carrots, green beans, oranges, orange juice, peaches, pears, potatoes, and tomatoes. Side effects from pesticide exposure may include paralysis, seizures, tremors, and weight gain.

The latest reports show that about 19 percent of all fruits, vegetables, and whole grains contain organophosphate pesticides, which is down 10 percent from the highest levels in 1996. To avoid, choose foods that are certified organic and be sure to wash them well before eating.

5) Plastic

Bisphenol A, or BPA, is a synthetic chemical used in the production of plastics since the 1950s and a known endocrine disruptor. An endocrine disruptor is a chemical that could interfere with the production, processing, and transmission of hormones in the body and disrupt the normal functioning of the endocrine system (Vogel 1999).

In humans, BPA may cause developmental problems, breast and prostate cancer, metabolic disease, obesity, neurobehavioral problems, and reproductive abnormalities. To avoid the chemicals in plastic, look for containers that are BPA free or use glass for food storage purposes.

References

Vogel, S. (1999). The Politics of Plastics: The Making and Unmaking of Bisphenol A “Safety”. American Journal of Public Health, S559-S566.

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How to Increase Happiness Levels This Christmas

How to Increase Happiness Levels This Christmas

How to Increase Happiness Levels

You may be surprised to learn that during this festive season, where we are supposed to feel jolly and merry, almost half of men admit that they are at their most depressed. The Samaritans conducted an online poll in which 48% of men said they felt low in December compared to other times of the year. The gender differences are stark although the advice here should be considered by women as well. In addition to this, a three-year survey by researchers in Japan found many complaints of depression and anxiety amongst workers.

More Studies Find Similar Results of Depression

Their sample of 25,000 workers found that individuals were more reluctant to wake up to go to work in the mornings, and suffered from insomnia and increased irritability in correlation with the amount of time that they spent in front of their computer.

Lead researcher Dr Tetsuya Nakazawa is quoted as follows: ‘"This result suggests the prevention of mental disorders and sleep disorders requires the restriction of computer use to less than five hours a day.”

There is increased concern over mental health issues caused by working with computers as opposed to humans. Those that work more than five hours per day isolated at a commuter terminal were much more vulnerable to psychological disorders.

Psychology Professor Cary Cooper from the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology is reported to have said the following:

'We are finding that people are working with machines as opposed to other people. The problem is not just sitting in front of a computer but the fact that people don't take a break and cannot prioritise what they are doing. They are overloaded then they worry about the work they are not doing.’

Research was conducted by studying individuals in various jobs and working environments, and of course different computers. Despite this the results have been consistent, and it therefore seems likely that the results are linked directly to time spent in front of a computer screen.

How to Combat Winter Depression

The study discussed here suggests that limiting the time spent in front of a computer can have a real impact on levels of happiness, helping to reduce episodes of depression and insomnia.

So it makes sense to intersperse your work time with breaks, chats and walks outside with fresh air and nature.

Book days away from the computer altogether for maximum benefit. This will also help to combat the headaches, eye strain and back ache associated with spending too much time working at a screen.

SAD is often quoted as the cause for people feeling low in the winter. This ‘seasonal affective disorder’ has been studied in depth and it is suggested that our neurobiological structure is designed to slow down in the darker months. Much like a low level hibernation, we find ourselves feeling lethargic with little enthusiasm or energy to enjoy the things we do in summer months. This can be quite pronounced in individuals that suffer with SAD.

Light therapy could play a part in providing some respite from this lethargy, as the rays of light on skin can boost the body into action, in essence tricking the cells into waking up from their winter slumber.

Continuing the metaphor of winter hibernation, people often struggle with carbohydrate cravings at this time of year, which causes a downward spiral as the sugar spikes and crashes consuming the wrong type or excess carbohydrates causes. It could be beneficial therefore to focus on eating healthy slow burning carbohydrates that provide a stable blood sugar and gradual release of energy.

Another suggestion to combat this seasonal sadness could be to balance the microflora in the gut. Afterall the majority of serotonin (the feel good hormone) is produced in the gut, so something as simple as taking a pre and pro-biotic supplement for at least 6 months prior to winter beginning could make an enormous difference to your happiness levels.

Don’t Let Depression Beat You - Fight Back!

There are many ways to combat this depression that can occur during this Winter and Christmas season. Some of the most effective ways to tackle feeling down, or rather prevent feeling down in the first place, are often the simplest too.

Such as getting plenty of fresh air whilst at work or at home, engaging in something fun after work such as a dance class or yoga class, and ensuring you take plenty of time away from the computer before it starts to make you feel down. Of course we cannot forget that eating a healthy diet and drinking plenty of clean purified alkaline water will also help to keep your body ‘awake’, alert and happy.

Try taking a probiotic this Christmas! Have a look at our range of Probiotics.

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