And it’s not due to COVID. As Mental Health Awareness Month 2020 draws near the end, let’s talk about depression. Depression is defined as a period of at least two weeks during which a person experiences: a depressed mood loss of interest and/or loss of pleasure …
It wasn’t meant to be provocative. After all, the folks in 1954 cared just as much about weight loss as we do in 2020, and they weren’t dealing with nearly the same obesity epidemic as we are today. Over 70% of American men and women were considered overweight …
Hint: It’s not toilet-paper-hoarding disorder.
While I’ve been spending the bulk of my COVID-19 self-quarantine time at home with my family, there have been several occasions where I’ve needed to venture out by car, an errand, a quick trip to the store, a forgotten needed item at the office. And while I’m out, the constant dialog in my head: “Hurry up, get in, get out, don’t linger, don’t be picky about the head of lettuce! Gotta stay safe!” “Someone’s coming, hold your breath!” “Quick, jump to the other side of the aisle/street/sidewalk, don’t get near them, what if they’re silent carriers!” “Ew, did I really just accidentally touch that, where’d I put the bottle of sanitizer…” “Shoot, I just touched something else while trying to get to the sanitizer…” “I should probably disinfect the bottle of sanitizer…”
Yes, I’m practicing social distancing, yes, I’m trying not to complain about it, and yes, it’s actually pretty stressful. So stressful that it is causing me to constantly think about catching a potentially deadly illness from others a decent distance away from my face and likely not infected themselves. And so stressful that I feel really sad going into stores that used to be cheerful, enjoyable places to spend 15 minutes.
The constant fear. The constant anxiety. The constant reminders that this epidemic is somewhat out of our control. The constant threat of bodily harm. The constant vigilance and suspiciousness. Every allergy-induced cough, every headache, every pain triggering a common first thought: “What if this is COVID-19?!??!” Every unknown person walking by triggering, “What if that person is infected? What if they infect me?”
I see it in myself, and I see it in others out in public. The sad and worried eyes hidden behind masks, the quick darting movements to avoid being near others, the lack of eye contact, the suspiciousness.
The other virus? Mental illness.
The conditions are ripe for developing depression, generalized anxiety disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.
10 Ways to Preserve Mental Health During This Epidemic
Here are some ways to promote mental health.
- Avoid excess media. Choose a time each day to check 1-2 trusted sources of information, and then disconnect from the media. The media focuses on the absolute worst outcomes, the horror stories, to attract an audience. It’s not helpful for mental health right now.
- Practice gratitude. Each evening, reflect on the day. Name 3 things you are grateful for from that day. Even better – share these points of gratitude with family, and listen to what they’re thankful for as well. Which brings us to…
- Connect with others, be it family or friends in or out of your household. Even just a quick text to check in and let someone know you’re thinking of them can go a long way.
- Give hugs to those that are inside your social distancing circle. Desired physical touch positively benefits mental health and be soothing, calming, and grounding.
- Get adequate sleep. Mood benefits from deep rest, while anxiety and depression can spike from disrupted and inadequate sleep.
- Eat wholesome, nutritious foods: fresh fruits and veggies, meats, poultry, fish, organic dairy, nuts and nut butters, seeds, olive oil, whole grains. Think unprocessed and no added sugar as much as possible.
Unlike toilet paper, these foods seem to be in abundance. Thankfully.
- Exercise. Break a sweat, move your body to support both healthy immune function and your mood.
- Get outdoors. Fresh air at a minimum, a green natural setting at best. Being in nature promotes positive mental health.
- Shift your mindset to positive. If you find yourself thinking negatively, reframe it. Instead of, “I’m stuck indoors and can’t do what I want to do,” say to yourself, “I’m finding myself with an opportunity to do [x].”
- Breathe. If you find yourself upset or anxious, take a few minutes to take in some deep belly breaths. This forces you into a parasympathetic, relaxed mode.
What are you doing to promote positive mental health during this stressful time? Post your techniques and tips in the comments below!
Many mommy bloggers, Facebook group followers, and even some holistic health practitioners often recommend taking 1 teaspoon elderberry syrup daily during cold and flu season. This period of time can easily last 5-6 months out of the whole year. The families that follow this practice …
We can’t digest it. It’s irritating to the gut. It’s hybridized beyond our body’s recognition, so looks like an alien spaceship to our immune system.
However. Not everyone will benefit from a gluten-free diet.
There. I said it. Heresy in the holistic health world. But supported by Dr. Alessio Fasano, expert on gastrointestinal health and researcher and professor at Harvard, so I think I’m ok making this statement.
Though everyone is negatively impacted in some way by gluten, there are many nuances to how diet impacts one’s health. A large number of people that have a variety of health symptoms do genuinely fare better on a gluten-free diet. But many people also rely on gluten-containing products to meet their daily needs for total calories, fiber, pre-biotic fodder for gut bacteria, B vitamins, iron, and magnesium. This reliance is even more pronounced when we factor in the US wheat flour fortification program. Fortification is helping many Americans following a standard American diet to meet their daily intake of iron, thiamin, niacin, riboflavin, folic acid, and sometimes calcium.
When people consuming a standard American diet switch over to a gluten-free diet, using gluten-free counterparts to conventional processed foods (bread, pasta, frozen waffles, etc.), literature shows people on a gluten-free diet consume less vitamins, minerals, and fiber than when they were eating gluten.
Herein lies the problem: trading one problem (symptoms attributable to gluten) for others (new nutrient deficiencies, change in gut flora from decreased fiber).
Becoming gluten free is a personalized decision. When I support someone transitioning to a gluten-free diet, we track their new gluten-free consumption pattern to monitor their fiber and nutrient intake. Then we can see where new nutritional gaps may exist and address them accordingly by bringing in other additional foods that will meet those needs.
While I prefer to make personalized dietary recommendations based on symptoms and a person’s preferences, there are some conditions that I believe warrant an automatic gluten-free plan, regardless. Non-negotiable:
-celiac disease – gluten triggers the body to destroy the gut lining, creating rampant inflammation while making it extremely difficult to absorb nutrients. Not addressing celiac disease also leaves one more susceptible to developing more autoimmune diseases later, not to mention all the effects from such high inflammation and nutrient depletion.
-non-celiac gluten sensitivity – this can be assessed with an elimination diet and sometimes confirmed with genetic markers. Symptoms are random and far-reaching throughout the body and resolve by eliminating gluten. This is a very large and growing population in the US.
-wheat or gluten allergy – no messing with actual allergies!
-autoimmune thyroid diseases – Graves, Hashimoto’s – gluten mimics thyroid tissue, which the body is already attacking in these disorders. Adding gluten just fuels the body to attack itself more, creating higher antibodies and more inflammation.
-any autoimmune disease – gliadin, a protein in gluten, increases the production of zonulin, which essentially makes the gut more permeable. When we don’t digest our food well, and throw more zonulin into the mix, undigested food can escape more easily into the blood, triggering an immune response as the body tries to figure out what these undigested foods ARE. Autoimmune conditions typically have a leaky gut component to them, priming the immune system to be hyperaroused, and gluten just makes this worse.
-general digestive issues, IBS – sometimes these symptoms can be attributed to gluten directly. Sometimes gluten is exacerbating leaky gut due to increased zonulin (see above). Sometimes gluten is irritating the gut, since we can’t actually digest it well. Sometimes it’s creating issues due to exacerbating microbial overgrowths (see below). Basically, if you have digestive issues, trial a gluten-free diet for at least 3 weeks and see if you feel different.
-Candida overgrowth, microbial imbalance, SIBO – the carbs that come along for the ride with gluten just feed further imbalance; often people will notice bloating and gas from eating gluten-containing and other starchy foods.
-mental health issues – often driven by gut inflammation, which can be exacerbated by gluten.
If you don’t fall into one of the above buckets and are going to eat continue to eat gluten, here are some ways to do so healthfully!
-choose ancient gluten-containing grains, such as Einkorn, spelt, barley, and rye. These grains haven’t been over hybridized like modern wheat, and so are easier to digest. And don’t seem as foreign to our digestive or immune systems.
-choose traditionally prepared sourdough breads. The ones where the grain has been soaked and cultured with probiotics, and whose mother lives in someone’s fridge in a bucket, lovingly fed daily. The live bacteria reduce some of the gluten content, decreasing the amount present. (Note: sourdough is not a free pass to eat glutenous grains when you have an issue with gluten!)
-choose organic wheat flours. Avoid those flours that have been chlorinated or brominated; these poor quality flours are often found in processed foods or inexpensive store brand bagged flours (Walmart, ahem, I’m pointing to you). Flour must be aged, and chlorine and bromine are used in cheaper flours to speed up the process to get the product to market faster. Bromine and chlorine are toxic to the thyroid, and I believe that over-exposure to them (from non-organic flours, as well as our water supply and dental procedures) is highly contributing to today’s hypothyroid epidemic.
-fix any digestive issues that you have, knowing that the zonulin released from the gluten will temporarily increase intestinal permeability.
And a loving reminder that those on a gluten-free diet need to be careful to get adequate fiber, B vitamins, iron, zinc, and magnesium. Gluten-free foods also tend to be higher in natural and added sugars, so another thing to watch out for.
Have you gone gluten-free? Why? Tell us in the comments!
Diet is a top driver of disease in the US, and mental health imbalances are no exception to this. Did you know that the standard American diet has been linked to depression and anxiety? That’s because the standard American diet creates oxidative damage and inflammation …
“How do you maintain a healthy diet on a budget? Spending $200 a week on groceries is exhausting (worth it but not everyone can afford that).” Packaged, processed, and highly refined foods are often subsidized by the federal government, thereby bringing prices down. Meanwhile, whole …
“How do you reconcile all the conflicting info, “studies,” and media headlines that come out practically every day, with changing information about what actually is healthy?”
It can be overwhelming to keep up with the latest, often contradictory dietary advice coming from all these published studies, not to mention suss through the credibility of sensationalized media headlines.
First, if I am reading or hearing a headline in the media touting some sensational finding from a study that goes against what the current thinking is, I want to keep in mind that the media may not actually be reporting the study findings accurately. This happens all the time – like with coconut oil, saturated fat, eggs…actual data and study conclusions get twisted to be more exciting. Keeping this in mind, I go to the original study to compare what the authors concluded versus what the media took away from the paper.
In general, once I get my hands on the actual paper, I want to assess for bias. I want to ask a few basic questions first before even entertaining the outcome of the study and the impact that might have on the overall population. I want to know, first and foremost, who is funding and who is publishing the study to determine if the study is fueling an economic agenda! Is this a study that slams the health benefits of coconut oil, funded by the soybean oil industry (as happened last year)? Then I want to know if this was a human or animal study, since we are physiologically different from many other mammals, and how long the study was run for. Is this a study saying that supplementation of vitamin D is useless in preventing cancer, but only looked at supplementation over 6 months versus 20 years? And so on. I want to understand who initiated the study, why, and how the study was carried out. I want to see if the authors’ conclusion actually matches the data (there are times when data does not support the hypothesis, but the authors try to explain this away rather than understand why their hypothesis was not supported!). Then I want to understand why the results of the study were different from prior literature and how the author explains this. Perhaps a longer study period was run. Perhaps more confounding variables were accounted for. Perhaps there was a control group in this study. Or perhaps an industry wants to sell their product. Nutrition research is especially tricky because it is incredibly difficult to maintain a large group of people on a very specific diet for a long enough period of time to observe outcomes.
What I will say, also, is that American dietary changes that have been implemented over the past 100-150 years (advocated by the USDA, American Heart Association, American Diabetes Association, etc.) have not been health supportive, as evidenced by the massive decline in the health of our overall population. Despite what the latest “study” is putting out, I think we rarely go wrong when we look at what types of foods people in our grandparents’ and great-grandparents’ generations were eating and make choices in line with these types of foods. While they may not have had the most diverse or nutrient dense of diets, they also weren’t eating processed foods out of packages, or hundreds of pounds of sugar and high fructose corn syrup every year, or highly refined oils and fats (corn, soybean, “vegetable,” canola, shortening, etc.), or energy drinks and slushies…
I think in the end it all comes down to, research aside, is how well is the diet serving the person? Take the never-ending egg controversy. Say a study comes out next week suggesting that we should only be eating 5 eggs a week for optimal health. If the person in front of me is eating 14 eggs a week but has great energy and hormone balance, their cholesterol numbers are in a protective range (and the functional/optimal range is NOT what your conventional medical practitioner will suggest), their blood sugar is stable, their inflammation is low and appropriate, their immune system function is good, etc., this person is clearly thriving with their current dietary choice and the results of that study aren’t going to help them. Now, if a study came out showing that consuming a high sugar diet for 20 years is connected to cognitive impairment, and the person in front of me consumes the equivalent of 1.5 C sugar per day and is having cognitive issues, then we need to take a look at modifying the diet based on sugar intake to see if that will decrease cognitive issues. This is grossly oversimplified, but the general gist.
Recently I was asked, “What do you consider a healthy diet?” A “healthy diet” will look slightly different for each person, but as a general rule: A healthy diet is one that provides adequate nutrients (proteins, carbohydrates, fats, vitamins, minerals, phytonutrients, and fluids) needed not …