Harmonizing Body and Mind: A Holistic Approach to Mental Health

Harmonizing Body and Mind: A Holistic Approach to Mental Health

 

A little more than a year ago, a book named "Outlive: The Science and Art of Longevity" reached the NY Times best-seller list where it still sits, racking up a whopping 57-week residency on the coveted list. The book was written by Peter Attia, MD, and covers just about every aspect of physical health and disease prevention.

What was particularly notable about this book was Dr. Attia's very personal revelations about his own struggles with mental health. A noted physician, Dr. Attia—who also has a degree in mathematics and has achieved phenomenal success as a doctor, podcaster, and author- committed himself, on two occasions, to a residential rehab center in order to deal with his own mental health issues. By his own telling, his perfectionism and his rage were destroying his marriage and came close to destroying his entire life.

"Outlive" was just the latest book to point out the intricate connection between mental and physical well-being. As we write this, the number one best-seller on the NY Times non-fiction list is "The Anxiety Generation" by Jonathan Haidt, which details the epidemic of anxiety and depression that is affecting Generation Z more than any other generation in history.

The pandemic hasn't helped. Isolation and disconnection, already an unpleasant feature of modern life, went up exponentially, and the people most affected were young adults. Mental health is on everybody's mind these days, for good reason. It affects us and our kids. And many of us are confused about what to do about it.

Unlocking Mental Wellness: The Role of Omega-3 Supplements and The Gut-Brain Connection: A Key to Mental Well-being

Emerging research continues to uncover the profound impact of the gut-brain connection on mental health. This bi-directional communication pathway between the gut and the brain, often referred to as the "gut-brain axis," plays a crucial role in maintaining mental well-being. The gut microbiome, which includes trillions of bacteria, not only helps digest food but also produces neurotransmitters and signaling molecules that influence brain function.

For instance, about 90% of serotonin, a neurotransmitter pivotal for mood regulation, is produced in the gastrointestinal tract. This production is influenced by the bacteria in the gut, suggesting that a healthy gut microbiota can promote a more stable and positive mood. Additionally, certain strains of beneficial bacteria can reduce everyday inflammation throughout the body, including the brain, potentially reducing stress and brightening mood.

Incorporating omega-3 supplements, as we discussed previously, complements this by supporting the overall health of the gut lining and reducing everyday inflammation, further enhancing this vital connection. By nurturing our gut microbiome through balanced nutrition and targeted supplements, we can support our mental health in powerful ways, potentially reducing the impact of stress and bolstering resilience against mental health challenges.

The gut-brain connection not only emphasizes the complexity of mental health but also highlights the importance of holistic approaches in its management. By caring for our gut health, we're taking a significant step toward caring for our minds. Not for nothing was the gut referred to, in a classic book by the same name, "The Second Brain".

As we celebrate Mental Health Month, it's crucial to shine a light on this profound connection between our mental and physical well-being. At Barlean's, we're committed to fostering conversations that empower individuals to prioritize their mental health through holistic approaches, including diet, supplementation, exercise, and stress reduction techniques. These four portals—augmented by relationships and community—constitute opportunities to strengthen our resilience and our mental resources in ways that are just now beginning to be fully understood.

Understanding Mental Health: A Holistic Perspective

Let's remember that mental health is not just the absence of mental illness, any more than physical health is just the absence of disease. Mental health encompasses the totality of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Just as we care for our bodies-- through exercise, nutrition, stretching, cardio, weight training, and supplementation- we need to find similar ways to nurture our mental health.

Because--- make no mistake—mental health is just as vital for overall wellness as physical health. Maybe even more.

Stephen Hawking's, who was physically handicapped in the most awful way, was no one's idea of a healthy man. Yet he was known—amazing as it may seem-- to be a happy, joyous, and productive person. As the Stoic philosophers famously taught, you may not be able to control your circumstances, but you can always control how you think about them.

Research consistently demonstrates the intricate relationship between nutrition and mental health. Our brain, the control center of our bodies, relies on a delicate balance of nutrients to function optimally. When this balance is disrupted, it can manifest in our mood, stress levels, cognitive performance or sleep disturbances. (Anyone who has ever experienced an intravenous infusion of magnesium knows from personal experience how nutrients can make a difference in how you sleep!)

Scientific studies have highlighted the potential benefits of omega-3 supplementation for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. A significant amount of research suggests that omega-3s may help regulate neurotransmitter pathways associated with mood regulation, promoting a more balanced emotional state. Not for nothing have omega-3's been nicknamed "the wellness molecule".

Phosphatidylserine: Balancing Stress Hormones

Another supplement worth mentioning is phosphatidylserine, known for its potential to affect the adrenal glands and modulate cortisol levels, the body's primary stress hormone. Elevated cortisol levels are a hallmark of a high-stress lifestyle, and can contribute to feelings of anxiety and overwhelm, making phosphatidylserine a valuable addition to stress management routines.

The Sunshine Vitamin: Vitamin D's Role in Mental Health

Vitamin D, often hailed as the sunshine vitamin, plays a crucial role in mood regulation and mental alertness. Numerous studies have linked Vitamin D deficiency to a higher risk of negative mood issues, sadness, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). SAD is particularly associated with low levels of Vitamin D during the darker months, when natural sunlight exposure is limited. This vitamin influences the production of serotonin, a key neurotransmitter that affects our mood. Adequate levels of Vitamin D help maintain serotonin levels in the brain, which can enhance mood and aid in maintaining mental clarity. By integrating Vitamin D supplements into our daily regimen, especially in times of limited sunlight, we can potentially mitigate some of the mood fluctuations described above and support overall mental wellness. The Power of Diet and Lifestyle In addition to supplementation, diet and lifestyle factors play a pivotal role in supporting mental health. Incorporating nutrient-dense foods such as leafy greens, fatty fish, nuts, seeds and olive oil provides essential vitamins and minerals that support brain function. Regular exercise is another cornerstone of mental well-being, with research showing its ability to reduce symptoms of depression and anxiety while improving overall mood. Exercise can even grow brain cells, and affect memory and thinking. A classic study by Arthur Kramer at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign found that aerobic exercise increased a compound in the brain called BDNF (brain-derived neurotropic factor) which acts as a kind of Miracle-Gro for brain cells. The study found that exercise increased the size of the hippocampus (an area of the brain that deals with memory and thinking). Perhaps not surprisingly, participants also scored higher on memory tests. Whether it's a brisk walk, yoga session, or weightlifting routine, finding activities that bring joy and vitality can significantly impact mental health.

Stress Reduction: A Key Component

In today's fast-paced world, chronic stress has become a prevalent issue impacting mental health. Incorporating stress reduction techniques such as mindfulness meditation, deep breathing exercises, and adequate sleep can help restore balance to the mind and body. (Pro tip: An Epson Salts bath—loaded with magnesium, which is absorbable through the skin--- can do wonders for your sleep. And sleep, in turn, does wonders for your stress levels.)

Meditation is the stress-reduction practice that has the greatest amount of published research supporting its benefits, but many people find it difficult to do. If you're one of them, don't despair. There are terrific apps and introductory courses that can guide you along the way. Two that are particularly recommended are "Waking Up"—which is practically a University of Meditation built into a smartphone, and has everything from daily meditations to entire courses and series—and "The Way", a beautiful and user-friendly step-by-step guide to mindfulness and serenity led by the Zen master Henry Shukman. Books like "Stillness Is The Key" by Ryan Holliday are wonderful for introducing the concept of mindfulness to a general audience and can open you up to the possibility of a much more gentle, easy relationship with the craziness of modern life.

And if even that seems daunting, try a simple tool called Box Breathing that absolutely everyone can do. Simply sit quietly in a comfortable seated position. Close your eyes and inhale slowly on a count of four. Hold for four and then exhale in the same slow, controlled manner, also to a count of four. Hold for four, rinse and repeat. Even four to five minutes of plain, controlled, deep breathing has the potential to lower your heart rate, your blood pressure, and your anxiety. You can start with just a few minutes once or twice a day and work up from that if you desire. Highly recommended and wonderful as an instant stress-reducer.

Gratitude

Speaking of stress reduction and mindfulness, there's one tool that's been used in one form or another for thousands of years, and it almost always works. It's called gratitude. The "attitude of gratitude" is physiologically incompatible with anger, resentment, and entitlement. They simply can't live in the same space. When you feel yourself being overwhelmed by stress or anxiety—or even before that happens!—try this simple exercise. Take a piece of paper and list 3 things you're grateful for right now. (It's better if you write them down.) Most people will immediately note a change in their physiology as they think about someone or something they love that they're grateful for. That's how profoundly your thoughts affect your physical being and ultimately your physical health.

Conclusion

As we navigate the complexities of modern life, prioritizing mental health has never been more critical. Through a holistic approach encompassing nutrition, supplementation, exercise, and stress reduction, we can cultivate resilience and vitality from the inside out. While supplements like omega-3 fatty acids, phosphatidylserine, vitamin D and magnesium offer potential support for mental well-being, it's essential to consult with healthcare professionals to develop personalized strategies tailored to individual needs. This Mental Health Month, let's commit to nurturing both our bodies and our minds, embracing practices that promote lasting wellness and vitality.

SELECTED REFERENCES

  1. The Importance of Marine Omega-3s for Brain Development and the Prevention and Treatment of Behavior, Mood, and Other Brain Disorders https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/32759851/
  2. Relation of serum BDNF to major depression and exploration of mechanistic roles of serum BDNF in a study of vitamin D3 and omega-3 supplements for late-life depression prevention https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/37267732/
  3. Dietary omega-3 Fatty acids and psychiatry: mood, behaviour, stress, depression, dementia and aging https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/15750663/
  4. Vitamin D and depression: mechanisms, determination and application https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/31826364/
  5. Association of magnesium intake with sleep duration and sleep quality: findings from the CARDIA study https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34883514/
  6. Effects of phosphatidylserine on the neuroendocrine response to physical stress in humans https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/2170852/
  7. Exercise training increases size of hippocampus and improves memory https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21282661/