Monday, 3 March 2014

Top Ten Nutrients and Lifestyle Tips to Support Mental Wellbeing

Today's post is written by Sophie Tully, the Nutrition Education Manager at Igennus Healthcare NutritionIgennus Healthcare Nutrition focus on providing natural means of improving health based on scientific research. 

Top Ten Nutrients and Lifestyle Tips to Support Mental Wellbeing

During cancer treatment and recovery, it can be extremely difficult to stay mentally positive and happy. Stress, anxiety and even depression are understandably common in cancer patients, yet we all know the benefits of a positive mental attitude when it comes to being healthy and able to fight illness.  Stress and low mood can deplete the body’s resources while it’s repairing the damage caused by increased stress hormones and inflammatory stimulation. As a result, it becomes much harder to focus on fighting cancer and getting better. But, fear not, there are a number of stress-busting foods and nutrients that can not only help to calm anxiety, reduce stress and lift your mood but can actually boost your immune system too.

1. Eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) found in fish and fish oil helps to prevent dysregulation caused by stress by preventing the breakdown of serotonin and dopamine, the brain messengers that help us to feel happy and relaxed. EPA also plays an important role in regulating healthy inflammation, the natural process the immune system implements to fight illness. Unnecessarily high inflammatory chemicals in the blood directly correlate with depression risk and severity, so keeping it under control through good EPA intake will not only help prevent low mood and stress, but also boost the immune system.

2. B vitamins, the best source being eggs and animal proteins, play an important role in the methylation cycle, which is important for the production of the neurotransmitters that regulate mood and sleep. Low levels of B vitamins, particularly B6, B12 and folic acid, are common in people with persistent low mood. Supplementing with B vitamins has been shown to improve symptoms of anxiety and depression, as well as quality of life, in people with mood disorders. Methylation is also involved in the production of the detoxifying antioxidant glutathione, which helps support the immune system and processing of toxins from cancer treatment.

3. Ashwagandha is a herb that has been used for centuries in Ayurvedic medicine. It has been shown to have very positive benefits on reducing stress-induced anxiety, as well as insomnia, high cortisol and in preventing immune suppression associated with stress. In addition to its stress-busting properties, Ashwagandha may also help in enhancing the success of cancer treatment and recovery by boosting the immune system and accelerating the rate of cancer cell death.

4. Inositol, found commonly in dairy and meat products as well as fruits and vegetables, has been shown to reduce both symptoms of anxiety and associated panic attacks.  Low levels have been found in people suffering with depression; eating a diet rich in good quality organic animal protein and vegetables should therefore help you stay stress- and anxiety free.

5. Rhodiola rosea, yet another herb used for tackling stress, has been shown to help reduce fatigue associated with persistent stress of any kind, as well as enhance general wellbeing.  It acts by increasing serotonin levels and one study showed that its use can halve depression severity. Rhodiola is also showing promising results in protecting cognitive function, as well as promoting longevity.

6. Zinc insufficiency is common in western society. As a key nutrient for the immune system, it is likely to be low in most cancer patients. Zinc levels seem to correlate with low mood and 25mg of zinc supplementation daily can even help treat and prevent depression.

7. Probiotics are very important for immune function and general health. With over 90% of the body’s serotonin being produced in the gut, digestive health plays a vital part in helping us to reduce stress and regulate mood. Healthy bacteria that populate the gut are heavily affected by cancer treatment as well as stress, and both can result in serious gastrointestinal upset. Studies show a direct correlation between stress perception and digestive symptoms; looking after your digestive health with a good daily probiotic will not only help reduce stress levels and boost your immune system but will also help reduce the GI issues associated with chemo- and radiotherapies.

8. Exercise and getting outside are extremely important for human health and wellbeing. Movement not only results in the release of endorphins, another family of brain chemicals that boost our mood, but being outside surrounded by nature and seeing the sky directly and positively impacts our sense of wellbeing and calm. Even if you are not able to do too much, just sitting outside wrapped up warmly, with a good book, or merely watching the world go by, will give a good boost to your mood.

9. Spending time with the people you love and being sociable is a good antidote to the isolation often experienced during cancer treatment and recovery. Socialising is good for us all and the amount of time you spend in the company of others has a significant impact on your sense of wellbeing. If you don’t have many friends and family close by, try joining a local group or enrol in some classes to boost your social time.

10. Relaxation and pampering yourself, whether by indulging in a good book, taking a bath or doing some mindfulness meditation, is vital for controlling stress and staying well. Using lavender oils in an oil burner or your bath has been shown to promote relaxation and may thus help reduce anxiety and promote restorative sleep.

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