Let Food Be Your Medicine, and Medicine Be Your Food
You are what you eat. I remember hearing those words when I was growing up, but I had no idea how true they were. In recent years there has been renewed focus on the power of nutrition to support optimal health and prevent chronic degenerative disease when part of a healthy lifestyle.
Today’s unfortunate health reality is that many peoples lives are plagued by chronic degenerative disease. The health of the body depends on the health of its cells. Cellular breakdown and resulting inflammation is believed to be the underlying cause of most chronic illness.
So how does this cellular breakdown happen? The answer is “free radicals;” a word we’ve heard a lot about lately but not may completely understand. Very simply, free radicals are highly charged oxygen molecules, with at least one unpaired electron in its outer orbit. Free radicals are produced from many sources: by normal bodily functions, like breathing and digestion; emotional stress, excessive exercise; pollutants in our air, water and food; smoking; medications; electromagnetic frequencies; radiation; even sunlight.
Antioxidants are molecules that have extra electrons and are able to protect our cells by neutralizing free radicals. If we don’t have enough antioxidants to counteract the number of free radicals, our cells are subject to oxidation; a little like rusting at the cellular level.
The combination of stressful lifestyles, poor diet, degradation of the food chain and increase in environmental toxins has increased focus on the important of antioxidants in food and supplementation. Antioxidants are found in whole foods, such as fruits and vegetables that contain polyphenol compounds. In addition, specific vitamins such as A, C and E are known to have antioxidant effects.
The increased need for cellular protection through antioxidants has led nutritional experts to strongly support enhancing a whole food diet with high quality vitamin and mineral supplements. It is important to choose a supplement produced according to Pharmaceutical Good Manufacturing Processes (or GMP) to insure its safety, dependability and bio-availability. Here are some guidelines for How to Select a Good Nutritional Supplement.
I recommend the Comparative Guide to Nutritional Supplements by Nutrisearch as a good way to evaluate what you might already be using. Nutrisearch conducts third-party testing on over 1600 name brand supplements from the United States and Canada on 18 different health criteria that measure Completeness, Absorbability, Purity, Potency and Safety. Supplements are then rated from 0-5 stars depending on the results.
Click here to see the 5-star supplements that I use and recommend.
Food and Mood
My work as an integrative psychotherapist creates a particular interest in the impact of diet and nutrition on mood health. A growing body of research is demonstrating how critical optimal nutrition is to our ability to “feel well.” While the implications are extensive, I want to highlight a couple of considerations that are fundamental for mood health.
Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acids
While Omega-3 EFAs are most known for being important to heart and brain health, research clearly shows its connection to depression as well. Omega-3 EFAs are found in some foods such as cold water fish and flaxseed. Research suggests that supplementation with a high quality Omega-3 (fish or flax oil) is effective in alleviating depression. Omega-3s decrease inflammation in the body (which contributes to depression) and support healthy brain function.
Low levels of Vitamin D-3 are correlated with depression, and believed to be a major factor in Seasonal Affective Disorder which results from decreased levels of sunlight (which creates vitamin D naturally). Average vitamin D-3 blood serum levels in the U.S. are far below the recommended 50 ng/ml (or above) for optimal health. You can talk with you doctor about assessing your vitamin D-3 levels with a simple blood test. Increasing vitamin D-3 through supplementation has been found to prevent SAD and diminish depression.
When we think about mood health, most of us don’t think about our digestive tract – but we should. Our GI tract is where the vast majority (I’ve heard up to 95%) of all of our neurotransmitters are produced, including seratonin, dopamine and beta-endorphin. If our digestive system is not in good working order, our capacity for producing adequate amounts of these key neurotransmitters is compromised, and so is our mental and emotional health. GI testing can reveal how well we are digesting, absorbing nutrients and managing toxins. Attention to healthy digestion can have amazing results.
Stabilized Blood Sugar
The epidemic of obesity and Type II Diabetes has put a spotlight on the impact of the American high-glycemic diet. This has led to greater understanding of the dynamics of insulin production and insulin resistance on multiple health factors, including depression and anxiety. The spiking and crashing of blood sugars typical of the average American diet leads to the release of stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can have dramatic effects on one’s mood, and lead to cravings that repeat the cycle. Adopting a low-glycemic way of eating supports healthy, stable mood patterns and reduces depression.
Even more dramatic is the evidence I see for how the cycle of spike-and-crash blood sugar contributes to anxiety. Stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol accompany the unhealthy drop following a spike, creating the experience of anxiety and can even trigger a panic attack. Keeping blood sugars stable throughout the day can go a long way to diminishing anxiety and increasing emotional management.