The pandemic has led to a rise in incidence of mental health, and so here, natural health experts offer advice on the nutrition and lifestyle factors to better support your mind health.
Our collective mental health has been placed under huge strain in the last year, and it’s showing in cases of mind-related disorders, including depression and anxiety. In fact, up to 10m people could need mental health support in the wake of the pandemic, a report warned before Britain’s second wave of Coronavirus, with experts saying around 8.5m adults and 1.5m children in England will likely need help to deal with the fallout.
They will mostly need help for depression and anxiety, according to analysis from the Centre for Mental Health, which consulted experts from the NHS. But others – including NHS workers – could develop conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), more commonly associated with service personnel following armed conflicts, and even burnout.
Rachel Bartholomew, Nutritionist and Health Writer at Nutri Advanced, explained: “Mental health and wellbeing is an important topic, and especially so right now, during times of such heightened worry and uncertainty. When it comes to supporting mental health from a functional medicine perspective, there are many facets to address; digging deep beneath the surface to uncover underlying root causes and working on these to support lasting improvements is crucial.
“Micronutrient deficiency is one important facet to investigate as part of this process. Essential vitamins and minerals are needed for many different aspects of optimal mental health and often there is a vicious cycle where low nutrient intake contributes to poor mental health and vice versa. And it’s a cycle that can be a tricky one to navigate your way out of.
“Balanced blood sugar levels are also key to stabilising your mind, mood and energy levels. Ensure your meals and any snacks all contain good quality protein and fats. Reduce refined carbohydrates and sugars, as these destabilise your blood sugar levels which may exacerbate anxiety. One of the quickest ways to move from ‘fight or flight’ into ‘rest and digest’ is through the breath. When we are anxious, we may be ‘mouth-breathing’. This will only increase anxiety. Really focus on deep, slow breathing, in through the nose and out through the mouth. Slow your breathing down. Focus on it, deep breathe continuously for as long as needed to help bring about calm.”
Burnout author and life coach, Selina Barker, added: “Burnout is a state of feeling emotionally, physically and mentally exhausted, as a result of excessive and prolonged stress caused by over-working. It is our body’s way of signalling there is an energy crisis taking place and something has to change. When we reach this point of exhaustion, we can feel like we can no longer cope with our daily responsibilities, struggle to focus, lose our compassion for others and struggle to switch off or sleep at night.
“In 2020, online searches for ‘signs of burnout’ were up 150 per cent, closely followed by ‘burnout syndrome’ which increased by 110 per cent from previous years. Burnout can affect men and women of all ages, however, the increasing number of triggers and symptoms that stem from workplace stress reflect the additional societal pressures and levels of uncertainty that have undoubtedly taken their toll on the nation over the past year.”
A nutrition plan
Here, Rachel sets out the most important nutrients to support the mind.
- “Choline – a water soluble B-complex vitamin found in rich supply in meat, eggs and yeast extract, choline is an essential component of healthy cell membranes and also needed to make the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which is important for mood, memory and cognition.
- Magnesium – an important co-factor for the production of the ‘feel-good’ neurotransmitter, serotonin, that is crucial for a balanced mood. Magnesium has been studied for its ability to improve symptoms of depression. A 2017 study found that depression and anxiety scores improved in patients taking magnesium supplements for six weeks. Effects were observed within just two weeks and the study authors concluded that magnesium is a safe, effective and well-tolerated treatment for mild-to-moderate depression in adults.
- Vitamin D – once considered just to be important for healthy bones, vitamin D is now known to have widespread effects on health. Optimal vitamin D levels are essential for neurological development and to protect the brain too. Vitamin D may even help to protect against Alzheimer’s disease. Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to cognitive impairment, depression and even autism. A 2018 clinical trial on vitamin D supplementation in older adults found that supplementation can help to improve depression scores. Emerging research also suggests that higher serum vitamin D either during pregnancy, or early in life, may reduce autistic spectrum disorder (ASD) risk. It’s crucial for everyone to keep levels of this important vitamin within the optimal range, especially during the autumn and winter months when deficiency rates are higher.
- Iodine – iodine is an amazing mineral and has many bodily uses but its main known biological role, and the area where most of the research is focused, is as a constituent of thyroid hormones, which play a crucial role in brain and neurological function and development. Iodine is, however, a rare element in soils and is highly vulnerable to leaching by rainwater. Iodine deficiency is now a major public health problem, with pregnant women and infants most at risk. Up to one third of the world’s population may be iodine deficient, predominantly in developing countries and many experts consider it to be the leading preventable cause of intellectual disabilities. Sea vegetables are a particularly rich source of iodine; shellfish, eggs, dairy foods and strawberries can contribute to dietary iodine intake too.
- Folate (as 5-MTHF) and vitamin B12 – methylation is an important process in the body that prevents the build-up of homocysteine, a substance that may be toxic to the brain. Folate and vitamin B12 are both crucial for methylation and may help to protect the brain. Both folate and vitamin B12 deficiency may cause similar neurological disturbances, including depression and dementia, and the neurotoxic effects of homocysteine may play a role in these disturbances. In addition, folate is crucial for the synthesis of many important neurotransmitters including serotonin. Folate is best supplemented as 5-MTHF and vitamin B12 as methylcobalamin as these are both body-ready, active forms.”
And in terms of managing burnout, Selina suggested: “Due to excessive levels of stress, low energy, and prolonged feelings of physical, mental, or emotional exhaustion, 36 per cent of those surveyed by Kalms sought help from their GP, some of whom were prescribed anti-depressants and other medications. However, not all symptoms or experiences warrant taking this type of medication. Managing burnout begins with reclaiming your energy levels, so you can not only feel good in yourself, but you can create the career and life you truly deserve. I recommend my clients try a range of different strategies that I know will help them feel more motivated. By incorporating just a few of these into your daily routines, will help to restore a sense of calmness, and tackle the symptoms experienced by burnout:
- Use exercise to recharge. Whether it’s a daily walk around the block, or a 30-minute HIIT class, exercise comes in all shapes and sizes. If you are feeling physically, mentally, or emotionally drained, exercising can act as a restorative activity and give you a boost of feel-good hormones.
- Try an adaptogen to help regulate stress and make you feel more alert throughout the day. Kalms Rhodiola is made from Rhodiola rosea, a powerful herb that can help your body and brain process stress more effectively. Studies have shown that one tablet twice a day of Rhodiola rosea can help fight fatigue and boost energy levels and it enhances our ability to concentrate, maintain focus, and promotes a positive mood.
- Discover techniques and habits that help you to calm down when you are starting to go into an urgent, panicked, or stressed-out state. Things that can help you to calm down are going for a walk, calling a friend, doing exercise, meditation. Experiment and find the things that work for you and always have them in your back pocket when you need them.”
Help with homeopathy
Roz Crompton, Marketing Manager at Helios Homeopathy, explained how homeopathy can support the mind.
“Homeopathy is holistic and treats the whole person rather than treating specific conditions in isolation and can be really successful in supporting the care and treatment of emotional and mental health. Homeopaths place equal importance on both emotional and physical wellbeing and the mind-body connection is well documented in that how a person is feeling psychologically, can have a direct impact on their physical health and vice versa,” she advised.
“Homeopathy can offer support through difficult life events such as grief, shock, abandonment, work or family stresses, depression and anxiety and can work well alongside conventional medicine and other therapies as well as on its own.”
And is it suitable for everyone?
Roz added: “Homeopathy uses specially prepared, highly diluted substances, made from plants and minerals and does not contain any toxic material. It has a robust safety record and homeopathic treatment is not associated with any unwanted side effects, making it safe to use for all ages from children to the elderly.”
And what would Roz’s top remedies be in this area?
She suggested: “Serious or longstanding emotional and mental health problems require the expertise of a qualified homeopath and a full consultation, however, for acute or mild symptoms remedies can be purchased through specialist homeopathic pharmacies or though health stores for use at home. For longstanding or serious complaints around emotional or mental health, then the expertise of a qualified homeopath should be sort and a full consultation required.
“The following remedies are some of the most frequently used for self-help with minor emotional problems.
- Aconite 30c – this is one of the first remedies to turn to for fearfulness or fear and shock after an incident or situation.
- Aconite/Arg nit/Arsenicum 30c – this combination of three remedies has a long history of traditional use to relieve symptoms associated with mild stress and anticipatory anxiety, excessive worries (especially about illness), panic attacks and fearfulness.
- Aurum metallicam 30c – is a remedy for the workaholic with a tendency towards despair and feeling worthless after a failure at work or in their personal life.
- Gelsemium 30c – for people facing anxiety due to feelings of inadequacy. These people are often timid and shaky and dislike crowds. They often seek solitude to avoid pressure from other people.
- Ignatia 30c – the main remedy for the ill effects grief and loss, bad news, fright or anger. The person may experience extreme mood swings going from crying to laughing.
- Natrum muriaticum 30c – people requiring Nat mur will often hide inner feelings such as anger, fear of misfortune, grief or affection.
- Pulsatilla 30c – for people who become tearful and sad when feeling down or depressed. They desire lots of comfort and attention and can have very changeable moods especially around puberty, menstruation or the menopause.”