Monthly Archives: May 2018

Could your sleep patterns affect your mental health?

sleep, mental health, stress, anxiety, depressionSleep. Work. Eat. Repeat. Does that sound like your day, or something like it?  Sleep is often set aside as just something that a person does at the end of the day. It is often overlooked as a very important part of optimal health. A recent study found that it is so important in fact, that not getting enough sleep may increase your risk for mental health disorders.

The Importance of Sleep

The average adult needs at least 7 to 9 hours of sleep a night.  This may seem like a lot if you live a busy life which many of us do. And you may shrug it off and say, “Who needs sleep. I don’t need sleep.” The fact is that sleep is more important than you think, and without it your health could suffer.

So many things happen while you sleep. For example, at rest your body conserves energy, regulates blood pressure, and restores tissues and muscles.  Furthermore, your body regulates fluids and controls hormone levels in the body while you sleep.  Without enough sleep, your circadian rhythm can go off course. In turn, this can lead you to eat when you’re not hungry, which can lead to weight gain and increased chronic disease risk over time.

And if these weren’t enough reasons to hit the snooze button, sleep also has an impact on the immune system.  Lack of sleep can cause yo to get sick more often, which in turn could put more stress on your body and mind.

Sleep and Mental Health

A recent study looked at about 90,000 residents from the United Kingdom in regards to sleep patterns.  Study subjects between the age of 37 and 73 years wore accelerometers for 24 hours a day for 7 days.  In other words, these devices measured the rest and activity levels of participants. Those with reduced activity during the day or increased activity at night were described as having a disrupted circadian rhythm, or lower amplitude.  Comparing these patterns with questionnaires filled out by participants found links between lower amplitudes and health measures such as:

  • higher risk of unstable moods
  • lower levels of unhappiness
  • lower health satisfaction
  • greater reported loneliness

Among other findings, it is clear that this study shows that lack of sleep can greatly impact mental health measures, and in turn quality of life.

Ways to Help You Get More Sleep

There may not be enough hours in the day to get everything done.  However, it is really important to make sure sleep gets a priority on your to-do list. Therefore, if you have trouble sleeping, try some of the methods below to help.

  • Stick to a sleep schedule: Just like your other daily tasks, put sleep on your daily planner. Although it can be hard to do sometimes, setting a time to prepare for bed each night can help you develop a new healthy sleeping pattern over time.
  • Start a bedtime ritual: When it is coming close to that time of night, start a bedtime ritual that will help your body prepare for bed. Whether it is drinking a cup of herbal tea after dinner, or diffusing some lavender essential oils to relax your body, this type of ritual can reduce your risk of tossing and turning into the night. It is also helpful to reduce caffeine, sugar, and alcohol intake in the latter part of the day as well as turning off any screens during your bedtime ritual to help your eyes and mind rest.
  • Exercise each day: Any type of movement for at least 30 minutes each day can tire your body out a bit, so you can rest better in the evening. Otherwise, your body will have energy to expend with no outlet to provide it with. In turn, you will likely stay up late and have trouble sleeping. Besides that, exercise is good for keeping your body and mind healthy.
  • Take a supplement for sleep like Somnova by Vita Sciences. Somnova contains melatonin and l-theanine to help relax your mind, feel refreshed, and get more peaceful sleep. Add a sleep supplement to your bedtime routine about 30 minutes before you plan on going to sleep.
  • Visit your healthcare provider: If you have tried all of the above, or feel particularly tired upon waking, you may need to see your healthcare provider. This is because your sleep problems may be related to other conditions such as pain issues, sleep apnea, or other health conditions and should be treated under medical supervision.

-written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

Sources:

Division of Sleep Medicine at Harvard Medical School (December 18, 2007) “Why Do We Sleep, Anyway?”

National Sleep Foundation (accessed May 16, 2018) “How Much Sleep Do We Really Need?”

NIH News in Health (April 2018) “Tick Tock: Your Body Clocks.”

Paddock, Ph.D., C. (May 16, 2018) “Sleep-wake disruption strongly linked to mood disorders.”


  • Eat a healthier diet for a smaller waist, bigger brain.

    Everywhere you look you may see an ad for a new diet program that promises to help you lose weight.  Many people get sucked into the idea that they can lose weight fast on fad diets. However, these diets usually hard to stick with for the long term and may have long-term consequences. More and more research is finding that it is not necessarily the type of diet you are on that is good for health. However, the quality of food that you are eating is more important in health outcomes. And if you improve the quality of your diet, you may not only help your success with weight loss. New studies show that a healthier diet could also improve the strength and size of your brain.

    What is a fad diet?

    A fad diet is an eating regimen that promises big results, but may do so at the risk of your overall health. Such diets may involve:

    • A promise of rapid weight loss. It is important to remember that losing more than 1-2 pounds a week is not healthy long-term. Any more than this could also involve the loss of muscle, bone, and water.
    • Cutting out entire food groups or nutrients. A prime example of this is the low carbohydrate trend that continues on.  Although there are some benefits to this type of diet, some may not follow it healthfully and may restrict nutrient and fiber-rich vegetables and fruits too much. This could lead to nutrient deficiencies long term.  In addition, the lack of long-term studies on the effects of such popular diets can put your long-term health at risk. An example of this is the high-fat, moderate protein, very low carb keto diet.  Although there are some studies that show positive heart health benefits, there are also studies that show long-term negative health effects on insulin resistance and liver health. Until larger and more randomized, placebo-controlled studies are done on such eating regimens, they should not be taken lightly.
    • A diet that is hard to follow and limits the times you can eat. Many diets out there can help you lose weight. Of course cutting out food groups and severely restricting the foods you can eat can help you shed pounds. This is because they are basically just placing you on a low calorie diet hidden behind a shiny new veil.  However, many of these diets are also hard to follow. If a diet is so restrictive that you can’t stick to it long-term then it is not going to be effective in providing any health benefits that it could offer. And diets that limit the times you eat during the day may show some benefit such as helping you to limit snacking. However, long-term and larger studies need to be done before benefits of such limited eating times can be confirmed.

    Effect of healthy diet on brain health

    A dutch study of about 4200 people 45 years and older looked at quality of diet and brain health. Study results show that those with higher diet quality scores had brains about 2 millimeters bigger than those with lower scores. This may not seem like a lot, except when you consider that the brain shrinks 3.66 millimeters every year. This means that a healthier diet could help prevent 6 months of aging in the brain. Healthy-fat based diets such as the Mediterranean diet has found similar results. It is suggested that any diet good for the heart will be good for the brain since it will help improve blood flow in the body.

    Improve your diet by taking care of your heart

    Besides eating plenty of fiber-rich fruits and vegetables, there are certain things you can do to improve the heart health of your diet. This can, in turn, improve the brain healthy components of your eating routine too.

    • Add more healthy fats from fish: A recent study has found that consuming two 3.5-ounce servings of fish each week can help lower heart disease risk. Oily fish with high levels of omega-3 fatty acids are the best. Examples of this type of fish include salmon, albacore tuna, mackerel, lake trout, and sardines.
    • Eat more plant-based healthy fats:  Other sources of heart healthy fats include plant-based foods such as olives, avocado, and olive oil.  Nuts, nut butters, and seeds like flax seed or chia seed are also examples of heart healthy fats.
    • Exercise more. Regular aerobic exercise that gets your heart pumping, may boost the size of your brain and improve memory, according to a British Columbia study. It is recommended to engage in moderate exercise for at least 30 minutes, 5 days a week. Examples of such moderate exercise may include walking, light jogging, biking, or water aerobics. This 30 minutes a day can be broken up into 5 and 10 minute intervals if needed.
    • Take heart and brain healthy supplements. Adding supplements such as fish oil can help you get your daily dose of healthy fats even if you do not eat fish.  A quality fish oil is by Vita Sciences that provides 1000 milligrams of fish oil. This formula contains 400 milligrams of EPA and 300 milligrams of DHA. These components are well-known for their ability to support brain health.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Godman, H. (April 9, 2014; updated April 5, 2018) “Regular exercise changes the brain to improve memory, thinking skills.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School.

    Gordon, S. (May 16, 2018) “Better Diet, Bigger Brain.” HealthDay. 

    Kosinki, C. and Jornayvaz, F.R. (2017) “Effects of Ketogenic Diets on Cardiovascular Risk
    Factors: Evidence from Animal and Human Studies.” Nutrients, 9: 517doi:10.3390/nu9050517

    Norton, A. (May 17, 2018) “Eat Fish Twice a Week to Ward Off Heart Disease, Experts Say.” HealthDay.

    Stockman, MC., Thomas, D., Burke, J. et al. Curr Obes Rep (2018) 7: 172. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13679-018-0308-9

    Wolfram, MS, RDN, LDN, T. (January 2, 2017) “Staying Away from Fad Diets.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.


  • Could trans fats increase your heart disease risk?

    You’ve probably heard of trans fats before. And I’m sure what you have heard was not good news. This new news is not much different, except that the World Health Organization just announced that it plans to eliminate synthetic trans fats completely from the food supply by the year 2023.

    What are trans fats?

    trans fat, fat, fast food, unhealthy, burger, fries, pie

    Trans fats are found in small amounts in whole fat dairy products and fatty meats. However, the majority of such fats is artificial.  This artificial trans fat is formed from a process called hydrogenation. This word may look familiar from food labels since a lot of processed products contain hydrogenated forms of certain oils. In other words, oils like vegetable oil have hydrogen added to it. This makes the oil become solid at room temperature.  This type of fat is less likely to spoil, which is likely why a lot of fast food restaurants use it for their fryers.

    Over the years, research has shown that these types of fats increase risk of heart attack, stroke, and type 2 diabetes. It can also decrease you HDL, or “good” cholesterol, and increase your LDL, or “bad” cholesterol. These health risks are the major reason why the use of such fats in foods has gone down over the past several years.

    What foods contain trans fats?

    Fast foods like fries, doughnuts, or fried chicken commonly contain trans fats. However, baked goods like pies, or ready-made frostings are also a source of trans fats. Many companies though have already taken these types of fats out of their products. This is since the original statement from the Food and Drug Administration in 2013 that deemed trans fats no longer “generally recognized as safe.”

    Trans Fat Ban by 2023

    The World Health Organization (WHO) released on May 14, 2018, a guide called REPLACE. This step-by-step guide provides instructions on how to eliminate trans-fatty acids from the global food supply.  The six actions involved in this program includes:

    REview  food sources of industrially-produced trans fats in the global landscape.

    Promote the replacement of industrially-produced trans fats with healthier fats and oils.

    Legislate or enact regulations to eliminate industrially-produced trans fats.

    Assess and monitor the use of industrially-produced trans fats in the food supply as well as rates of consumption of such fats in the global diet.

    Create widespread awareness of the negative health impact of trans fats.

    Enforce compliance of policies and regulations involving industrially-produced trans fats.

    Similar bans in Denmark and New York City in recent years have found that death rates from heart attacks went down significantly. Therefore, WHO hopes to eliminate trans fat from the food supply by the year 2023. This is part of the United Nation’s Sustainable Developmental Goals that hopes to reduce premature death from noncommunicable diseases by one-third by the year 2030.

    Stick to healthy fats

    Just because trans fats will be taken out of the food supply, that does not mean taste of foods will be affected. There are many healthier types of fats and oils that can replace artificial fats and will be better for your health. Such healthier fats and oils include:

    • Olive oils
    • Peanut oil
    • Fats from plant-based foods like avocado, nuts, seeds, and nut butters
    • Fats from fatty fish like salmon, albacore tuna, trout, or sardines

    Other ways to reduce risk of heart disease

    Besides replacing unhealthy fats with healthier fats, there are other ways to reduce your risk of heart disease and type 2 diabetes that include:

    • Staying active for at least 30-40 minutes a day most days with moderate activity like walking.
    • Reducing stress by talking out problems with a counselor, engaging in yoga or meditation, or performing relaxation breathing.
    • Quitting unhealthy lifestyle behaviors such as drinking alcohol or smoking.
    • Taking heart healthy supplements such as Alestra by Vita Sciences. Alestra contains natural ingredients like niacin, plant sterols, and garlic that research shows may help maintain healthy cholesterol levels and promote heart health.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    American Heart Association (March 29, 2018) “Lifestyle Changes for Heart Attack Prevention.”

    Food and Drug Administration (June 16, 2015) “FDA Cuts Trans Fat in Processed Foods.”

    Mayo Clinic (March 1, 2017) “Trans fat is double trouble for your heart health.”

    Wolfram, T. (March 6, 2017) “Choose Healthy Fats.” Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, eatright.org

    World Health Organization (May 14, 2018) “WHO plan to eliminate industrially-produced trans-fatty acids from global food supply.”

     


  • Is anxiety on the rise in America?

    anxiety, stress, depression, health, mental healthWith ever-increasing demands in our work schedules and family obligations as well as financial stress and personal stresses it is no surprise that anxiety is on the rise. A recent report shows that from last year, more Americans say they are more anxious than ever.

    What is anxiety?

    Stress is a part of daily life. It is by definition the way the body reacts to any demands placed on it. However, anxiety is a whole different beast.  Anxiety is a response to the stress itself and involves tension and fear that can be so severe that it makes a person lose sleep, be afraid to enter social situations, and can affect their daily living.  Everyone encounters stress, but those with anxiety have difficulty managing it.

    Having come from a family of anxious people with confirmed diagnoses, I can tell you that stress from sitting in traffic is much different than the feelings those with anxiety disorder experience. This disorder can take the form of panic attacks, obsessive-compulsive behaviors, or complete avoidance of social situations, among other things. It can disrupt a person’s daily quality of life and can affect their relationships with others.

    Anxiety on the Rise

    Over 40 million people in America suffer from anxiety, but this number is getting higher. A recent report has found that between 2017 and 2018, about 57-percent of women and 38-percent of men between the ages of 18 and 49 years reported being more anxious.  In older Americans, 39-percent of women 50 years and older and 24-percent of men this age reported being more anxious than the year before. Overall, nearly 4 of 10 people surveyed reported being more anxious in 2018 than in 2017.

    The leading causes of such feelings included paying the bills, health, and safety.  About 3 of 4 women and millennials as well as 4 of 5 Hispanic adults were most anxious about paying bills. Baby boomers had the highest jump in anxiety since last year. It is suggested that this rise is due to people in recent days being more vocal about their complaints, differences in the way we care for others, and perhaps less stress-tolerant behavior, especially of those younger people.

    How to Reduce Anxiety

    There are many effective treatments for anxiety, but not one treatment is effective for everyone. Here are several treatments that you can try if you need help managing this condition.

    • Psychotherapy is a treatment that is getting more and more coverage from insurance carriers everyday and can be the most effective at getting to the core of your disorder.  Talking about past and current traumas, family history, and the way you currently manage stress can take a huge weight off of your shoulders. Not only that, but the therapist can help you learn strategies to deal with your stresses in a more healthful manner.
    • Medication is often paired with psychotherapy since the medication tend to just treat imbalances in the brain, but does not deal with the root causes of certain stresses and behaviors.  Medication is not for everyone since certain anti-anxiety medications can have side effects.  Also, getting off of some medications can be very difficult. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider to see if medication treatment is appropriate for you.
    • Mindfulness can teach you how to live in the present moment so that you do not dwell too much on the past or the future. It can increase quality of life and teach people to worry less about everyday stresses.
    • Sleep Hygiene is important since lack of sleep can actually make stress more difficult to deal with. You should aim for 7 hours of sleep a night. If you have trouble falling asleep, ask your healthcare provider. You may need to visit a sleep center to make sure you do not have any underlying conditions that are affecting your sleep.
    • Improved Diet such as eating less sugar and drinking less caffeine can help reduce your anxious behavior.  These types of foods are stimulants that can make you feel more anxious if you consume them in excess. Also, if you consume these types of foods close to bedtime, it can make it harder to fall asleep.
    • Exercise can help you manage stress better. Not only will working out help you sleep better, but it can get the “feel good” hormones like serotonin flowing in your body. You should aim for some form of movement like walking most days of the week for at least 30 minutes a day.
    • Supplements like Passionflower tincture, kava, and valerian root can be effective for some anxiety symptoms.  Also, it is thought that some symptoms may be the result of a magnesium deficiency. Try a supplement like Sereneo from Vita Sciences. Sereneo contains magnesium, chamomile, and valerian root and can provide a serotonin boost and provide support for daily stress.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Anxiety and Depression Association of America (accessed May 9, 2018) “Exercise for Stress and Anxiety.”

    Anxiety and Depression Association of America (accessed May 9, 2018) “Stress.”

    Anxiety and Depression Association of America (accessed May 9, 2018) “What is Anxiety?”

    Brooks, M. (May 7, 2018) “High Anxiety in America: APA Poll Highlights Nationwide Worries.”

    Calm Clinic (accessed May 9, 2018) “Which Anti-Anxiety Supplements Work?”

    Corliss, J. (January 8, 2014) “Mindfulness meditation may ease anxiety, mental stress.” Harvard Health Publications

    Jovanovic, Ph.D., T., et al. (accessed May 9, 2018) “Anxiety- What is Anxiety?”


  • Besides tasting good, dark chocolate could help vision and memory health

    chocolate, health, dark chocolate, cocoaYet another reason to eat chocolate, as if you needed one. Besides tasting delicious, chocolate has many health benefits. Recent studies show that eating a bit of dark chocolate each day may help to improve vision, memory, and lower stress.

    About Chocolate

    Chocolate, derived from the Theobroma cacao tree, has been used as a medicinal food for thousands of years.  It can stimulate the nervous system as well as improve digestion and elimination. This is because there are healing properties of chocolate in its rich concentration of antioxidants. The antioxidants in dark chocolate, such as the cocoa polyphenols, provide anti-inflammatory and heart health effects. Therefore, research shows that chocolate, in moderation, can improve health.

    Chocolate Research

    • The Kuna Indians of Panama have been drinking chocolate for many years, around 30 ounces a day.  Likely due to this, they have some of the lowest rates of hypertension, or high blood pressure in the world, at 2.2-percent. A study at Harvard Medical School found that those people who drank two cups of hot chocolate a day may have improved blood flow to the brain. This may help improve brain function, such as memory.
    • A small study of 30 people looked at the health effects of dark versus milk chocolate. The study results show that those who ate dark chocolate versus milk chocolate had improved vision. They had small improvements in visual sharpness and large letter contrast two hours after eating the chocolate.  Researchers suggest these results may be due to improved blood flow to the retina or the brain’s cerebral cortex, or visual pathways. However, more studies should be done to confirm chocolate’s visual health potential.
    • More recent studies looked at the effects of 70-percent cacao dark chocolate on health.  These study results show that gamma frequencies were stimulated after 30 minutes and two hours. Since gamma waves are in charge of learning and memory function, chocolate may help brain health. However, more studies need to be done to confirm the cacao’s potential brain health benefits.

    Besides chocolate, a healthy balanced diet rich in antioxidant fruits and vegetables can help improve health. To further enhance these health effects, you can also take supplements. Examples of a supplement that may improve blood flow include Circova by Vita SciencesCircova contains L-arginine, niacin, and hawthorne that support improved blood flow and blood pressure. Be sure to contact your healthcare provider before you start any new supplement regimen.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD, LDN

    Sources:

    Cone, A. (April 25, 2018) “Studies: Dark chocolate can lower stress and inflammation, improve memory.” UPI

    Katz, D. L., Doughty, K., & Ali, A. (2011). Cocoa and Chocolate in Human Health and Disease. Antioxidants & Redox Signaling15(10), 2779–2811.

    Mental Health Daily (accessed May 1, 2018) “5 Types of Brain Waves: Gamma, Beta, Alpha, Theta, Delta.”

    Mundell, E.J. (April 26, 2018) “A Bit of Dark Chocolate Might Sweeten Your Vision.” HealthDay

    Nordqvist, J. (February 12, 2018) “Health benefits and risks of chocolate.” Medical News Today