Category Archives: cognitive function

Could a pet improve your mental health?

dog, pet, mental health, health, happy, healthyAnxiety and depression can take a huge toll on quality of life. It can affect your work, relationships, and can also make it hard to take care of your yourself. However, recent research shows that having a pet may help reduce anxiety and depression. Therefore, let’s learn more about how a pet could improve mental health status as well as other ways to help yourself feel happier and healthier.

Basics of mental health

By definition, mental health involves your social, emotional, and psychological well-being. And a person may be more prone to such issues through factors like genetics, traumatic life experiences, or a family history of such issues.

There are many types of mental health issues, with the most commonly known being anxiety and depression. Some general signs of such issues include:

  • eating too much or too little
  • mood swings
  • Low energy
  • unexplained aches and pains
  • inability to perform daily tasks
  • feeling confused or on edge

These are just a few early warning signs of mental health issues. And if you notice such signs, it may be time to visit a healthcare professional. Also, you can visit the Mental Health America website for helpful resources.

Pets for better mental health

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America reports that the “pet effect” may help reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Experts also report that pets and therapy animals can lower feelings of stress, loneliness, and isolation. Not only that, but research also shows that pets can spark biological changes that can help reduce anxiety and depression.

One of these changes is that having a pet encourages physical activity. Exercise can improve not only brain health, but also the health of your body. This in turn can help improve your quality of life.

Pets can also improve your social support networks. For example, when you take your dog to the park or in public, people will likely interact with you and your pet. This in turn could help you feel more connected to your community. Also, this connection could help you feel less lonely and isolated.

Recent pet research 

Also, the presence of a pet in the home could help you feel a sense of security and protection. A 2019 study looked at the impact of pets on physiology of college students. The study divided 249 students into four groups. One group had 10 minutes stroking and playing with cats and dogs. Then, another group observed those people interacting with the animals. Finally, the other two groups either looked at slideshows of animals or simply sat and waited in silence.

All the students had their saliva samples taken in the morning and after their interaction. Study results show that those who interacted with the animals had significantly lower cortisol, or “stress hormone,” levels as compared to baseline than the others. This early study shows promise that having a pet could help reduce mental stress in the body and mind. In turn, having a furry friend could help improve quality of life for their owners.

Other ways to improve mental health 

If you don’t want a pet or don’t have the time or money to care for a pet, there are other ways to improve mental health at home.

Improve your diet: Experts report that eating foods high in refined sugars, like sugary drinks and processed snacks, are harmful to the brain. In turn, they can impair brain function and lead to mental health disorders like depression. Therefore, try to limit such foods in the diet and focus on adding more antioxidant-rich foods like fruits and vegetables that can reduce inflammation in the body and mind.

Add a supplement: In addition to eating healthier foods, you can also add a supplement to help improve your mood. An example of such a supplement is Elevia by Vita Sciences. Elevia contains natural ingredients like GABA and 5-HTP that help calm the mind and body while boosting serotonin, or “feel good hormone” levels.

Move more: Exercise helps release endorphins that can reduce stress in the body and mind. Therefore, try to be active each day by walking, jogging, cleaning house, dancing, or swimming, to name a few ideas.

Get involved: Volunteering in your community or joining groups like a walking group or arts and crafts group can help you feel better. This is because it will help yo feel less isolated and will provide you a better sense of purpose in your life.

Find support: Talking to a counselor or joining a support group can help you talk about what is causing stress in your life. And by talking about it, you can obtain resources from others to help reduce stress in your life. However, always be sure to talk to a qualified healthcare professional first if you feel you may be depressed or anxious.

Take home message

Taking care of your mind is just as important as taking care of your body. Therefore, whether it be a pet or gaining support from your community, there are plenty of small things you can do to help yourself. However, if you feel like you don’t know where to start, then visit your healthcare provider for resources.

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

References:

Anxiety and Depression Association of America (accessed July 22, 2019) “Tips.”

Feldman, S. (November 2018) “Alleviating Anxiety, Stress and Depression with the Pet Effect.” Anxiety and Depression Association of America. 

Mental Health Foundation (accessed July 22, 2019) “Pets and mental health.”

MentalHealth.gov (last updated April 5, 2019) “What Is Mental Health?”

Sandoiu, A. (July 19, 2019) “More evidence that pets benefit mental health.” Medical News Today. 

Selhub, M.D., E. (November 16, 2015) “Nutritional psychiatry: Your brain on food.” Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School. 


  • June is Alzheimer’s Brain Awareness Month

    brain, health, alzheimer's, cognitiveWith so much focus on diet and exercise helping the heart, brain health may take a back seat in the wellness arena. However, the brain is the control center of the body, and in turn must not be neglected. During the month of June, it’s especially important to be aware of the brain disease known as Alzheimer’s. You may have heard of it before, but may not know what it entails. Let’s learn more about this disease and how you can be an advocate for this devastating brain health condition.

    Alzheimer’s basics

    Alzheimer’s disease (AD) is a progressive and irreversible brain health condition that slowly destroys memory and thinking skills. Although some memory loss may be a normal part of aging, the severity of symptoms in Alzheimer’s is not a normal part of aging. More than 5 million people in the United States suffer from this type of dementia. And along with this number, there are countless other people, including loved ones and caregivers, that have to live everyday watching those they care about suffer from this disease.

    Causes of Alzheimer’s include plaques and tangles in the brain. These plaques form from abnormal deposits of protein in the brain. Also, the damage caused by these deposits typically start in the hippocampus and entorhinal complex of the brain. And its these parts of the brain that are vital in forming memories. Over time, more neurons die and other parts of the brain begin to shrink.

    It is not fully understood why certain people may be more at risk for this disease. However, it’s thought that less than 1-percent is from genetic changes, while for most people it is likely a combination of genetic, lifestyle, and environmental factors.

    Early symptoms of Alzheimer’s 

    The early symptoms of this disease may be things as simple as forgetting recent events or conversations. These memory problems are one of the first signs of Alzheimer’s disease. However, other red flags of the disease may include:

    • repeating statements over and over again
    • forgetting appointments and events and not remembering them later
    • frequently losing things
    • getting lost in familiar places
    • forgetting the names of family members and everyday objects
    • having trouble thinking of words to describe common objects or hold a simple conversation

    If you, your family member ,or someone you know exhibits any of these symptoms, it may be time to visit the doctor. This is because a complete physical exam, detailed neurological exam, and mental status exam can help diagnose Alzheimer’s or whatever other condition may be causing symptoms.

    Later symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease

    In the later stages of the disease, you may start to see some of the following symptoms:

    • inability to learn new things
    • trouble with simple activities of daily living like bathing, dressing, and eating.
    • Hallucinations
    • Paranoia
    • Impulsive behavior

    Alzheimer’s research

    Recent research shows that there are currently not many treatments for AD. One medicine is a cholinesterase inhibitor. This medicine is for those with mild, moderate, or severe AD.  This medicine is also give to those with Parkinson’s dementia. Memantine is another medicine that is approved in use for those with moderate and severe AD who show difficulty in attention and alertness.

    Besides such treatments, research shows an independent link between vitamin D deficiency and AD. Therefore, those with symptoms should have their vitamin D levels tested for this vitamin.

    Another nutrition-related link with AD has to do with omega-3 fatty acids. This is because research shows the heart health of individuals correlates with brain health. In fact, recent reviews show that those who eat a heart healthy diet based on the Mediterranean diet have a lower risk of cognitive decline compared to those on other eating regimens.

    Future research

    Future research of Alzheimer’s has to do with targeting the plaques and tangles in the brain. However, researchers cannot yet seem to agree on what abnormality has the most impact on cognitive decline. That is why it’s important now to support research efforts that will help find more effective treatment for this terrifying condition.

    How you can support research

    Be sure to visit the Alzheimer’s Association website for more ideas on ways you can help support Alzheimer’s research. Also, hashtag #endalz in your social media posts this month to show your support in Alzheimer’s disease awareness.

    How you can keep your brain healthy

    As mentioned before, some research is showing that lifestyle changes like diet may help brain health. Read below for specific things you can do to help keep your brain healthy.

    • Exercise your brain with puzzles and word games: This is thought to keep building connections between nerve cells and may even help generate new brain cells.
    • Exercise your body: Walking, jogging, swimming, and dancing, to name a few can help keep your heart and brain strong. Not only can it help create new nerve cell connections, but can improve blood pressure and cholesterol that can also help brain health.
    • Improve your numbers: Help keep your blood glucose, cholesterol, and blood pressure in healthy ranges by eating healthier. This means more plant-based foods in the diet like fruits, vegetables, and healthy fats. Healthy fats can include olive oil, avocado, nuts, seeds, and olives, to name a few.
    • Avoid tobacco and limit alcohol: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and increase heart health risk, while excessive alcohol intake is a major risk factor for dementia. Therefore visit your healthcare provider or websites like SAMHSA.gov to help you quit smoking and abusing alcohol.
    • Reduce stress and increase social support:  Those with a lower risk of dementia also have strong social ties. Also, people who are anxious or with depression tend to score lower on cognitive function tests. Therefore, be sure to keep a support system around you of friends, neighbors, loved ones, and healthcare providers to keep your brain healthy.
    • Take a daily supplement:  Vitamin deficiencies like vitamin D are often seen in those with cognitive health issues. Also, omega-3 fatty acids may help improve brain health. Therefore, if you don’t eat enough healthy fats and vitamins in your diet it may be time to add a dietary supplement to your daily routine. The fish oil supplement produced by Vita Sciences can be a great addition to your healthy lifestyle routine.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    Harvard Health Publishing: Harvard Medical School (updated January 16, 2018) “12 ways to keep your brain young.”

    Kumar, A. and Tsao, J.W. (last updated December 18, 2018) “Alzheimer disease.” StatPearls

    Mayo Clinic (December 8, 2018) “Alzheimer’s disease.”

    National Institute on Aging (accessed June 12, 2019) “Alzheimer’s disease and related dementias.”

    Weller, J and Budson, A. (July 2018) “Current understanding of Alzheimer’s disease diagnosis and treatment.”  F1000Res., 7:F1000 Faculty Rev-1161.

     

     

     


  • Add nuts to your diet for better brain health

    Bowl of mixed nuts on rustic wooden table in natural light.

    Almonds, walnuts, peanuts, and pistachios are all delicious nutrient-dense snacks. Nuts are often mentioned as healthy snacks for heart health. Not to mention that they taste great and can be a healthy replacement to chips as a salty and crunchy snack. But did you know that they can also help your brain health? A recent study shows that eating a little bit of nuts everyday can benefit brain health.

    About nuts

    Nuts come in many varieties, but they all provide rich health benefits. These tasty plant-based treats contain many important nutrients like:

    • healthy fats like monounsaturated (MUFA)  and polyunsaturated (PUFA) fats
    • protein
    • soluble and insoluble fibers
    • vitamin E
    • vitamin K
    • folate
    • thiamine
    • minerals such as magnesium, copper, potassium, and selenium
    • antioxidants
    • phytosterols

    Because of their antioxidant content, nuts are great for reducing the amount of inflammation in the body. This in turn can help lower risk of inflammatory related conditions like heart disease and type 2 diabetes.

    In particular, eating just an ounce or two of almonds daily can reduce blood glucose levels after meal time. They can also increase satiety or fullness in those with type 2 diabetes. Also, eating an ounce or so of walnuts daily can help some people lose weight since they also help increase fullness and reduce insulin levels. Finally, research shows that eating an ounce and a half of pistachios daily can help improve lipid markers such as reducing LDL-C or “bad” cholesterol.

    Nuts and brain health

    A 2019 study looked at data from the China Health and Nutrition Survey over 22 years. Nut intake data was collected from over 4800 study participants in 1991, 1993, and during the years of cognitive function data collection in 1997, 2001, 2004, and 2006. Study results show that nut intake is associated with reduced levels of cognitive decline.

    In particular, eating more than 10 grams or more of nuts daily, which equates to about 2 teaspoons a day, may benefit brain health. In fact, the researchers report that this small amount of nuts can improve thinking, reasoning, and memory. Also, they report that this same amount of nuts can improve the brain function of older adults by about 60-percent compared to those who didn’t eat nuts.

    Interestingly enough, the same antioxidant and anti-inflammatory qualities that help improve heart health also benefits brain health. Therefore, make sure to add nuts to your daily routine to reap these awesome health benefits.

    Other ways to help brain health

    Now if you’re allergic to nuts, this talk of nuts and health benefits may be a bummer. However, that doesn’t mean that they aren’t other ways you can improve brain health. Read below for tips on keeping your brain at its healthiest.

    • Keep your brain busy: As the saying goes “Use it or lose it.” The same concept works for brain health. Just like you exercise your body to stay fit, you should not forget to do the same for your brain. Crossword puzzles, reading, drawing, painting, and even crafts can help keep your brain strong.
    • Exercise your body: Like I mentioned before, exercise for your body is important for heart health, but also for brain health too. This is because your heart pumps all-important oxygen-rich blood to the brain to keep it healthy. Every step counts, so walk, jog, bike, dance, or do whatever movement you enjoy. Your brain will thank you.
    • Improve your diet: Eating lots of fiber-rich and antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables can benefit brain health as well as overall health. This is because, just like nuts, these antioxidants reduce inflammation in the body that can increase chronic disease risk. Color your plate with a variety of fruits and vegetables each day to reap the benefits of the different antioxidants they contain that possess different healthful properties.
    • Limit alcohol intake and stop smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels , which means less oxygen reaches your brain. For help to quit smoking, visit Smokefree.gov for helpful resources. And as far as alcohol goes, research shows that more than two standard drinks a day can increase dementia risk. A standard drink is equal to 12 ounces beer, 5 ounces wine, or 1.5 ounces liquor.
    • Take a supplement for brain health:  If you don’t feel like you’re getting enough brain food in your diet, then you can add a brain health supplement like UltaMind to your daily routine. UltaMind by Vita Sciences contains innovative compounds like St. John’s Wort and Gingko biloba, to name a few that have been shown to support brain health, memory, focus, and concentration.

    References:

    de Souza, R., Schincaglia, R. M., Pimentel, G. D., & Mota, J. F. (2017). Nuts and Human Health Outcomes: A Systematic Review. Nutrients9(12), 1311. doi:10.3390/nu9121311

    Harvard Health Publishing Harvard Medical School (accessed April 4, 2019) “12 ways to keep your brain young.” https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/12-ways-to-keep-your-brain-young

    Li, Ming and Shi, Z. (February 2019) “A Prospective Association of Nut Consumption with Cognitive Function in Chinese Adults Aged 55+ – China Health and Nutrition Survey.” The Journal of Nutrition, Health, and Aging, 23(2): 211-216.

    Roche, Ph.d., B. (July 17, 2014) “10 Ways to Improve Your Brain Health.” Psychology Today, https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/iq-boot-camp/201407/10-ways-improve-your-brain-health

     


  • Could sugary drinks reduce life expectancy?

    soda, cola, sugar, sugary drinkAnyone who has been on a healthy lifestyle plan knows that you should try not to drink your calories. This is because you want to cut calories wherever you can to lose weight. However, cutting out those sugary drinks are not only helpful in weight loss, but also in cutting your disease risk. In fact, a recent study found that those who drank less sugary drinks had a lower risk of chronic diseases and early death as compared to those who drank sugary drinks often.

    What is considered a sugary drink?

    A sugary drink can be anything from processed colas to fresh squeezed juices. Here are some examples of sugary drinks you should limit in your daily routine.

    • cola
    • milkshakes
    • coffee drink blends
    • orange, apple, or other fruit juices
    • certain kinds of smoothies
    • flavored milks
    • sports drinks
    • sweetened waters
    • energy drinks

    These sugary drinks can be sweetened with plain sugar or one of many forms of sugar used in processed goods. Some examples of added sugars include:

    • brown sugar
    • corn sweetener
    • corn syrup
    • dextrose
    • fructose
    • glucose
    • high-fructose corn syrup
    • honey
    • lactose
    • malt syrup
    • maltose
    • molasses
    • raw sugar
    • sucrose

    Sugary drinks and health outcomes research

    Sugary drink intake has been linked to cognitive impairment, obesity in children and adults as well as dental caries.   Also, some research shows that sugar-sweetened beverage intake may be linked to heart health issues.

    One recent study looked at the impact of sugary-sweetened beverage intake on health. Study results show that those women who drank sugary drinks more than two servings a day had a 63-percent higher risk of early death than those who drank less than one serving a month. Also, by looking at the same factors in men, those who drank more sugary drinks had a 29-percent higher risk of premature death than those who drank less.

    Researchers suggest that this risk of premature death comes from chronic diseases linked with sugary drink intake. For example, those who drink more sugary drinks may have overall poorer diets. In turn, this may lead to a greater risk of obesity. Then this increase in body weight may increase risk of obesity-related diseases like type 2 diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Therefore, it’s these chronic diseases that increase the risk of early death in those that drink a lot of sugary drinks.

    Other ways to reduce sugar in your diet

    Besides cutting down on sugary drinks, you can cut out sugar in your diet by following the tips below.

    • Have healthy snacks on hand: If you’re not prepared with healthy snacks in tow, then you are more likely to walk to the vending machine for a snack. However, most convenience snacks are full of added sugar and sodium. Therefore, grab some portable fruit like bananas, apples, or oranges before you leave the house for work. Fruit may also contain sugar, but it’s natural sugar. Not to mention, that fruit also contains fiber and antioxidants that help reduce inflammation in the body and keep your gut healthy.
    • Find alternatives to sugary drink options: Instead of energy drinks, reach for a cup of coffee with some almond milk. Or instead of a soda, try drinking a seltzer water infused with fruit like lemon or limes. Also, if you enjoy your coffee blended drink, just opt for sugar-free flavorings, skim or plant-based milk options, and skip the whipped cream and chocolate or caramel drizzle on top.
    • Take a sugar control supplement: If you’re in the midst of trying to cut down on sugar in your diet, but need a little help, then try a glucose control supplement. Glucarex by Vita Sciences is one example of a natural supplement that can help you control your blood glucose levels. This is because Glucarex contains ingredients like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon to help naturally support weight loss, metabolism, and healthy blood glucose levels. Therefore, such a supplement could support any healthy lifestyle habits you are trying to make to improve your health.
    • Know your numbers: By keeping track of your blood glucose, blood pressure, cholesterol, and triglycerides you can detect health problems before they start. Just be sure to visit your doctor often to have your labs checked at least once a year. However, you may have to visit more often if you have a family history of or diagnosis of chronic disease(s) already.

    References:

    Anjum, I., Jaffery, S. S., Fayyaz, M., Wajid, A., & Ans, A. H. (2018). “Sugar Beverages and Dietary Sodas Impact on Brain Health: A Mini Literature Review.” Cureus10(6), e2756. doi:10.7759/cureus.2756

    Bleich, S. N., & Vercammen, K. A. (2018). “The negative impact of sugar-sweetened beverages on children’s health: an update of the literature.” BMC obesity5, 6. doi:10.1186/s40608-017-0178-9

    Bracho-Sanchez, E. (March 18, 2019) “Sugary drinks linked to higher risk of premature death, especially for women, study says.”  https://www.cnn.com/2019/03/18/health/sugary-drinks-premature-death-women-study/

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (last reviewed February 27, 2017) “Get the Facts: Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Consumption.”

    Deshpande, G., Mapanga, R. F., & Essop, M. F. (2017). “Frequent Sugar-Sweetened Beverage Consumption and the Onset of Cardiometabolic Diseases: Cause for Concern?” Journal of the Endocrine Society1(11), 1372-1385. doi:10.1210/js.2017-00262

    Luger, M., Lafontan, M., Bes-Rastrollo, M., Winzer, E., Yumuk, V., & Farpour-Lambert, N. (2017). “Sugar-Sweetened Beverages and Weight Gain in Children and Adults: A Systematic Review from 2013 to 2015 and a Comparison with Previous Studies.” Obesity facts10(6), 674-693.

     


  • A plant-based diet may help treat diabetes

    fruit, vegetable, nuts, seeds, healthy, dietIf you’ve ever tried to eat healthy, which I’m sure most of us have, then you may have been told to eat more vegetables. This is a tried and true statement that is vital to every healthy lifestyle. This is because plant-based foods like fruits and vegetables are full of gut-healthy fiber and antioxidants.  In turn, this helps to lower your risk of chronic diseases like heart disease and diabetes. That is why it may not be surprising that a recent study shows that a plant-based diet may help diabetes treatment.

    What is a plant-based diet?

    There are several ways you may view a plant-based diet. And you don’t have to be a vegetarian or vegan to reap the benefits of this eating plan. In fact, the definition of a plant-based diet is a group of eating habits that avoid eating most or all animal products and support mostly intake of fruits, vegetables, legumes, seeds, whole grains and nuts. Therefore, all you have to do is include a plant-based food to each meal or snack time. So try to pick a variety of colors of plant-based foods to reap the benefits of the vast array of antioxidants.

    Plant-based diet research

    There is a lot of research supporting the benefits of a plant-based diet. Research shows that such a diet can help improve mental health, heart health, quality of life, HbA1c levels, and body weight. It can also help people manage their diabetes. It’s thought that these health benefits stem from the antioxidants in produce that help improve gut health and decrease oxidative stress and related inflammation. Also, plant-based foods provide a ton of nutrients like fiber, potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and vitamins A and C.

    A recent study looked at how the vegan diet may help those with diabetes. Researchers looked at the effects of vegetable-based foods on health versus animal-based foods. For sixteen weeks, 20 people with type 2 diabetes were fed either veggie-based burgers or meat-based burgers.

    Study results show that the tofu burgers enhanced post-meal insulin secretion more than the meat burger. This means that after meals, blood glucose levels did not rise as much in those on the plant-based diet.  Also, the vegan meal improved beta-cell function, which produces, holds, and releases insulin. This is important since diabetes usually damages the beta-cell function in those who have the condition. Therefore, this study shows that a plant-based diet could help those with diabetes control their condition.

    Other ways to help control diabetes

    Besides eating a plant-based diet, there are other things you can add to your healthy lifestyle to help control diabetes.

    • Stay active: Exercise can help increase how sensitive insulin is and can help the body use blood glucose better for energy. Therefore, be sure to move as much as you can each day. This can be walking, cleaning house, walking around the market, or aerobics, to name a few. Every step counts, so just because you can’t work out at the gym, that doesn’t mean you can’t find other ways to stay active and control your blood glucose levels.
    • Take medications: Many people with type 2 diabetes benefit from taking daily medications that help lower blood glucose levels. Some people may also have to take insulin to assist with diabetes treatment. Your diabetes healthcare team will look at your health history and current health status to find the medicine regimen that will work best for you.
    • Add a daily supplement: A supplement like Glucarex by Vita Sciences can help control blood glucose levels naturally. Glucarex contains  compounds like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon that can support healthy weight, metabolism, and blood glucose levels.
    • See your doctor often: If you have a chronic disease like diabetes, it’s vital to visit your doctor more than once a year. During these visits, have your labs checked and have your medicines adjusted if needed. This can help you stay on top of your diabetes and lower risk of complications.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD of LighttrackNutrition.com

    References:

    Hever, J., & Cronise, R. J. (2017). “Plant-based nutrition for healthcare professionals: implementing diet as a primary modality in the prevention and treatment of chronic disease.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 355-368.

    Kahleova, H., et al. (2019) “A Plant-Based Meal Stimulates Incretin and Insulin Secretion More Than an Energy- and Macronutrient-Matched Standard Meal in Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Crossover Study.” Nutrients, 11(3): 486.

    Kerley C. P. (2018). “A Review of Plant-based Diets to Prevent and Treat Heart Failure.” Cardiac failure review4(1), 54-61.

    McMacken, M., & Shah, S. (2017). “A plant-based diet for the prevention and treatment of type 2 diabetes.” Journal of geriatric cardiology : JGC14(5), 342-354.

    Toumpanakis, A., Turnbull, T., & Alba-Barba, I. (2018). “Effectiveness of plant-based diets in promoting well-being in the management of type 2 diabetes: a systematic review.” BMJ open diabetes research & care6(1), e000534.


  • Could preventing or treating hypertension protect your mind?

    hypertension, blood pressure, heart health, healthWhen you think of high blood pressure, or hypertension, your heart health may be the first thing that comes to mind. But what many may not realize is that blood pressure also relates to the health of your mind. It makes sense if you think about it. All the body’s tissues and organs require oxygen from the blood that flows from the heart. If something is affecting blood flow, then this can affect the health of many parts of your body. Let’s look a bit more at blood pressure and how controlling it can improve the health of your heart and mind.

    About hypertension

    Hypertension happens when the blood flow in your vessels has to use extra force to travel though the body. There are several different causes of blood pressure. Some of these causes include high sodium intake, obesity, thyroid problems, or sleep apnea, to name a few.

    A person has hypertension if their blood pressure consistently reads at or above 140 mm Hg over 90 mmHg. The top number is the systolic blood pressure, or the pressure of the blood in the arteries during contraction. On the other hand, the bottom number is the pressure of the blood in the vessels at dilation, or in between contractions.

    It’s important to see your doctor on a regular basis so you can track your blood pressure. This is because untreated high blood pressure can lead to complications like heart attack, heart failure, or stroke, to name a few.

    Blood pressure and brain health

    By keeping your heart and blood vessels healthy, you ensure healthy blood flow all over the body, This includes healthy blood flow to the brain. According to the Centers for Disease Control, taking care of your heart can help reduce your risk of stroke and dementia.

    A recent study looked at a group of older adults at risk for heart disease but had no history of stroke or diabetes. Researchers looked at whether intensive or standard treatment for hypertension could improve cognitive health outcomes.

    Intensive blood pressure control would involve a goal of a systolic blood pressure of less than 120 mm Hg. On the other hand, standard treatment would merely try to lower the systolic blood pressure below 140 mm Hg.

    Study results show that the intensive treatment helped reduce mild cognitive impairment risk by 20-percent. Because of this finding, researchers suggest that intensive blood pressure treatment could lower risk of dementia. However, more studies will need to be done to see if this theory holds true.

    How can you improve your blood pressure?

    When it comes to heart health, here are several steps you can take to help control your blood pressure and in turn help the health of your mind.

    • Eat a heart healthy diet: Cut back on sodium, fatty red meats, alcohol, and sugary processed foods for better heart health. Instead, swap out these foods for lean animal or plant-based proteins like chicken, fish, nuts, or seeds. Also, load up on antioxidant-rich vegetables and fruits that also provide gut- and heart-healthy fiber.
    • Move more: Every step counts when it comes to heart health. Try to walk, swim, bike, dance, or do whatever moves you to exercise. Try to move at least thirty minutes total a day most days of the week to help keep your weight within a healthy range and your heart strong.
    • Sleep enough: During sleep, your body takes care of a lot of internal business. One piece of business is regulating fluid and hormones in the body. If interrupted this can have a negative impact on blood pressure. This is why most adults should sleep at least seven to nine hours a night most nights for optimal health.
    • Quit smoking: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and in turn narrow them and increase risk of blood pressure. Therefore, if you smoke, be sure to visit smokefree.gov for resources on how you can quit today to help your heart and brain health.
    • Take a heart healthy supplement:  Along with these lifestyle changes, it also never hurts to add a heart healthy supplement to give your heart health the upper hand. One such supplement is Circova by Vita Sciences. Circova contains ingredients like L-arginine, niacin, and hawthorne that help to naturally improve blood pressure and blood flow.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (March 26, 2018) “Brain Health Is Connected to Heart Health.” https://www.cdc.gov/features/heart-brain-health/index.html

    Mayo Clinic (January 9, 2019) “10 ways to control high blood pressure without medication.”

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (accessed February 18, 2019) “High Blood Pressure.”

    NIH Research Matters (February 12, 2019) “Intensive blood pressure control may lessen cognitive loss.”

     

     


  • Move more to fight depression …and diabetes

    depression. mental health, happy, mood, healthWhen most people start an exercise program, they may be trying to do one of a few things. Most people move more to lose weight, some exercise to gain muscle, and some just want to tone up. However, the benefit from exercise that most may not think of is improved mood. A recent study shows that moving more each day may have prevent depressive symptoms. Not to mention, that research also shows that preventing or improving such symptoms can help improve health outcomes in those with diabetes.

    What is depression?

    Depression is a mood disorder that can greatly impact daily life. It can make daily activities seem impossible by impacting the way you feel, think, sleep, eat, and work. There are various forms of depression such as persistent depressive disorder, which involves symptoms lasting two years or more.

    On the other hand, there are forms of depression that occur as a result of certain environmental changes such as in climate like with seasonal affective disorder, or after pregnancy like with postpartum depression. Some people with depression may also experience other serious mood symptoms like with bipolar disorder or psychotic depression.

    No matter what type of depression a person may have, they all share certain serious symptoms for more than two weeks at a time that may include:

    • persistent “empty” mood or sad feelings
    • irritability
    • hopelessness
    • loss of interest in hobbies or daily activities
    • decreased energy or fatigue
    • restlessness
    • moving or talking more slowly
    • difficulty concentrating
    • trouble sleeping or eating
    • digestive problems or headaches without a medical cause
    • thoughts of death or suicide

    Not everyone with depression experiences every symptom. However, if you have a few of these symptoms and you feel that daily life has become hard to handle, then it may be time to reach out to a healthcare professional for help.

    Antidepressant medications and psychotherapy, like talk therapy are typical primary treatments for depression. However, if these treatments alone are not helping all of your symptoms, then there are some other things you can try. Experts suggest asking for help from a trusted friend, family member, or counselor as well as taking steps to take part in your community for social support.

    Another treatment option is to join a study through the National Institutes of Health where new treatments will be tested. If you need help now, then reach out to someone today for advice through one of the resources found on this website. Exercise can also be something you can do now to help improve your depressive symptoms.

    Exercise and depression research 

    The American Heart Association suggests that most adults exercise at least 150 minutes a week. This means that for most days of the week, you should move at least thirty minutes a day. This doesn’t have to be all at once, but can be a few minutes at a time. And this exercise should be at a moderate pace. Therefore, if you walk briskly for a few minutes here and there for a total of thirty minutes a day, then you can keep your heart strong. Not only that, but you can also keep your mind healthy too.

    A recent study shows that exercise may help improve depressive symptoms. This study looked at data from over 600000 adults. Study results show that there is a protective relationship between exercise and risk for major depressive disorder. And what makes this finding stronger is that this data was taken from actual measured movement, not self-reported exercise. Therefore, experts suggest that exercise could be an effective adjunct strategy to help treat and prevent depressive symptoms.

    Exercise and diabetes research

    If you exercise to help improve your depressive symptoms, you could also help improve your diabetes risk. Experts report that depressive symptoms correlate strongly with a risk of incident diabetes. A study of data from the Women’s Health Initiative (WHI) looked at whether positive behavior could help lower risk of type 2 diabetes in postmenopausal women.

    The study looked at data from over 100000 women over 14 years. Study results show that those who were the most optimistic had a 12-percent lower risk of developing diabetes versus those in the lowest quartile of optimism. Also, those who showed more hostile and negative behaviors, were at higher risk of developing type 2 diabetes. Therefore, prevention strategies to help target such negative mood and personality traits may help lower risk of type 2 diabetes in these persons.

    Take home message

    If you suffer from depression, then there are many steps you can take to help improve your quality of life. The first step is to ask for help.  I know this is not an easy ask, but there are many resources out there where people want to help you take back your life.

    And if you have diabetes, it may be worth it to be screened for depression to see if such strategies listed above may help you not only feel better in your mind, but also help improve your diabetes symptoms.

    Changes in diet such as consuming more antioxidant-rich foods and taking supplements such as Elevia by Vita Sciences may also help. Elevia contains GABA and 5-HTP to help calm your mind and boost serotonin levels. This could be another tool in your belt to help you improve your depressive symptoms and start feeling better inside and out.

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    American Heart Association (last reviewed April 18, 2018) “American Heart Association Recommendations for Physical Activity in Adults and Kids.”

    Choi KW, Chen C, Stein MB, et al. (Published online January 23, 2019) “Assessment of Bidirectional Relationships Between Physical Activity and Depression Among AdultsA 2-Sample Mendelian Randomization Study.” JAMA Psychiatry, doi:10.1001/jamapsychiatry.2018.4175

    National Institute of Mental Health (February 2018) “Depression.”

    Sandoiu, A. (January 27, 2019) “Diabetes: How optimism may influence your risk.” Medical News Today, https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/324297.php

     


  • Could a Mediterranean diet improve your brain health?

    heart, cardiovascular, brain, heart healthy, omega-3, vessel, cholesterol, diabetesYou can’t talk about a heart healthy lifestyle without at least referring to the Mediterranean diet. That’s because this Greek-style eating plan is full of heart healthy foods and other healthful tips. But did you know that this diet is also good for brain health? Recent research shows that certain nutrients found in the Mediterranean diet can help with brain health aging in older adults.

    What is the Mediterranean diet?

    The Mediterranean diet is a heart healthy diet based on healthy fats like olive oil. Along with olive oil, healthy fat-containing foods like fatty fish, avocado, olives, nuts, and seeds make up the largest portion of the diet. The omega-3 fatty acids in these foods can help lower blood fats, also known as triglycerides. In addition, these fats can also help improve blood pressure and blood vessel health.

    The majority of foods in this eating plan are plant-based. In other words, this means eating plenty of antioxidant-rich fruits and vegetables. These foods will also provide fiber and important nutrients like potassium, magnesium, and vitamins C and E. This also means switching to whole grains if you’re going to eat breads or pastas.  Also, it encourages consuming fiber and protein-rich plant foods like beans, peas, nuts, and seeds.

    Other eating guidelines of this diet include limiting whole-fat dairy products, red meat, processed foods, and foods high in sodium. This eating plan also encourages use of spices to flavor food instead of using table salt.  Finally, to maintain a balanced healthy lifestyle, this diet encourages exercise and eating meals with family and friends.

    Mediterranean diet and brain health

    A recent study looked at healthy, older adults and how a Greek-style diet affected brain health. MRI scans and cognitive function tests measured brain health. These tests were done throughout the study and two years after the study to assess the diet’s impact on brain health.

    The researchers focused on 32 nutrients found in this diet. These nutrients included folate, vitamin B12, riboflavin, and vitamin D. Also, the researchers looked at antioxidants found in the Greek-style diet like omega-3 fatty acids, lycopene, and carotenoids. Study results show that such nutrients, along with omega-6 fatty acids, were involved in biomarker patterns. Also, those people who ate foods with such nutrients had better results on cognitive function tests of general intelligence, memory, and executive functions like attentional and inhibition control.

    Take home message

    So, if the heart healthy benefits of this eating plan haven’t convinced you to go Greek-style in your eating, hopefully the brain health factors did. This is because this diet has shown time and again that it ranks on top for health benefits.  Therefore, take small steps towards such an eating plan. You can do this by starting to eat more vegetables one day. Then maybe trying new recipes that use olive oil to roast or stir-fry those vegetables. Finally, you can add in nuts and/or seeds as snacks for even more healthy fats and fiber.

    If you feel like a supplement would help you at first, then try an omega-3 fatty acid supplement. An example of a high quality omega-3 fatty acid is the fish oil supplement by Vita Sciences. This fish oil supplement contains a healthy balance of EPA and DhA, which are two important omega-3 fatty acids for brain health. Not to mention that this supplement is burpless and ensures optimal purity.

    Therefore, if you’re thinking about starting a healthy lifestyle this new year, consider the Greek-style diet. Not only will it help you work towards just about any health goal you have, but it will taste fresh and delicious in the process.

    References:

    Mayo Clinic (November 3, 2017) “Mediterranean diet: A heart-healthy eating plan.”

    Paddock, Ph.D., C. (December 21, 2018) “Mediterranean diet nutrients tied with healthy brain aging.” Medical News Today.

    Romagnolo, D. F., & Selmin, O. I. (2017). “Mediterranean Diet and Prevention of Chronic Diseases.” Nutrition today52(5), 208-222.

    Zwilling, C.E., Talukdar, T., Zamroziewicz, M.K., and Barney, A.K. (March 2019) “Nutrient biomarker patterns, cognitive function, and fMRI measures of network efficiency in the aging brain.” NeuroImage, Volume 188, 239-251.


  • Could a vegan diet improve your mood and your diabetes?

    vegan, vegetarian, health, dietVegan diets have seemed to gain popularity over the years for several reasons. First of all, a plant-based diet full of fiber and antioxidants seems to improve heart health risk factors. Secondly, it’s a way for people to show they support animal rights. Also, it’s an eating regimen that can be fitting for those who may have dairy and or egg allergies. However, recent research shows that a vegan diet could also help improve the health of body and mind of those with type 2 diabetes. 

    What is a vegan diet?

    A vegan diet is one that avoids any animal products. This includes meat, poultry, fish, seafood, eggs, as well as dairy products. No to mention, that this type of diet avoids ingredients like gelatin, honey, beeswax, casein, and whey that come from animals or insects.

    Many vegan-certified products sit on store shelves. From meatless burgers, cookies, and dairy-free cheese, these products make this diet regimen easier to follow long-term. However, it’s important to remember that these foods are still processed. Since this diet’s health benefits stem from its plant-based nature, you should consume mostly whole foods for optimal health.

    Vegan diet and diabetes

    A recent study shows that eating a meat-free, dairy free diet full of plant-based foods can improve mood and overall health. This evidence review looked at studies of those with type 2 diabetes following a vegan diet.  Study results show that those with diabetes on such plant-based diets had better control of their diabetes and overall health.  These individuals had better control of their blood glucose levels, lipid levels, and cholesterol levels.

    And if that wasn’t enough to convince you to eat plant-based, these individuals saw several other benefits too. In over half of the studies reviewed, those with diabetes were able to cut down or discontinue their diabetes medicines. Also, some individuals reported reduced diabetic nerve pain as well as improved mental health factors and quality of life.

    Other ways to improve your diabetes

    A plant-based diet is not the only way to help improve your diabetes. Read below for more tips on how to feel better in body and mind whether you have diabetes or not.

    • Stay active: It’s important for just about everyone to stay active for overall health. Exercise can help you manage stress, keep your heart string, help you to manage weight, and can also improve diabetes risk factors. When it comes to diabetes, staying active can help improve insulin resistance in the body. Therefore, try to exercise for at least 30 minutes a day most days. It doesn’t have to be anything strenuous. Just walking, gardening, or cleaning house can count towards your exercise. And you can split it up into smaller fragments of exercise like 5 or 10 minutes of exercise several times a day to make it more practical.
    • Sleep enough each night: It’s important for most adults to sleep at least seven and nine hours a night for your best health. This is especially true for those with diabetes. This is because a lack of sleep, which throws off hormone levels in the body, can  increase risk of type 2 diabetes.
    • Manage stress: When you are stressed, your blood pressure can rise. Not only that, but stress can also increase blood glucose levels. Therefore, it’s important to find ways to manage your stress to help improve your diabetes or lower risk for diabetes. Some ways you can try to manage stress include relaxation breathing, yoga, talking to a counselor, or taking a walk when you feel stressed.
    • Add a supplement to your daily regimen: If you are deficient in any nutrients like iron or vitamin B12, you may feel fatigue which can make it hard to stay active an healthy. Therefore, be sure to have your nutrient levels checked each year and supplement if needed. You can also try a supplement made just for those trying to control diabetes like Glucarex by Vita Sciences. Glucarex contains compounds like chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon to help support weight loss, healthy metabolism, and healthy blood glucose levels.

    References:

    Kahleova, H., Levin, S., and Barnard, N.D. (May-June 2018) “Vegetarian Dietary Patterns and Cardiovascular Disease.” Progress in cardiovascular diseases, 61(1): 54-61.

    National Institute of Diabetes and Digestive and Kidney Diseases (January 2016) “4 Steps to Manage Your Diabetes for Life.”

    National Sleep Foundation (accessed November 12, 2018) “The link between a lack of sleep and type 2 diabetes.”

    Thompson, D. (October 30, 2018) “For Diabetics, Going Vegan May Boost Mood Along With Health.” HealthDay online

     

     


  • Is there a link between diabetes and depression?

    depression, mental health, anxiety, healthDepression on its own can be a very challenging condition to deal with. This diagnosis not only affects the mind, but can affect the body as well. It can make everyday tasks difficult to deal with such as sleeping, working, and even eating. Because of the effect of depression on eating behaviors, weight gain or loss can occur through appetite changes unrelated to diet.  Not only that, but because of the many lifestyle changes that come with a diabetes diagnosis, depression is seen two to three times more often in such patients than those without diabetes. A recent study looked at how diet and exercise factors can affect the relationship between depression and metabolic syndrome.

    What is depression?

    We all may feel depressed from time to time. However, a diagnosis of depression is a chronic display of such feelings that can affect daily life, relationships, and can cause both psychological and physical symptoms. If the following symptoms occur for two weeks or more, then you should see a doctor for possible diagnosis and treatment of depression.

    • Feeling sad or having a depressed mood
    • Loss of interest in activities once enjoyed
    • Changes in appetite
    • Weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
    • Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
    • Loss of energy or increased fatigue
    • Slowed movements and speech
    • Feeling worthless or guilty
    • Difficulty concentrating or making decisions
    • Thoughts of death or suicide

    Conditions related to the thyroid, nutrient deficiencies, or tumors of the brain can mimic symptoms of depression. Therefore, such underlying causes should be ruled out by a qualified healthcare provider.

    Metabolic syndrome and depression

    Metabolic syndrome is the name for a group of risk factors that can increase a person’s risk of chronic diseases like diabetes and stroke.

    • A waist circumference of more than 35 inches for women and 40 inches for men
    • A triglyceride level of 150 mg/dL or higher
    • An HDL cholesterol level of less than 50 mg/dL for women and less than 40 mg/dL for men
    • A blood pressure of 130/85 mmHg or higher
    • A fasting blood sugar level of 100 mg/dL or higher

    Research shows that there is a relationship between those with depression and metabolic syndrome.  A recent study looked at this relationship to see what exactly is causing it. Researchers looked at data from over 64,000 adults. Study results show that those with depression are highly linked to a high fat, high sugar diet regimen and low levels of physical activity.

    Researchers suggest that diet and exercise may link depression and metabolic syndrome. However, they also state that inflammation and genetic factors have a greater causal link between the two conditions. Inflammation can develop as a result of the stress on the brain due to depression that may cause an imbalance in gut microbiome. This link is a theory known as the gut-brain axis. This in turn, could cause inflammation in the body that could increase risk of chronic diseases like heat disease and diabetes.

    How to lower risk of metabolic syndrome

    Besides diet and exercise, you can use the tips below to help lower your risk of metabolic syndrome.

    • Add more fruit and vegetables to your diet: More fruits and vegetables means more antioxidants. And more antioxidants in your diet means more anti-inflammatory power. In turn, you can help reduce inflammation in your body by adding more colorful fiber sources to your plate at each meal.
    • Move more: Exercising at least 30 minutes a day for most days of the week can help you manage your weight. It can also help you manage stress and strengthen your heart. All of these factors can help reduce inflammation in your body and lower chronic disease risk.
    • Stop smoking or never start: Smoking can constrict blood vessels and in turn can increase heart disease risk. Therefore, if you already smoke, visit Smokefree.gov to quit. If you have never started smoking, then don’t. Your body will thank you.
    • Take a daily supplement: If you are deficient in nutrients, then this could put you at risk for conditions like depression that have an inflammatory link.  Certain supplements can also help you gain better control over your blood glucose levels too. Glucarex by Vita Sciences is one such supplement that uses chromium, alpha lipoic acid, and cinnamon to help support weight loss, metabolism, and blood glucose levels.

     

    -written by Staci Gulbin, MS, MEd, RD

    References:

    American Psychiatric Association (January 2017) “What is Depression?”  Physician Review By: Ranna Parekh, M.D., M.P.H.

    Matta J, Hoertel N, Kesse-Guyot E, et al. (2019) Diet and physical activity in the association between depression and metabolic syndrome: Constances studyJ Affect Disord., 244:25-32.

    National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (accessed November 6, 2018) “Metabolic Syndrome.”