Building a Foundation for Mental Health If you want to be mentally healthy, you can build a foundation for mental health by attending to your physical well being. This is because, the biological processes that influence mood, anxiety, perception, attention, and inhibition are compromised by deficits in physical health. Also, if you are able to achieve greater physical well being, the cognitive processes (thinking patterns) that influence mental health are easier to adjust or reshape toward the end goal of improved mental and emotional well being. To actively pursue physical well being it is ideal to simultaneously attend to the following lifestyle elements. Each element contributes to physical health in its own way. Each is important. PLEASE NOTE: This list of lifestyle elements is an introduction to the paths for achieving physical well being or health. It is a starting point or introduction to more comprehensive investigation/education/discussion. Please do not make any changes in your current lifestyle until you feel confident about the rationale, benefits, and risks of the change you are undertaking. In particularly, please consult with your physician prior to initiating any change (such as initiating an exercise program) that you feel may be too strenuous or demanding. 1. Exercise – There is no question that regular exercise is an important component of maintaining physical health. In addition, multiple studies indicate that regular exercise has anti-depressant and anti-anxiety benefits. The benefit appears to increase as the intensity and duration of the exercise increases but only to a point. Beyond this point, additional intensity and duration are counterproductive. For example, for most people, aerobic exercise like sustained jogging is more beneficial when starting out than walking or, at the other extreme, strenuous running. 2. Relaxation – Making time to relax is a powerful antidote to both physical and emotional stress. Make time to relax each day (a period when all tasks and deadlines are put aside in favor of recreation, listening to music, reading a book, etc.). Attention to breathing patterns can also be beneficial at achieving a more relaxed/less stressed physical and emotional state. 3. Sleep – Adequate sleep is a critical component of both physical and mental health. Make time to sleep and attend to sleep “hygiene”. 4. Relationships – Relationships and the emotional support they offer are an important element in reducing stress and in improving both physical and mental health. Make time to relate positively to others in your family or support network. 5. Nutrition/Diet – The effects of diet on physical health are widely known. The effect of diet on mental health is frequently ignored. This is in spite of ample evidence linking the so-called “Western” diet to mental health problems. To improve physical health and build the best possible foundation for mental health it is important to: PLEASE NOTE: The following items are offered as an introduction to the topic of nutrition/diet's role in physical/mental well being. They are general guidelines geared toward achieving a foundation for mental health. In the case of dietary supplements, additional supplements or changes in dosage are likely in order to address specific symptoms. 1. Avoid foods that have added sugar, sweeteners (like corn syrup), saturated fat, trans or partially hydrogenated fats/oils. 2. Avoid most processed and “fast” foods. Eat a wide variety of foods that are minimally processed such as fresh/organic fruits and vegetables, whole grains, organic meats, wild caught fish, etc. 3. Be aware of causes and symptoms of “sugar sensitivity” and “hypoglycemia” due to the “simple” carbohydrates in sweetened foods (ice cream, cakes, cookies, donuts, etc.) and in grain products (cereal, white breads, white rice, etc.). Choose foods that have a low “glycemic index/load”. 4. Be aware of the potential for allergies to wheat and/or diary and any food eaten in excess. Allergic reactions to foods can influence mood. 5. Avoid more than limited intake of caffeine and alcohol. 6. Take supplements of: a) Essential Fatty Acids, particularly fish oil (the best source of omega-3 EFAs) b) a multivitamin formula c) a multimineral formula (may be combined with multivitamin) 7. Consider experimenting (see note1) with additional supplements of: a) calcium/magnesium (600 mg. calcium, 300 mg. magnesium – this supplement should be adjusted depending on your intake of diary products – please refer to references below) b) zinc (50 mg.) c) vitamin E (400-800 IU as mixed natural tocopherols) d) vitamin C as ascorbic acid (1000-2000 mg. 3X day) e) vitamin B3 as Inositol Hexaniacinate or No-Flush Niacin (250-500 mg. 3X day) f) vitamin B6 (50 mg.) References Babyak M. et. al. Exercise Treatment for Major Depression: Maintenance of Therapeutic Benefit at 10 Months. Psychosomatic Medicine 62:633-638 (2000). Benson H. and Klipper M. The Relaxation Response. New York, NY: Harpertorch, 1975. Hoffer A. Healing Children's Attention & Behavior Disorders: Complementary Nutritional & Psychological Treatments. Toronto, Ontario: CCNM Press, 2004. 1 Using vitamins in amounts above the recommended dietary allowance (RDA) to achieve improved physical health or improved mental health is controversial. Critics contend that taking vitamins above the RDA amounts is, at best, wasteful and, at worst, dangerous. The danger, in the minds of the critics, comes from the potential for toxic or undesirable effects and from delaying or stopping conventional treatment for any disorder or disease. Proponents of using vitamins to optimize health and treat illness counter that the vitamins most commonly used (C, B3, B6, and E) are safe when used in large doses and have few side effects and no serious adverse effects. There is no substitute for educating yourself about the role that vitamins play in health. Only then can you make an informed choice about adding supplements to your diet. The supplements and amounts listed are based primarily on the work of A. Hoffer, MD, Ph. D. Additional study of the references provided is necessary to understand how these specific vitamins influence physical and mental health, to understand exactly how much to take to treat specific symptoms, to understand the potential risks from supplements, and to understand what improvements in functioning can be anticipated. You may also wish to consult with your physician about monitoring liver function and overall health while taking large doses of vitamins, particularly if you are in ill health or suffer from any chronic physical health ailments (liver disease, diabetes, heart disease, kidney disease, alcoholism, G-6-PD deficiency, etc.) or you take prescription medications of any type. Hoffer A. and Walker M. Putting It All Together: The New Orthomolecular Nutrition. New Canaan, CT: Keats Publishing, 1996. Holford P. The New Optimum Nutrition Bible. Berkley, CA: The Crossing Press, 2004. Levy, T. Curing the Incurable: Vitamin C, Infectious Diseases, and Toxins. Henderson, NV: Livon Books, 2002. Saul A. Doctor Yourself: Natural Healing That Works. Laguna Beach, CA : Basic Health Publications, 2003.
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