‘A Well Mind’ by Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts: Book Review

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Why are we taught how to care only for our body and not our mind?   That’s the question that is the driving force for Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts’ new book, ‘A Well Mind’.  I have often asked the same question! As Lisa rightly observes: “while this is slowly-changing, it is “more in the context of ‘Better do crosswords and talk to people daily so we don’t get Alzheimer’s,’ or ‘Better see a doctor if I’m feeling depressed.” 

With all the discussion about mental health, as a society, we still remain focussed on treating the symptoms of disease. Little attention is given to cultivating a well mind. Good health is, however, about more than the absence of disease and that’s why I whole-heartedly recommend ‘A Well Mind’ to you dear Reader. As well as being informative and engaging, this book is refreshing to read.  Positively uplifting in fact. As Parkinson Roberts says, “You have more control over the wellbeing of your mind than you might currently believe.” This is a message that I am keen to share as it can make such a profound difference to one’s overall health and treatment outcome.

Imagine if in school we had lessons on cultivating a well mind.  Imagine being given tools to calm our nervous system, tools to ward off anxiety and depression, foods to nourish and heal our mind.  Imagine if we were taught that we are not our thoughts; rather, we are an audience who has the power to choose which thoughts to watch and nurture, and which thoughts to dismiss.  Imagine if we were taught how to rewrite the narrative in our head, and let go of what doesn’t serve us.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts PhD

Published by Exisle Publishing, ‘A Well Mind’ (RRP £12.99) is a comprehensive and holistic guide to improving your wellbeing by eating well and maintaining healthy routines. Dr Parkinson Roberts looks at why the health of one’s mind is just so important. She investigates nutrition, sleep, stress management and exercise to achieve optimal mental health and to help you to regain control of how you feel. She likens her journey to reduce inflammation in her body and mind to that of a person embarking on a weight-loss journey. 

The Author’s candour, her realism and compassion is striking. This is an author and academic who knows what she is talking about, not just from years of study and clinical practice (she has a PhD in Nutrition Science) but from deep and at times, most painful experience. Her personal journey makes the book all the more compelling to read and her passion and curiosity shine through.

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D. Author of ‘A Well Mind’

Diagnosed with Bipolar at the age of fifteen, also depression and OCD, Dr Parkinson Roberts has struggled with mental health for most of her life. She now manages her mind by using “food as medicine”. Dr Parkinson Roberts found successful methods for coping and she shares these tools and her academic expertise with her readers. She learned an important lesson during her journey: “struggle can alchemize into growth, and we all struggle; the struggle just presents differently for each of us.” 

‘A Well Mind’: In Summary

Parkinson Roberts explores the Gut Brain Axis, the role of the microbiome, and explains how the diversity of our good bacteria and the foods we eat influence our mind and emotions. She highlights important nutrients, vitamins and minerals to consider for optimum mental, emotional and physical health.

Supported by the latest scientific research and case studies, the Author also explores Epigenics; the benefits of immersing in nature, mindfulness techniques; the importance of breathing properly, nourishing food and nurturing relationships; the value of community and the value in finding gratitude, purpose and meaning. Dr Parkinson Roberts is only the second person I know to reference Eudaimonic wellbeing in the context of contemporary wellness. One of my mentors, Patrizia Bortolin, the innovative Spa Director at Preidlhof and a leading Transformational Wellness Coach is the first. I must take Patrizia a copy of the book when I go to Italy!

Aside from the solid nutrition and lifestyle advice, I particularly like Dr Parkinson Roberts’ mind-changing or ‘shift’ exercises. These are very helpful – powerful too. I place a great deal of importance on mindset in my own nutrition work with clients. Our thoughts affect our gut health, our emotions, our behaviour, and vice-versa! Indeed, our overall health. Our thoughts and emotions can also manifest in physical symptoms. It was a ‘change of mind’ that helped me in my own past struggles with ulcerative colitis. One day, I changed my mind. I decided to be well… that I really was going to get better. That mental shift was profoundly life-changing.

The beauty of a well mind is that it alters the landscape surrounding us.  We can move from living in the past, and with it anxiety and regret, or from being caught up in the future, and with it uncertainty, to experiencing each day
mindfully and calmly.” 

Lisa Parkinson Roberts, Ph.D

Dr Lisa Parkinson Roberts, I salute you!  ‘A Well Mind‘ is a keeper! I will enjoy recommending this book to my clients and revisiting it time and again.  Thank you!

Nuts Help Protect Against Dementia

People who eat more than two portions of nuts a week in their forties, are 21% less likely to have impaired memory after the age of sixty. That’s according to a study published in Age and Ageing.

Eating nuts just once a week in middle age also makes you 19% less likely to have impaired cognitive function. Rich in a variety of nutrients, it’s thought they help reduce inflammation and boost blood flow.

Researchers at the National University of Singapore carried out a long-term study into diet and dementia. From 1993 to 2016, they tracked 17,000 people aged 40 and upwards. The researchers analysed how often each participant ate nuts and carried out repeat cognitive testing over the the years. Reduced cognitive function is an early warning sign of dementia.

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The Singapore study supports other evidence that eating nuts can help protect against dementia. Researchers at the University of South Australia also found that they can help improve brain function in old age. Their study tracked 4,822 Chinese adults over the age of 55. They found that consuming two teaspoons ( around 10 grams) a day improved thinking, reasoning and memory.

Health benefits

Nuts are a good source of healthy fats and fibre. they are among the best sources of plant-based protein. They all have their individual nutritional benefits but for optimum health, moderation and variety is recommended. Some of the healthiest varieties are detailed here.

A word of caution:

Moderation is key as nuts are calorie dense. Have them as part of a balanced diet.

Be sure to always chew them well.

Some people find that nuts upset their digestive health. Eating too many can cause you to feel gassy, cramped, or bloated. They are also a common dietary allergy.

To book an in-depth nutrition consultation and a Cambridge Brain Sciences cognitive test, contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

New PHQ-9 Assessment for Depression

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Now, more than ever, mental health forms a major component of my work in nutrition. The COVID-19 pandemic has led to an unprecedented increase in stress among communities and individuals, worsening or triggering mental health conditions such as depression.

I now offer a free online PHQ-9 assessment.  The PHQ-9 is a simple, 9-question instrument for screening, diagnosing, monitoring and measuring the severity of depression.

PHQ-9 is one of the most used depression screens among Primary Care workers, clinicians and researchers. The assessment is endorsed by a number of leading health organizations, including the National Institute for Health and Care Excellence (NICE). The assessment takes 3 minutes to complete.

The PHQ-9 evaluation, together with the Cambridge Brain Sciences (CBS) Health Assessment, gives you a far deeper insight of what is going on with both your cognitive and mental health.   These scientifically-validated assessments help further inform your personal nutrition and care programme, providing quantifiable evidence.  

How do we evaluate the PHQ-9 Assessment?

We evaluate your PHQ-9 alongside other clinical considerations including the findings from your initial in-depth nutrition consultation. For instance, were your current symptoms triggered by psychosocial stressor(s)? What is the duration of the present episode and are you receiving any other treatment or support?  To what degree are your symptoms impairing your usual work and activities?  Is there a history of similar episodes? Is there a family history?   

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How does depression relate to digestive health and nutrition?

There is mounting evidence that the good bacteria in the gut (our microbiota) influence our brain and our mood. And indeed, it is the food that we eat that determines the types of bacteria that inhabit our gut.   Some bacteria are beneficial but others are not and may contribute to inflammation in the body. This is where a targeted and individualised holistic nutrition programme may be beneficial: to help rebalance and strengthen your gut microbiome and help reduce inflammation.

Our gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate basic physiological processes as well as mental processes such as learning, memory and mood.. Our gut bacteria manufacture about 95 percent of our serotonin, which influences our mood and sleep patterns.

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People with chronic inflammatory diseases such as diabetes, cardiovascular disease and autoimmune disorders are at greater risk of developing depression. Depression can also be one of the symptoms of many inflammatory neurological conditions, such as multiple sclerosis and Parkinson’s disease. Depression may even be a risk in developing Alzheimer’s disease later in life.

How does inflammation contribute to depression?

Studies support that the brains of patients with depression have higher levels of inflammation. Their microglia – the brain’s immune system cells – are also more active. This increased activity could end up being detrimental, leading to changes in how the brains cells function and communicate.

Another study found that people with depression had more neutrophils, lymphocytes, and monocytes and inflammatory proteins in their blood compared to those without depression. This is another indicator of inflammation in the body in general.

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Additional benefits of a Cognitive Health and PHQ-9 Assessment

Research shows that even if your focus is not mental health, a quick measure of depression can be beneficial. Depression and cognition are associated with a wide variety of mental and physical illnesses. A study published in JAMA Psychiatry (Sullivan et al., 2013) found that depression was associated with accelerated cognitive decline among type 2 diabetes patients. The greatest decline occurred in patients with a PHQ-9 score of 10 or more at baseline and 20 months later. The researchers propose that depression may be causing or worsening the risk of dementia.

Another study (Hawkins et al., 2016) involved patients with heart failure, who have high rates of depression and cognitive impairment. The researchers found that certain PHQ-9 scores predicted performance in multiple cognitive domains. They suggest treatments known to affect depression and cognition, including CBT and physical exercise, may be most impactful on this population.

Would you benefit from a tailored nutrition programme? Contact Charlotte Fraser at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com to organise an online PHQ-9 and CBS Health Assessment.

Grammatical Reasoning is Affected by Mental Health … and Being Underwater

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In the Cambridge Brain Sciences Health Assessment I send clients, there’s a Grammatical Reasoning task. You need to work out the meaning of verbal statements, and then determine if they are true or not. The score provides a scientific measure of how well you combine verbal abilities with reasoning skills to solve problems.  Some people find the task simple, but for others, the task can be quite challenging.  Changes to nutrition, sleep, fitness and stress can improve your score however.

The Grammatical Reasoning task was first developed to measure the mental capabilities of divers.  Divers often show signs akin to drunkenness after swimming to extreme depths. In fact, you can observe impairments in Grammatical Reasoning from depths of around 30 metres.  In an interesting twist, it would appear that it isn’t only depth or compressed air responsible for impairment, but the stress of being at sea as well. Click here to watch Adrian Owen, chief scientific officer – Cambridge Brain Sciences, explain the science behind Grammatical Reasoning.

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Ocean Brain Coral

Why Test Grammatical Reasoning?

Verbal reasoning is associated with mental health factors, like stress, and extends to anxiety and depression. Recently, Goodall et al. (2018) found that depressed youth consistently scored lower in verbal reasoning tasks. The conclusion: “the findings support the need to consider neurocognitive functioning when treating youth with depression.”  Poorer attention, verbal memory, visual memory and verbal reasoning skills are also identified in youth with depression.   

We all have a subjective idea of how our brains are doing. For instance, what’s your definition of ‘fine’ compared to mine? Some days you might experience “brain fog” but, on other days, feel like you can conquer the world. Just how much better are we on those good days? Can health and lifestyle changes making a difference? That’s where the CBS Health Assessment is really useful, it helps quantify those subjective feelings. It enables us to determine what is supporting us on the good days so that we can have more of them.

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Where does this fit with Nutrition?

We don’t pay much attention to our brain but our cognitive health affects all areas of life. Every second of every day. When our brain is performing, every activity in our daily life is just easier. Such as remembering where you put your mobile phone or planning the layout of your new room. What’s more, the brain and bowel (‘The Second Brain’) are in constant dialogue, they are intrinsically linked. For me, the CBS Health Assessment is a useful indicator also of your underlying gut health.

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Scientifically-validated, the measures help me assess, monitor, and manage core areas of cognition to tailor every nutrition programme. What’s more, you get a fuller appreciation of how changes in nutrition, exercise, movement, sleep, social engagement can improve your overall health.

Would you benefit from an in-depth nutrition consultation? Contact Charlotte Fraser Naturopathic Nutrition at enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com for a free basic (4 task) online CBS Health Assessment.

Is Your Gut Microbiome Driving your Desire for Nature?

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I often allude to the microbiome, the colony of trillions of bacteria, fungi and viruses in our gut, as our internal rainforest.  This analogy resonates more as we recognise the importance of ensuring plant diversity in the natural world to safeguard the future wellbeing of our planet.  

Scientific studies show that we can boost our good gut bacteria by eating as diverse a diet as possible, and in consuming as many different plants especially.  The more diverse the diet, the more diverse the gut microbiome. Conversely, a loss in species diversity is a common finding in several disease states.

Though invisible to the naked eye, our good bacteria play an important role in maintaining our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.  The gut and the brain are in constant communication and dynamic exchange determines metabolism, immune system function and appetite. 

Our thirst for nature and the great outdoors became especially pronounced during lockdown.  It isn’t just humans however who crave a change of scene and fresh air… our gut bacteria also relish diversity and new company!

The journal Science of The Total Environment recently published a new theory called “the Lovebug Effect.” This theory suggests that our gut microbiome may actually be driving our increased desire for nature holidays and woodland walks.

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The Lovebug Effect

The Lovebug Effect theorises that gut-brain communication drives our nature-seeking behaviour. When our gut microbes are starved of contact with their country cousins (environmental microbiota), they hijack the neural pathways between the brain and gut to make us venture outdoors to find them. Microbes intercept the gut-brain ‘switchboard’ by activating the vagus nerve and sympathetic neurons through the release of neurotransmitters including serotonin, dopamine and GABA.    

Certainly, being in nature can have a very tangible feel-good, stress-relieving effect. There have been numerous scientific studies also linking gut microbiome imbalances to increased depression and anxiety. However, what else might be fuelling our need for nature?

Why does our gut microbiome love the great outdoors?

When we immerse in nature, we surround ourselves with environmental microbiota. Nature is teeming with trillions of microbes: this provides our gut microbiome with endless choice when it comes to selecting which microbes to propagate. 

Fresh air offers a microbial diversity that avoids the build-up of harmful microbes. Exposure to soil microbes may boost the immune system.  Just a single teaspoon of rich garden soil can hold up to one billion bacteria.

The role of the environment in the make-up of the gut microbiota has yet to be fully understood. Studies have shown children (ages 1 to 5) from rural communities have a more diverse gut microbiota compared to children from Western populations. Early-life exposure to microbe-rich environments may be beneficial for human health by increasing the gut bacterial species pool. Studies have also shown that individuals who grow up in city environments have a less diverse gut microbiome. And that City-dwellers are more prone to inflammatory disorders and allergies. Urbanisation can lead to increased sanitation and antibiotic use, separation from the outdoors, and land management practices that reduce soil microbial biodiversity.

‘Baths in the Forest’ for full nature-immersion

Preidlhof in South Tyrol, has made Forest Bathing a central component of their Integrated Health and Transformational Wellness programmes. They also offer microbiome testing to assess the state of your gut bacteria, and champion mindful and sensorial eating.

The ancient Shinrin-Yoku (literally “Bath in the Forest”) came to the fore in the 1980s. Japan made Forest Bathing part of a national health programme to tackle stress-related disorders. Studies showed that conscious contact with the forest brought benefits to body and mind. It bolstered the immune system, reducing stress and blood pressure levels.

Preidlhof’s Forest Bathing takes place on Monte Tramontana, a dense area, rich in biodiversity, with woods, streams and small lakes.  Leading the sessions is Irmgard Mossmair, a 73-year-old official mountain guide. She found her source of healing in the wisdom of plants, trees and in the regenerating power of forests.  Irmgard has studied aromatherapy and natural remedies through herbs and Chinese medicine. 

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Forest bathing at Preidlhof in South Tyrol Image © Nicola Cipriani

Forest Bathing facilitates complete immersion in the woods, lights, scents, aromas, textures and pulsations of the earth. Sensory interaction with the forest helps to increase our frequency, and promote mental calm and awareness.

“Slowly, they open up to their surroundings and find themselves immersed in another world, in contact with nature and its secrets. The scents of the trees, the earth, the flight of birds and insects, the sound of the wind, the sunlight on the trees, the different shades of green… All these elements can facilitate a profound transformation.”  

Patrizia Bortolin Spa Director and Transformational Health Coach – Preidlhof

We can so easily take our access to nature for granted. What’s more, we increasingly inhabit a virtual and digital universe which provides a further disruptor. However, what Covid 19 has reminded us is that we are still all very much part of the natural world.  And our microbiome will act as a constant biological prompt to reconnect with us our ancient roots.  

For further recommendations on how to boost your gut bacteria through natural food sources, click here.

Contact Charlotte Fraser today to book a Nutrition Consultation.