‘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!

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.

Stay Positive: Dementia Study Shows Benefits

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Are you glass half full or half empty?  It might sound like a slightly odd question but it’s one that I ask my nutrition clients in their initial 90-minute nutrition consultation. Do you generally have a positive or negative outlook on life? The answer provides just one of a series of ‘compass readings’ which help guide me down the various vitamin, mineral and disease pathways on every client’s individual health road map.  Depending on the answer, I might ask other questions, such as ‘do you hoard or throw away?’, and ‘do you find yourself thinking about the past, or more about the present or the future?

These questions are helpful for the purpose of differential diagnosis: are you just feeling a bit down at the moment or are you suffering from depression? And, if it is depression, how severe is it, and might it be symptomatic also of another health condition?  Is it a symptom of mental health, or is it more of an emotional symptom, or is it a combination of both?

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Various emotional, physiological, mental, nutritional, environmental and lifestyle factors contribute to the rich fabric of your health, and YOU as an individual. That’s why it’s so important to consider symptoms within the context of the whole person, not in isolation. Nowadays, I see more and more people prescribed antidepressants for symptoms not even related to depression. And yet, antidepressants can disrupt gut health and studies show that the ‘Gut/Brain Axis’ is integral to preventing anxiety and depression. So the vicious circle starts, but this is where nutritional interventions can help.

A recent study found that persistently engaging in negative thinking patterns may raise the risk of Alzheimer’s disease.  The study published in Alzheimer’s & Dementia, found that people who exhibited higher repetitive negative thinking (RNT) patterns experienced more cognitive decline over a four-year period. They also experienced declines in memory (an early sign of Alzheimer’s disease), and they were more likely to have amyloid and tau deposits in their brain. 

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About the Alzheimer’s and Dementia Study 

For the Alzheimer’s Society-supported study, the research team from UCL, INSERM and McGill University studied 292 people over the age of 55 who were part of the PREVENT-AD cohort study, and a further 68 people from the IMAP+ cohort. Over the course of two years, the study participants responded to questions about how they typically think about negative experiences, focusing on repetitive negative thinking patterns like rumination about the past and worry about the future. The participants also completed measures of depression and anxiety symptoms. They assessed cognitive function, measuring memory, attention, spatial cognition, and language. Some (113) of the participants also underwent PET brain scans, measuring deposits of tau and amyloid; these two proteins cause the most common type of dementia, Alzheimer’s disease, when they build up in the brain.

Positive Findings

The study found depression and anxiety were associated with subsequent cognitive decline but not with amyloid or tau deposition. Thus suggesting that chronic negative thinking could be the main reason why depression and anxiety contribute to Alzheimer’s disease risk. 

The researchers say RNT should now be further investigated as a potential risk factor for dementia. And that psychological tools, such as mindfulness or meditation, should be studied to see if these could reduce dementia risk.

“Depression and anxiety in mid-life and old age are already known to be risk factors for dementia. Here, we found that certain thinking patterns implicated in depression and anxiety could be an underlying reason why people with those disorders are more likely to develop dementia.” Said Lead author Dr Natalie Marchant (UCL Psychiatry).

“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.”

The researchers suggest that RNT may contribute to Alzheimer’s risk via its impact on indicators of stress such as high blood pressure. Other studies have found that physiological stress can contribute to amyloid and tau deposition.

“Taken alongside other studies, which link depression and anxiety with dementia risk, we expect that chronic negative thinking patterns over a long period of time could increase the risk of dementia. We do not think the evidence suggests that short-term setbacks would increase one’s risk of dementia.” Says Dr Marchant.

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“Our thoughts can have a biological impact on our physical health, which might be positive or negative. Mental training practices such as meditation might help promoting positive while down-regulating negative-associated mental schemes.” Said co-author Dr Gael Chételat (INSERM and Université de Caen-Normandie)

“Looking after your mental health is important, and it should be a major public health priority, as it’s not only important for people’s health and well-being in the short term, but it could also impact your eventual risk of dementia.”  

The researchers hope to find out if reducing RNT, possibly through mindfulness training or targeted talk therapy, could in turn reduce the risk of dementia.

I wish the researchers every success in the next phase of their study. I’m so delighted that more research is going into adopting a more multi-therapeutic, holistic approach to treating and preventing Alzheimer’s and Dementia. Of course, we live in particularly testing timings with Covid, but the advice to stay positive is a good prescription for us all.

To book an online Cambridge Brain Sciences Health Assessment and an in-depth nutrition consultation with Charlotte Fraser, contact: enquiries@naturopathic-nutrition.com.

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