‘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.

Back to School Nutrition Tips For Health Prevention

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After six months of homeschool and two days back at school, my 9 year old put in an impressive 90 minutes of homework last night… developing a cough.

“I have a cough Mummy. EHH… KKHHH.. KKUHGH… I will need to quarantine for two weeks at home,” he announced. This was all accompanied by a lot of grunting, like he was trying to swallow a rubber.

I resorted to the first line in my ‘Differential Diagnosis’ manual and recommended he take a spoonful of honey and go to bed early. This provoked an immediate recovery much to everyone’s relief. Of course, the symptoms just happened to coincide with the launch of a new season on his Xbox. Enough said!

The whole ‘back to school’ is extra challenging for teachers and parents this year. September is the start of cold and flu season and now we have Covid-19 to contend with. With everyone on high alert for Covid-19 symptoms, how do you differentiate between these and an ordinary cough and cold? The answer is you can’t easily, especially with diarrhoea and vomiting now also reported as a Covid symptom in children. These symptoms are all part and parcel of school life at this time of year.

While we sadly can’t magic Covid-19 away, we can build our natural defences to benefit our overall physical, emotional and mental wellbeing.

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Prevention is Better than Cure

We all need to do as much as we can to build our immune defences to protect our community and bubbles. There is only so much that the Government, the NHS and our schools can do. Ultimately, everyone has to take more responsibility for their own health and I wish this message of self-care was integrated more into Government strategy. There needs to be a more preventative national health policy, one that extends beyond hand washing, mask wearing and social distancing. There are some early steps to address the UK’s high obesity levels evidenced in higher Covid complications and death rates. Again, however, making more gastric band surgery available on the NHS isn’t the solution, let’s do more to prevent obesity.

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Back to School Basics: Ways to Strengthen your Immune System

As well as protecting yourself from viruses on the outside, you can build up your body’s defences from the inside by strengthening your immune system. What you eat is pivotal to this as 70% of your immune system is in your gut. Here are some tips:

  • Make sure your diet is as varied as possible. Variety and balance are integral to optimal health and building up your immune system. So don’t go crazy for one fruit or vegetable that is particularly high in a certain nutrient. Aim to have 5-7 different plants a day at a ratio of 1 fruit for every 4 vegetables ideally. Ensure you have more vegetables than fruits, go for a rainbow of colours on the plate. The more varied your diet, the more you feed the good bacteria in your gut microbiome – your natural defence system. You are also more likely to get the full spectrum of nutrients and micronutrients that you need.

  • Eat foods which contain microbiome-enriching good bacteria such as kefir, natural bio yoghurt, certain cheeses and fermented foods. For a more in-depth analysis as to the important role of probiotics in strengthening our immune system click here. There is also a list of good bacteria-friendly foods.
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  • Keep an eye on your Zinc levels. This mineral helps develop white blood cells, the immune cells that fight off foreign bacteria and viruses. Zinc also helps protect the mucous membranes that coat the nose, throat, lungs and digestive tract – the entry points for Covid-19. I especially look out for zinc deficiency around puberty as Zinc is involved in numerous aspects of cellular metabolism that influence growth and maturation. Puberty pulls on your Zinc reserves more. Look out for possible signs of deficiency: white spots on the nails, spotty skin, acne, constipation, IBS, obsessive or stuck behaviour, and a more ‘glass half empty’ outlook.

    As well as being important for respiratory and gut health, Zinc is also an important mineral for your brain; Zinc deficiency is often implicated in my cognitive health and depression cases. If you supplement with Zinc it is best to choose a supplement such as Cytoplan’s Zinc & Copper; Zinc and Copper compete for the same absorption sites and too much of one can deplete the other. Similarly, ensure you get sufficient iron from natural food sources such as lean meat, spinach, lentils, apricots and eggs. Natural food sources high in zinc are oysters and shellfish, lean meat, pumpkin and other seeds.
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  • Watch your Vitamin D levels as this vitamin plays an important role in immune function. It is a common deficiency in the UK. Scientists are considering vitamin D supplementation as a preventive or therapeutic agent for severe COVID-19. They are researching Vitamin D deficiency as a possible risk factor. The body creates vitamin D from direct sunlight on the skin when outdoors. I recommend supplementation if you have dark skin which absorbs sunlight less easily or if you don’t get enough sunlight from October to March. Good natural food sources otherwise include: oily fish (salmon, trout, sardines, mackerel, herring, tuna and anchovies) and egg yolks.

  • Oily fish is important for brain and heart health. It is rich in omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce inflammation.
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  • Vitamin C is water-soluble: you don’t store it in your body and so you need to factor this into your daily diet. It is a common supplement but I encourage clients to get their Vitamin C in natural food sources. Bioflavonoids naturally accompany vitamin C in fruit and vegetables.  Vitamin C contributes to normal immune system function, and, as an antioxidant, the protection of cells from oxidative stress. It’s also important for bone and tooth formation, collagen production, Iodine conservation, wound healing , red blood cell formation, and infection resistance. Natural food sources include citrus fruits, kiwi fruit, Honeydew melon, potatoes, green peppers, broccoli, papayas, strawberries, rosehips, blackcurrants and tomatoes.

Do I Need to Supplement?

Nutrient shortfalls are caused by a number of different factors. Most people aren’t getting the essential nutrients they need for health and protection on a daily basis.

The following contribute to the nutritional ‘bank balance’ of our bodies and need to be factored into the equation:

  • Individual food choices
  • Food growing, processing and preparation methods
  • The actual nutrient content of the food you eat
  • The ability of you body to assimilate these nutrients
  • Lifestyle factors, such as stress and medications etc.
  • Activity levels and energy-expenditure
  • Certain life-stages, e,g. puberty where there is increased hormonal activity and growth

It isn’t always easy to determine what your child is eating in school dinners. And, a lot of school pack lunches lack the important variety factor so essential for good health. That’s when supplementation may be helpful.

Nutri-Bears is a good all-round wholefood supplement for primary school children who are fussy-eaters. For teenagers and young adults, Little People is a good option if you are looking for an additional layer of baseline support during the colder months.

All products referenced are available at www.cytoplan.co.uk. They supply science-based Food State and Wholefood nutritional supplements.

Please note that supplements aren’t a substitute for a healthy, varied diet. Keep introducing new plants and wholefoods to the mix and have fun experimenting with different textures and flavours. This really is the best recipe for optimum health.

If you have an underlying health condition or are on medication, I will be happy to provide more tailored advice for you. You should also consult your GP.

Contact Charlotte Fraser today to book a Nutrition Consultation.

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.