December 21, 2022

Naturopathic Medicine & Mental Health: Introduction and Lifestyle Determinants of Health

Part 1: Introduction and Lifestyle Determinants of Health

From high-profile corporate initiatives to central themes in award-winning television (Ted Lasso, for example), awareness toward mental health challenges is continuing to grow. 

Mental health disorders are conditions where changes in thinking, mood, and behaviour are associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.  This may include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia, amongst many others.

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental health problem or illness, meaning there are people facing these struggles all around us.

In his new book – The Myth of Normal – Gabor Maté describes the features of our hurting, modern world in which maintaining good mental health has become an increasingly difficult challenge. In this context, one can easily imagine our collective mental health continuing to decline from here.

Mental health and well-being are an integral part of one’s overall health.  Naturopathic Doctors recognize the equal importance of mental health to physical health, and Naturopathic medical treatments strive to help people achieve balance on both levels.

This series on mental health will begin with a fundamental discussion of routine lifestyle habits we can engage in to support the maintenance and recovery of our mental health. The following posts will go into more depth about the medical underpinnings of mental health challenges and how to look at these with an aim to understand and resolve the underlying causes.

Diet 

It has become clear that good mental health depends on a well-nourished brain, and a well-nourished brain depends on a diet with a diverse array of nutrients and foods. Without these, the brain is less able to maintain healthy function and a state of good mental health.

Poor quality and processed foods, with negligible nutrients, deprive our bodies and our brains of the essential vitamins, minerals, and phytonutrients needed to function well. Research has further shown that a diet high in sugar is also associated with poorer mental health. An individualized nutrition plan developed with your Naturopathic Doctor can make an enormous impact toward supporting your mental health.

Exercise

Exercise has been shown to be one of the most consistently beneficial treatments for mental health, particularly depression. Adding exercise to one’s routine has been shown to produce even greater benefits to mental health than conventional treatments alone (ie. antidepressants). Whether you take an exercise class or go for a hike in the mountains, the key to sticking to regular exercise is to do something you enjoy.

Sleep

We all feel better after a good night’s sleep, but it is surprising how little attention we pay to ensure we consistently get good quality sleep. Poor sleep negatively affects our energy, moods, hormones, and neurotransmitters and is a direct factor in the development of many chronic diseases, such as Alzheimer’s, obesity and heart disease.

If you find yourself struggling with your sleep, a Naturopathic Doctor can help uncover the underlying causes and work with you to improve your quality of sleep and your mental health.

References:

  • Aucoin M, Bhardwaj S. Generalized Anxiety Disorder and Hypoglycemia Symptoms Improved with Diet Modification. Case Rep Psychiatry. 2016;2016:7165425.
  • Garber A, Csizmadi I, Friedenreich CM, et al. Association between glycemic load and cognitive function in community-dwelling older adults: Results from the Brain in Motion study. Clin Nutr. 2017 Jul 17. pii: S0261-5614(17)30250-9. [Epub ahead of print]
  • Morgan JA, Olagunju AT, Corrigan F, et al. Does ceasing exercise induce depressive symptoms? A systematic review of experimental trials including immunological and neurogenic markers. J Affect Disord. 2018 Feb 24;234:180-192. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2018.02.058.
  • Kvam S, Kleppe CL, Nordhus IH, & Hovland A. (2016). Exercise as a treatment for depression: A meta-analysis. Journal of affective disorders,202, 67-86.
  • Adam P, SpiraYA, Mark NW, et al. Excessive daytime sleepiness and napping in cognitively normal adults: associations with subsequent amyloid deposition measured by PiB PET. Sleep, Volume 41, Issue 10, 1 October 2018, zsy152. doi: 10.1093/sleep.zsy152
  • Gangwisch J et al: Inadequate sleep as a risk factor for obesity: analyses of the NHANES 1, Sleep28(10):1289-1296, 2005.
  • Meier-Ewert HK et al: Effect of sleep loss on C-reactive protein, an inflammatory marker of cardiovascular risk, J Am Coll Cardiol43(4):678-83, 2004.

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