Creating a Healthy Mental Environment
The following article is a guest Post by Dr. Deedra Mason, Director of nutraMetrix & Clinical Education. She just happens to be one of the many amazing health professionals that I learn so much from and wanted to share this article with all of you! I think that all of this information is so crucial right now. I hope that you enjoy it as much as I did…
More and more we are hearing about the benefits of mindfulness, self-care and unplugging. You may ask yourself why the emphasis on self when there is both virtue and reward in assisting others. We are not rewarded for selfish acts, but instead selfless ones. I would like to make the argument that turning inward is critically important for your ability to help others. Those that have found a way to be grateful as well as open to change are mentors for those that have not. Living an examined life reveals our place within our community and helps us develop a sense of purpose and connectedness to those around us. These skills can be shared with others. These steps to create a healthy mental environment, in turn, created a better space for those around us. For example, there are studies that suggest that mindfulness practice may improve immune function or may reduce stress.
A Brief Look at Inflammation and Stress
One major benefit identified in the literature regarding mindfulness is its benefit to our immune function and how our bodies react to inflammation. Inflammation is necessary for health, a robust and appropriate immune response. Yet most people live in a state of sub-health with low-grade inflammation due to poor eating habits, poor sleep, or chronic stress. This environment of inflammation means the body and the brain suffer many small, persistent inflammatory insults. It was only recently that medical research revealed these circulating inflammatory signals could cross the blood-brain barrier. If you are unaware of its function, the blood-brain barrier is an essential and selective membrane that decides what gets access to the central nervous system. Today we understand that chronic stress over time can limit the selective nature of this essential barrier and lead to poor cognitive health and metal emotional distress. There are areas of the brain that appear to physically change in response to inflammation.
What Can Be Done
I used to believe stress was a modifiable risk factor for disease, today I understand there is no human being out there who can honestly say they have never experienced anxiety (stress) for some reason or another. The degree of that anxiety, and therefore the response, both mental and physical, depends on the perceived challenge they’re facing. While there is research to support mindfulness for a healthy outlook, there is a similar quantity of work that shows those without a mindful practice or access to stress management techniques find themselves conversely less well and as such, a lack of a stress routine has sweeping implications for the health and longevity for yourself and those around you.
It is obvious, due to the market for stress-reducing remedies, that reducing daily anxiety it is a legitimate concern for most Americans. There are a multitude of triggers for stress and anxiety-inducing feelings, therefore your solution needs to be just as diverse. Get better sleep, practice meditation, try yoga, have a good social network, try herbal or botanical remedies and there are also medications designed to help the body deal with occasional stress/anxiety.
But let’s consider those individuals who have obvious physical reactions to anxiety/stress. Those individuals that get to a point where deep breathing and other conventional therapies may not help ease the sudden onset of overwhelming physical and emotional requirements.
How Does Diet and Select Nutrients Play a Role?
There is a growing interest in exploring the importance of essential vitamins and minerals, more specifically their deficiency in the body and how that pertains to certain individuals that react to stressful situations with extreme effects.
The neurotransmitter Serotonin is considered a natural mood stabilizer and also helps with sleeping, eating, and digesting. Even the mildest of stressors can influence the production and adequacy of serotonin. The precursor to Serotonin creation is the essential amino acid Tryptophan. Tryptophan can be found in beef, poultry, and fish, as well as nuts/seeds and legumes. The process of “creating” serotonin from tryptophan cannot happen without essential vitamins and nutrients. Two of the major players in this process are Vitamin B6 and iron.
A study published in 2018 in the journal Nutrients may have successfully provided the foundation between micronutrients and their role in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA)-axis. The findings of the study supported the need for B-6, magnesium, zinc, and selenium as critical factors in both health of the brain and its ability to regulate glutamate. that may lead to increased oxidative stress and inflammation in the brain contributing to low affect or mood concerns. Studies such as this, and many others, could help anticipate or even prevent the extreme physical and emotional reactions certain individuals exhibit when faced with a stressful or anxiety-inducing event when micronutrient load is depleted.
Natural approaches to general wellbeing often utilize a diverse combination of vitamins, botanicals, amino acids as well as meditation, yoga, and mindfulness to promote healthy lifestyles. Vitamins and minerals are natural building blocks for neurotransmitters which can promote a healthy stress reaction just as mindfulness and deep breathing can help individuals deal with stressful situations. An individual’s relative access to these natural building blocks may be limited when you consider the increased physical and mental demands of our jobs, our social life, and our family life. Often these three parts of our life are at odds with each other, and yet each is so necessary to complete us as human beings. Finding a way to unplug and take care of ourselves may put us one step closer to perfect balance.
Dr. Mason is a Naturopathic Physician, emphasizing complementary approaches to chronic disease. A graduate of the National University of Natural Medicine, Dr. Mason uses a diverse combination of naturopathic medicine, western botanical medicine, physiotherapy, and conventional medical therapies to recover each individual’s full potential for wellness. She’s become well known in professional circles for her passionate lectures, commitment to quality patient care, and the advancement of professional education, both within and outside of her field.
- Licensed Naturopathic Physician- 20 years experience
- nEI-nutraMetrix Educational Institute-Clinical Director
- Director of nutraMetrix and Clinical Education
- Lifestyle Medicine Consulting practice since 2014
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- How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Simon N. Young. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.
- Wang J, Um P, Dickerman BA, Liu J. Zinc, Magnesium, Selenium and Depression: A Review of the Evidence, Potential Mechanisms and Implications. Nutrients. 2018;10(5):584.