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Nutrition and Mental Health: The Physiology of Well-Being

You are what you eat! This holds true in the most literal and specific senses. What you nourish yourself with not only affects whether you get heart disease or not, but also whether you feel good each day. Imagine that- you actually have significant influence into your mental health day to day, despite your genetic load, or your family history.

This important truth is finding its way into the emerging fields called Integrative Medicine and Integrative Psychiatry, and perhaps hold the key to the missing link in attaining desired mental health and well being. In my practice, I've adapted this information to practice Integrative Psychology where I treat people using psychological techniques mixed with lifestyle changes that includes analyzing how we nourish ourselves for optimal mental health.

Over the years, I've noticed that some people in psychotherapy who do an impressive amount of work, still feel that there is a block somewhere, a barrier to feeling REALLY GOOD. Well, here was the problem: you can't just work from the shoulders up. Your brain is attached to the rest of your body! There are such intricate connections between your mind and body, that doing work on your psychology, without tending to your physiology is just not doing you justice.

Here's the truth: health isn't always about working hard. In fact, when you give the body what it needs, your body knows how to be healthy. It may often feel like you're working against a tide of "inherent" defects like genetic tendencies, or lifelong struggles with certain symptoms. But, actually- when you take the barriers to well-being away, your body and mind will do the rest for you.

Here's a few of those barriers to keep in mind that will get you on your way to optimal mental health:

1. Trust Your Gut: This could (and will) be an article of its own because there's so much information here. But the take-home is that you synthesize your happy mood brain chemicals (called neurotransmitters) with nutritional components like B Vitamins and protein in your digestive tract. So, that anti-depressant that you're hoping will lift your mood can't do its job properly if your digestion is not healthy.

To Do: Start removing those hard to digest foods (think processed, fried, and packaged) and add in nutrient dense foods such as veggies and clean proteins.

2. Take care of your brain: Your brain is your mood regulatory machinery. So, it needs to be treated well. Healthy fats like Omega-3s help your nerve cells work properly. After all, our brains are made mostly of fat!

To Do: Focus on eating healthy, satiating fats like avocado, flax oil, and fish oil.

3. Cool Inflammation: Inflammatory foods such as sugar, processed foods full of chemicals such as preservatives, and pesticides all cause the body to be in a state of immune high alert- not ideal for allowing your brain chemistry and digestion to function smoothly.

To Do: Keep it clean! Get rid of some of that sugary processed food, and go for clean whole foods like home cooked meals packed with veggies, and dark chocolate and fruit for snacks.

Check future blogs to dig into the nutritional needs for specific issues such as anxiety and depression coming soon.

Be well,

Dr. Claudia

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