My Top Five Foods/Nutrients/Herbs to Lift Depression AND Prevent Cognitive Decline

Vitamin D rich foods!  Ideally, we want to get as much Vitamin D as we can from the sun.  However, if you work inside most of the day or live in an area where sunshine is limited, be sure to eat foods rich in Vitamin D like fatty fish, portabella mushrooms, and egg yolks!  Egg yolks are also an excellent source of choline, which is a precursor to acetylcholine. Acetylcholine travels between nerve cells, creating and calling up memories. You may need to supplement with Vitamin D.  Check your vitamin D levels at least once a year.

Eat foods rich in Omega 3 essential fatty acids.  Foods rich in the Omega 3s include your fatty fish like salmon and sardines, flaxseeds, and chia seeds.  If you are not a big fan of fish, do not eat it regularly, or may not be able to access wild caught fish, then take a good quality Omega 3 fish oil supplement.  Although you can get Omega 3s from flaxseeds and chia seeds and other plant sources, animal sources like fish provide beneficial EPA and DHA directly. The plant sources have to be converted to EPA and DHA, and many people lack the enzymes to make this conversion efficiently.  My favorite fish oil product contains a ratio of EPA and DHA pretty close to 1:1 – EPA to decrease inflammation, DHA to support brain cell membranes.

 

Have you heard of saffron?  What a wonderful spice!  It is widely used in Spanish and Middle Eastern cuisine. (It’s what gives paella its famous yellow-orangcolor.) Traditional Persian and Ayurvedic medicine have long used saffron as a natural mood booster, and preliminary research shows it may also help assist with memory!

 

Eat foods rich in zinc! Low zinc is associated with depression. Zinc is an important co-factor in converting 5-HTP to serotonin, your feel-good neurotransmitter that promotes ease and contentment. Zinc is also a crucial co-factor in converting L-Dopa to dopamine, your neurotransmitter that promotes drive and desire. Zinc deficiency may result in the destruction of nerve cells and the formation of plaque tangles found in Alzheimer’s Disease.

Depleted zinc levels are all too common in Americans. Zinc is also important for immune health, sexual health, and blood sugar regulation.  Zinc deficiency results in loss of taste and smell. Oysters, beef, lamb, and pumpkin seeds are excellent sources of zinc!!  I highly recommend having your zinc plasma levels tested. If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you may need to supplement with zinc.

 

Green tea is rich in EGCg, short for epigallocatechin-3-gallate, the primary active ingredient responsible for green tea’s health-promoting effects. EGCg may support brain and central nervous system health by limiting oxidative stress. Green tea is also rich in the amino acid theanine, clinically proven to reduce stress and improve quality of sleep.

To Take or Not Take Hormone Replacement Therapy Years After Menopause?

I admit it – I am concerned about my brain health.  I have greater risk due to my genetics, family history, and a really bad concussion when I was younger (and several hard knocks to my head when I used to snowboard).  But new research is helping us to understand why people get Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) in the first place; and Dr. Dale Bredesen along with practitioners that he has trained are demonstrating reversal of AD in some patients.  This is encouraging and exciting! Dr. Dean Ornish is also getting ready to conduct the first randomized controlled trial to determine if the progression of early to moderate Alzheimer’s disease can be reversed by a comprehensive lifestyle medicine program, without drugs, devices, or surgery.

Two BIG questions for many women who are at increased risk for AD: do I take Bioidentical Hormone Replacement Therapy (BHRT) to protect my brain?  And when do I start taking it? This is also a question I am pondering as I enter my later perimenopausal years.

There is no question that estrogen (specifically estradiol) is protective to the brain. See my previous blog on the protective mechanisms of estrogen.

There is some debate about when to start BHRT to protect the brain (and cardiovascular health and the bones).  The timing hypothesis evolved from a large clinical trial and proposes that if a woman is not on estrogen and is 65 years or older, she will NOT benefit from HRT, especially if she already has cardiovascular issues. Dr. Ann Hathaway, Bredesen trained practitioner and also women’s hormone expert, disagrees.  This timing conclusion is based on research that used oral estrogen in the form of premarin and progesterone in the form of medroxyprogesterone. See her YouTube video on this topic here.

Dr. Hathaway has found that topical bioidentical estradiol (patch or cream) and topical or oral real progesterone yield totally different results.  But at the time there is no large-scale study to counteract the current timing hypothesis. However, there ARE smaller studies and research out there that do demonstrate the benefits of taking BHRT several years after menopause to protect the brain. Check out the research of Dr. Natalie Rasgon. Dr. Rasgon looks at PET scans of menopausal women’s brains on HRT and the brains of women who discontinue HRT for a two year period. Fascinating!

And please don’t forget that hormone production and balance is dependent on so many factors, including diet, sleep, stress management, GI Health, and LIVER health.  And happiness!  When balancing your hormones, you really have to look at all these factors. In fact, you may want to address these factors BEFORE doing hormone testing to get an accurate picture of your hormones.

Of course, there are other hormones that are important to brain health including testosterone, progesterone, and thyroid hormone.  If you have never had your hormones tested and you are in your late 30’s or 40’s, I suggest testing them to get a baseline.  If you are in your 50’s or older and have not had your hormones tested in a couple of years and are concerned about AD, cardiovascular disease, or osteoporosis, I highly suggest working with a good integrative hormone doctor to evaluate your current state of hormones.

My Revitalize Your Brain program offers a starting point for you to look at all these factors, including basic hormone testing!  If you are ready to take charge of your brain health and need direction, please schedule your complimentary strategy session here! 

Is Mold Linked to Anxiety, Depression, and Night Sweats?

Mold exposure and inability to detoxify mold and mycotoxins from your body is detrimental to your health, especially the health of your brain.  In fact, chronic brain fog is a big sign that some kind of biotoxin like mold is crossing your blood brain barrier and causing inflammation and other havoc. Other BIG mold symptoms include anxiety, panic, and night sweats. Yes, your anxiety and depression may be linked to mold exposure.  And your night sweats may not be early menopause; they could be a result of exposure to mold!  When I was in my early thirties, I started to suddenly have night sweats.  I was so perplexed.  I thought “I am way too young to be going through menopause!”  Thankfully, one of my instructors at my nutrition school suggested it may be mold in my bedroom.  Sure enough, there was mold in the corner wall close to my pillow (this wall never got any sun) and as soon as it was remediated, my night sweats went away!

 

Is everyone sensitive to mold?  No.  But now that we have more advanced testing to detect mold in our environments and in our bodies, a lot more people are mold sensitive than previously thought!

 

If you have any of the symptoms listed above, and cannot visibly see mold in your environment, do a quick history timeline and see if a move or change in work environment corresponded to the onset of your symptoms.  Has there ever been water damage in the building where you reside or work?  The answer is often yes…people forget!  If you are not sure or have lived in a place for a long time and symptoms have gradually worsened, you can always do a home test to start that is not very expensive.  The ERMI test is popular and although not 100% accurate, it can at least give you an idea. Qualified mold inspectors are quite expensive, but worth the investment if you suspect mold and your health is deteriorating – affecting your mood, relationships, work, and overall joy in life. Ten questions to find a qualified mold inspector.

There are many tests that can indicate mold or other biotoxin illness.  For example, a couple of tests that you can request from your primary care physician include ADH (Antidiuretic Hormone) and osmolality.  ADH and osmolality are usually low when there is mold or other biotoxin exposure.  If osmolality is low, replenishing with electrolytes can be very helpful.

New testing now allows us to measure mycotoxins in our bodies.  Mycotoxins are molecules produced by mold and mycotoxin elevations can come from our foods or our environments.  Certain mycotoxins are carcinogenic, while others may affect our endocrine, immune or neurological systems.  In any case, there is a lot we can do to support lowering the body burden of mycotoxins.

Mold is tricky. Supporting immune health, the gut and the liver, and detox pathways are all critical to getting rid of mold and decreasing mycotoxin load.  Often, we see overgrowth of pathogenic gut bugs, parasites, and even heavy metals along with mold.  Mold really weakens us and makes us more susceptible to everything else.

Of course, there are solutions and you can heal from mold illness and get your brain back!  The first step is to get rid of the mold exposure, whether from food or your environment. Specific foods can help decrease the adverse effects of certain mycotoxins.  Certain nutritional supplements are very helpful in binding up mold toxins and also supporting overall detoxification and immune system health.

Antioxidants are often used to mitigate the oxidative effects of these  mold toxins like Vitamins A, E, C, and also N Acetyl Cysteine and liposomal glutathione. Bentonite Clay and Zeolite Clay are reported to reduce absorption of multiple mycotoxins found in food.

Movement and sweating are critical in detoxification of just about everything!  Support your drainage system by dry skin brushing or jumping on a mini rebounder!  If you are not a good sweater, this can be a sign of toxicity!  If you cannot induce a sweat through exercise, then use a sauna regularly (under the guidance of your physician!)

Mold is one of the many contributing factors to brain decline.  When you address mold, you are often also covering other biotoxins that may be contributing to brain decline.  It can seem a bit overwhelming to know where to start.  That is why I offer my three month Revitalize Your Brain program. We look at all the possible contributing factors and prioritize where to start!

Please set up your complimentary strategy session with me today to determine if this program is right for you!

Green matcha withdrawal: Observations and upside of being caffeine free for seven days!


Day 8 of my two week “no caffeine” challenge.  Funny how it is all relative.  I had become rather addicted to my one matcha beverage in the morning.  Even at ½ the normal serving size of matcha powder, I noticed that it was ramping me up too much.

 

I was feeling restless, agitated, and rather unfocused in the mornings. My matcha drink was getting me going, but certainly not helping my focus and mood.

I know I am a poor caffeine metabolizer; I always have been.  I cannot drink any caffeine in the afternoon and expect to sleep that night. We are all biochemically unique in how we process caffeine. If you metabolize caffeine quickly, you will most likely benefit from the antioxidants and other potent compounds in green tea, matcha, black tea, and coffee.  If you don’t, less likely to derive benefit.

What I have noticed over the last seven days:

  • Although it takes me a little longer to wake up in the morning, my morning work outs are actually better and my energy is more even throughout the day.
  • I am more focused in the morning once I get my blood circulating.
  • I am more patient.
  • I feel less anxious about getting what I need to get done for the day.
  • I get to bed earlier at night knowing that there will be no caffeine in the morning.
  • My sleep duration has increased by about 30 minutes. This feels good!
  • My jaw does not hurt in the morning.
  • I don’t have the same drive to get out of bed super early in the morning. Once I am up though, all is good!

I have found some great decaf substitutions including Teeccino beverages, Four Sigmatic Cordyceps Mushroom Elixir Mix (this one has no stevia added to it) and Coffig (roasted fig beverage).  These are all rich and robust and go well with the dark mornings!  In the warmer months, you can enjoy these iced as well!

“Pure” matcha is not available decaf.  Matcha is the result of shade grown green tea leaves covered for a certain period of time, increasing the caffeine and L-theanine content. However, there are “mock” matcha powders available.  These are not covered until harvested and this results in minimal caffeine.  I am curious to try one of the decaf green powders next week.

Yes, I miss the taste of my green matcha with fresh almond milk from the farmer’s market.  It got me up early in the morning, knowing that it was waiting for me.  I also miss that early morning pop and spring in my step.  But I don’t miss the feelings of restlessness, agitation, impatience, and tightness in my jaw.  I guess my “pure” matcha has stepped down to an occasional treat!

This blog is for all those people out there that are caffeine sensitive!!

But I don’t want to move! Cleaning up Mold and Mycotoxins in your Home…

MOLD and MYCOTOXINS have become very scary words!  What do you do if you live in a climate or place that favors mold growth?  I live in San Francisco, along with thick fog that keeps everything so damp in the summer months.  Mold is a big concern here.  I don’t want to move, so I have been learning as much as I can about testing for mold and cleaning it up! In some cases, mold and mycotoxins may be so bad that you need to pack up and leave your house and belongings behind.  Especially if certain species of mold are found in your home and you are susceptible. But often, you can clean up your home and keep it unfavorable to mold growth.  I hope this blog is helpful to you!

What can you do to prevent mold overgrowth and keep mycotoxins at bay in your home?

  • Make sure that you have a fan installed in your bathroom that you turn on while showering. Leave the fan on for at least 30 minutes after you shower.  Avoid the bathroom mats that are thick and take a long time to dry.
  • Mold likes washing machines. Be sure to check your washing machine and make sure that mold is not growing in the agitator, if you have a top loading machine.
  • If you live in a humid climate, a dehumidifier can greatly help. Use throughout your living space.
  • If you do have a water leak, make sure that everything is completely dried out after the leak occurs. You may have to have a professional come to your home to assess that the leak is contained and that you do not have mold growing in an area that you cannot see (like behind the dish washer).
  • Basements are a hotbed for mold. If you have a basement and it smells musty, consider a dehumidifier.  You may want to do the ERMI (Environmental Relative Moldiness Index) test to assess quantity and types of mold growing in the basement.  If your reading comes back high, you will want to contact a qualified environmental mold specialist.
  • Invest in a HEPA (High Efficiency Particulate Arrestance) vacuum cleaner. Especially if you have wall to wall carpeting!  A HEPA vacuum will clean up mold spores from soft materials such as wall-to-wall carpet, area rugs and upholstered furniture. Typical vacuums are good at picking up filth, including mold, but the majority of vacuum cleaners spit the really small particles, like mold spores, right back into the air. Where they settle in your home, all over again!
  • Clean hard surfaces with microfiber cleaning cloths. I learned from John Bantas, Environmental Mold Specialist, that these microfiber cleaning cloths pick up and hold tiny particles, such as mold spores and fungal fragments. Examples of microfiber cleaning cloths that John Bantas recommends include the Swiffer dry wipe and the Bona microfiber cleaning cloth. He also notes that if you are using the non-disposable microfiber cleaning cloths (like Bona), it is important they are washed thoroughly in a very hot water wash cycle in order to remove the mold contaminants. Best to air dry afterwards. Be aware that the non-disposable microfiber cloths will lose their effectiveness after about 50 washings.

FYI: Regular sweeping with a broom or mopping spreads the spores from one place to another, but doesn’t remove the spores from your home!!

To learn everything you need to know about cleaning up mold and mycotoxins in your home and to prevent mold overgrowth, please visit John Banta’s website: He is certainly a mold expert!

Environmental toxins are making us obese, diabetic, infertile, and contributing to dementia – what we can do about it NOW!

We can’t see them, but exposure to environmental toxins is making us obese, diabetic, infertile, and contributing to neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s Disease and Parkinson’s Disease.  They are also contributing to many types of cancer. As Dr. Elissa Epel said at the recent 12th annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium in San Francisco, CA, our mind is not equipped to handle the threat of invisible toxins and their ongoing long term consequences.  As humans, we tend to react with fear, despair, or hopelessness or denial and apathy.  But we need to find a middle ground: engagement and cautious optimism. 

 

Why? Because according to Tracy Woodruff, PhD, Director of the UCSF Environmental Health Initiative, in 2016 alone, 30,000 lbs. of chemicals per person were produced in the U.S.  And very sadly, there is virtually no safety data on the long-term effects of these manufactured chemicals.

What are these chemicals doing to us? Bruce Blumberg, PhD, UC Irvine Professor of Developmental and Cell Biology and leader in the field of “obesogens,” has identified 50 chemical obesogens.  What are obesogens?   They are chemicals that stimulate fat storage and alter control of appetite, feelings of fullness, and metabolism; leading to weight gain and obesity.

The most common sources of obesogens are parabens, PCBs, phthalates, pesticides, and certain prescription drugs (anti diabetic drugs like Actos and Avandia and atypical antipsychotics).  Please refer to my previous blog post for the most common everyday sources of these chemicals.

Michele La Merrill, PhD recently conducted a mice study to determine if DDT (banned in 1972 in the U.S.) and DDE (a metabolite of DDT still found in our bodies!) affected calorie burning.  In this mice study, which she presented at the 12th annual Sugar, Stress, Environment & Weight Symposium, only 20% of calories were burned by exercise.  The rest of the calories burned were to keep the mice alive and support normal metabolic functions.  The study found that DDT and DDE decreases calories burned in mice.  The take home message: You may be eating a pretty healthy diet and exercising regularly, but still gain weight or can’t lose weight because you are burdened with chemicals that are decreasing your daily calorie burning expenditure.

When it comes to infertility and the health of a baby in utero, chemicals are also a great concern. BPA has been found to be harmful to the female reproductive system at low doses. And prenatal obesogen exposure reprograms exposed babies to be fat.  These babies are born to battle weight their entire lives!

And let’s not leave men out of this picture.  Phthalates have been found to negatively affect testosterone production.

Being a SF Bay area resident, I have written about what we can do to protect ourselves from the air pollution caused by wild fires.  In the SF Bay area, the biggest causes of air pollution are traffic exhaust and wildfires.  Air pollution from wild fires is now a common occurrence for most people living in the Western part of the U.S.  Air pollution is also a big problem for people living close to conventional farms, refineries and coal mines.

And yes, air pollution greatly affects your lungs.  But because it induces oxidative stress and inflammation, air pollution is not just confined to the lungs!  Systemic inflammation can negatively impact any part or system of your body. A lot of research is being done in Fresno, CA on the effects of air pollution, since Fresno is one of the most polluted cities in the U.S.  thanks to massive spraying of pesticides, herbicides, etc.)

An ongoing study in Fresno found that a seven year old kid already had elevated blood pressure due to exposure to agricultural spraying.  And there is a higher incidence of Parkinson’s Disease among farmers who used toxic chemicals like DDT (before it was banned).

And if you read my blogs, you know that I have studied with Dr. Dale Bredesen and follow his work.  He has now acknowledged that dementogens are a bigger concern than previously thought.  These dementogens are simply organic chemicals, metallotoxins (heavy metals) and biotoxins (i.e. candida, mold, spirochetes) that cause dementia and other neurodegenerative disorders.

This “toxic type” neurodegeneration is primarily occurring in women in their late 40s to mid 50s. Why?  Because menopausal women experience the osteoclastic burst (their bones start to break down because their estrogen levels greatly decrease).  And many chemicals do get stored in bone (especially lead).

What can we do now?  How can we exercise engagement and cautious optimism?

First, decrease exposure!

Buy organic produce whenever possible. Switch out personal care products loaded with chemicals to safer alternatives.  Use cleaning supplies that do not harm the environment or yourself!

Secondly, get involved with cleaning up our environment in our communities and at local levels.  Support the organizations that are advocating to protect us from unsafe chemicals and providing education on how to reduce chemical exposure.

Some helpful resources and organizations that are advocates for our wellness:

The Environmental Working Group ewg.org has excellent consumer guides to help you choose safe personal care products, cosmetics, and cleaning supplies. EWG also has a new EWG verified program!

The Honest Company provides a variety of products for the family made with eco-friendly materials.

Sierra Club: the nation’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization

APPS:

thinkdirty.com Empowering ingredient-conscious consumers to choose the safest beauty + personal products!

Ambiciti:  first mobile app for street level air pollution and noise pollution!  Choose a less polluted or quieter route.

 

The Four Stages of Brain Decline: Do You Need to Take Action Now?

Have you noticed that your brain is not working like it used to?  Brain fog has increased very gradually from some days to most days? Or your brain fatigues very easily and you have to take frequent breaks from your computer or work projects?  And on top of that you have trouble focusing?  Even in your social conversations?

You are finding it harder to get out the front door on time in the morning and your organizational skills seem to have gone by the wayside.  You used to be so on top of it all…and now you feel like you are falling apart.  You are concerned; yet your family and friends tell you that you are just overwhelmed, have a lot going on, and not to worry about it.

 

BUT YOU KNOW THAT SOMETHING IS NOT RIGHT.  AND YOU WANT YOUR OLD BRAIN BACK.  Because you want to live your life fully, not struggling every day to keep on top of your work and personal life.

Please do not ignore these early signs of brain decline!  Neurodegeneration, no matter what the underlying cause, usually starts decades before you notice any symptoms.  If you are noticing mild symptoms, then the time to act is now!  Start taking care of your brain health and work with a qualified practitioner to get down to the root cause of your brain symptoms.

I have often been asked about the difference between Mild Cognitive Impairment and actual Alzheimer’s Disease.  How do you know where you stand?  And when can you make the most impact?

Actually, there are four stages:

  1. Pre-symptomatic: You have no symptoms of brain decline yet, but you have high risk of Alzheimer’s Disease due to a previous head injury, family history, genetics, or more than one anesthesia after the age of 40.  THIS IS THE PHASE TO GET PROACTIVE ABOUT YOUR BRAIN HEALTH.
  1. Subjective Cognitive Impairment (SCI): SCI means that you notice that your brain is not functioning as well and have complaints, yet no abnormalities show up when cognitive testing is done. This phase can last up to 10 years. THIS IS THE PHASE TO GET REALLY SERIOUS ABOUT TAKING CARE OF YOUR BRAIN.   Changes in diet and lifestyle and working with a practitioner to address underlying causes of your brain decline symptoms are crucial to prevent further decline and reverse your symptoms.
  1. Mild Cognitive Impairment (MCI): SCI turns to MCI when tests become abnormal.  However, please note that MCI may have existed before; the tests performed might not have been sensitive enough to pick it up. MCI may last several years.  According to Dr. Dale Bredesen, 5 to 10% of MCI folks convert to AD.  AT THIS STAGE, YOU CAN STILL REVERSE YOUR SYMPTOMS AS LONG AS YOU ARE GETTING TO THE UNDERLYING CAUSE OF YOUR BRAIN DECLINE AND MAKING THE NECESSARY LIFESTYLE CHANGES TO HEAL YOUR BRAIN.
  1. MCI converts to Alzheimer’s Disease (AD) when activities of daily living are affected. For example, you can no longer drive without getting lost, can no longer do bills, work, or plan ahead.  YOU CAN STILL REVERSE AD AT THIS STAGE, IT JUST WILL NOT BE AS EASY.  But it can be done and Dr. Dale Bredesen’s work has demonstrated reversal in pilot studies.

If you are at any stage above, now is the time to take action. Please check out my Revitalize Your Brain Program and schedule your complementary 30 minute strategy session with me to determine next steps.

Resource: The End of Alzheimer’s by Dr. Dale Bredesen, MD

 

 

Detoxify Your Brain While Sleeping!

You are probably familiar with your lymphatic system, simply because you can feel many of your lymph nodes, especially when they are swollen!   In addition to protecting your body against infection by producing white blood cells, your lymphatic system also serves as your drainage network. Lymph contains lymphocytes and also waste products and cellular debris together with bacteria and proteins. You can see how important the lymphatic system is to detoxification!  Homeopathic drainage remedies have been around for a long time and we also know that exercise/movement aids in supporting the movement of the lymph. Jumping on a mini rebounder is one of the best ways to support your lymphatic system!

A few years ago, scientific research finally confirmed that the brain also has a drainage system.  This drainage system is now officially named the glymphatic system.  The glymphatic system is most active while we are sleeping deeply.  It drains toxins and debris while we are fast asleep. Among the debris it removes is beta amyloid protein. The less sleep we get, the less beta amyloid clearance.  In fact, a recent study showed that just one night of sleep deprivation resulted in a significant increase in amyloid beta in the brain.

Tempted to cut your sleep short working late, watching Netflix, or engaging in a late night social media binge?  Think twice about cutting back on sleep if you want to take good care of your brain. As mentioned above, the less sleep you get, the less beta amyloid clearance.  And you don’t want a build- up of beta amyloid in the brain.  Unfortunately, a build-up of beta amyloid in the brain in susceptible people first targets the part of the brain that regulates sleep, resulting in a vicious cycle!

So if good sleep hygiene is not a part of your lifestyle, make sleep a priority today to save your brain.  I have written a lot on the importance of sleep: our entire body regenerates while we sleep and important hormones like growth hormone are secreted while we sleep.  And now we know that our brain detoxifies while we sleep too!   Wow!!

Breaking Up Is Hard To Do. Are You Addicted to Your Smartphone?

Is this addiction leading to lack of focus and depression?

A few months ago while driving to a meeting I heard Catherine Price, author of “How to Break up with your Phone” interviewed on NPR radio. I was intrigued with the interview and immediately put her book on my wish list.  Then a couple of weeks ago I saw her book mentioned again on a newsfeed I follow. Okay, I thought, time to buy the book!  I have been interested in how our smart phones and other wireless mobile devices are affecting our brains and happiness levels for some time now. In a blog post from a few years ago, I wrote about this topic after I attended a forum with journalist Nicholas Carr, author of “The Shallows: what the internet is doing to our brains”. 

Life has drastically changed with the introduction of smartphones.  I love that I can easily check the weather in the morning, track my steps for the day, get directions to wherever I need to go, and research a good lunch place with my iPhone.  But there are also a lot of downsides, like people just don’t interact with each other much anymore. Does anyone remember when the airport used to be a great place to people watch?  Now it is so uneventful, everyone is looking down at their phones.  We used to talk to the people around us on the airplane – at least sometimes!  And no one looks out the window anymore when flying.  All windows are shut to reduce glare on tablets.  But there is so much to see when looking out the window of an airplane!  And so much to contemplate…like I can’t believe I am flying at this altitude…how crazy is this!  What a perfect time to let ideas go wild and get the creative juices flowing.

According to Catherine Price’s new book, Americans check their phones about 47 times per day and the average is 82 for people between 18 and 24 years. She also cites that we are spending more than 4 hours a day on our phones and 80 percent of us check our phones within a half hour of waking up. How do you relate to these statistics?  I thought I didn’t fit into these statistics…after all, I was aware of all this stuff…I didn’t have a problem. Well, after starting Catherine Price’s 30 day break up plan, I realized that I do have an addiction to my smartphone.  I often reach for it mindlessly, without purpose, and check my email far too often.  It has had a huge impact on my brain.  My ability to focus has declined; I am easily distracted.  It has become harder to complete projects on time. I have developed OCD over the number of steps I take each day. My addiction to my wireless mobile devices has started to erode my creativity and rob me of my clarity.

I remember when neurologist and researcher Dr. Dale Bredesen said during one of his trainings that adult ADD or ADHD can be a first sign of Mild Cognitive Impairment and Alzheimer’s Disease. Wow, I was surprised. But it makes sense. If we are not using the areas of our brain responsible for concentration, then those neural circuits will weaken over time and we end up constantly distracted and forgetting things. And when we use our smartphones, we typically are not in deep thought, concentrating really hard, or memorizing anything. We are skimming! Repetition and practice are what strengthen neural circuits. So what happens when we are skimming through information for minutes at a time on our phones all day long?  We are weakening our neural circuits for memory and concentration and strengthening our circuits that encourage distraction and forgetfulness.

In Dan Buettner’s The Blue Zones of Happiness You Tube video, he says that a commonality among the happiest cultures in the world is that they socially interact face to face 6 hours per day. How much time are we spending on social media and NOT interacting in person with family, friends, colleagues, or even strangers?  No wonder all these studies and reports are coming out that Americans are more isolated and depressed than ever…especially teenagers who are growing up with smartphones wired to them at all times, even when they sleep.

If you find that you don’t do the things that really nourish you and bring you joy as often as you used to, this is the time to assess your relationship with your smartphone or other wireless devices. I discovered that I don’t read as many novels as I used to or explore new music and recipes as much, and I certainly don’t talk on the phone with friends like I used to!

If you own a wireless mobile device, which is highly likely, unless you are reading this blog at a public library on a shared desktop, then I highly recommend reading Catherine Price’s book How to Break up with Your Phone. It is one of the best books that you will read this year. The intent of the book is not to throw your phone out, it is to help you have a healthy relationship with it, so it becomes a tool to help you create the life you desire, NOT the life that smart engineers, marketers, and social media giants want for you!

 

Do you have a low or high set point for happiness?

Yes, it is true that some people are born with higher set points for happiness than others. Not fair!  Ever been around someone who wakes up in the morning singing or whistling and making jokes?  Well, I was certainly not born with that high of a set point, but we can all raise our set point over time!

And there is a lot we can do to raise our set points for happiness from being present and mindful to inviting playfulness and laughter into our daily lives.  And even something new and interesting each day!

There are so many ways to increase our happiness set point, but for now let’s focus on certain foods and nutrients!

What are our molecules of happiness?

Serotonin receptors exist in our gut and throughout the brain. Serotonin is responsible for positive mood, feelings of peacefulness, optimism, and self-confidence.  Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression and anxiety.

Dopamine is our neurotransmitter that is vital for motivation, pleasure and reward.  Low levels are linked to depression, lack of motivation, and decreased pleasure.

Oxytocin is our love hormone that is associated with social emotions such as trust, generosity, and empathy. It also is responsible for deep social bonds such as between mother and child or the bond experienced in romantic relationships.  Interesting to note that dopamine stimulates the hypothalamus to produce oxytocin.

What can we do to support the production of serotonin and dopamine (and ultimately oxytocin?)

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is converted to 5-HTP and then to serotonin.  High tryptophan foods include seeds, nuts, wild game, beef, turkey, tempeh, tofu, kelp, pineapple, and bananas. So you would think that people would reach for these foods when they need a boost or happy pill. Unfortunately, high-tryptophan foods won’t boost serotonin on their own.  The tryptophan you find in food has to compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels.  However, eating these foods with starchy carbohydrates might help, as carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which then promotes amino acid absorption.  But even this does not ensure an increase in serotonin levels right away, as tryptophan is a larger protein molecule and is at a disadvantage with the smaller amino acids when competing for entry. So what do people reach for?

Sugar and processed carbohydrates! Foods rich in sugar and processed carbs will raise serotonin levels quickly, but only temporarily. And then you just keep wanting more sugar and processed carbs for another boost, leading to weight gain and blood sugar issues and gut problems!  And more mood issues!  Over time, the cookies and pasta and bagels used to increase serotonin levels actually inhibit production of serotonin!

How does tryptophan get converted to serotonin?   Key vitamins and minerals needed to convert tryptophan down the metabolic pathway to serotonin include magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and iron!  So many Americans are deficient in magnesium zinc, and B6 due to lack of these nutrients in their diets AND medications/OTC drugs that deplete these critical nutrients.

Tyrosine is an amino acid that is also found in many foods and is converted to L-Dopa and then dopamine.  This metabolic pathway depends on magnesium, vitamin B6, vitamin C, and iron.  See a pattern here?

Are you getting these important nutrient co-factors through diet and supplements? Foods rich in magnesium include nuts (esp. almonds, cashews, Brazil nuts, and filberts), seeds, whole grains like buckwheat and millet, tofu, leafy greens like collard leaves and dandelion greens, and dried fruits like dried figs and apricots.

Foods rich in vitamin B6 include seeds (especially sunflower seeds), lentils and other legumes, bananas, avocados, greens such as spinach and kale, Brussel sprouts, and cauliflower.

Foods rich in zinc include oysters (the highest source of zinc!), other shellfish, red meats, and plants foods such as nuts, seeds, and legumes.

Eat a variety of unprocessed plant foods in the lists above to support the conversion of tryptophan and tyrosine to your happy molecules like serotonin and dopamine.  Remember that dopamine also stimulates the production of oxytocin!  And you can increase your oxytocin levels just by giving or receiving a BIG hug!

All these plant foods are loaded with plant chemicals that decrease oxidative stress and inflammation…which ultimately leads to all biochemical pathways working more efficiently!

TAKEAWAY:  Ensure that you are getting enough amino acids through protein rich foods and a variety of fresh veggies, fruits, nuts/seeds, and legumes (if tolerated) to support the conversion of amino acids to your happy molecules!

If you are unsure if you are low in magnesium, zinc, vitamin B6 or iron, you can have your nutrient status assessed via blood or urine.   Red blood cell magnesium is a good test to assess magnesium levels.  An Organic Acids test is a good way to assess B vitamin levels. You may need to supplement short term to bring your vitamin and mineral levels back to balance.  Your happiness depends on it!