Hello Dear One, are you suffering with brain fog, chronic fatigue, panic attacks, overwhelming stress, anxiety or depression? You are not alone. Check out these statistics reported by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI):
- Depression is the leading cause of disability worldwide.
- 43.8 Million adults in America experience a mental illness in a given year.
- 18.1% of Americans live with an anxiety disorder.
If you have not already done so, I invite you to read my previous post entitled “10 reversible causes of anxiety and depression.” You may be struggling to find the right treatments for your mood, but I urge you not to give up!
In the hope that it will encourage you, let me share a little about my own story. During my years of formal education, training and working in the conventional (a.k.a. dysfunctional) medical system as a family doctor, along with being a mom of three, wife and business owner, I experienced a high level of stress, sleep deprivation and lack of adequate time for self-care. So when I developed my own stress-related health crisis, it came as no surprise. I’ve had the humbling experience of being both a doctor and a patient. Over the past decade I’ve had the opportunity to put my functional medicine training into practice by writing my own personal “Joy Prescription.”
I’m happy to report that I am healthier now in my 40s, than I was a decade ago. My self-prescribed remedy has included: working with an amazing life coach, taking big steps to improve my work-life balance, making positive changes in my diet and taking nutritional supplements to restore optimal function to my body, brain and nervous system. I’m finally creating space in my life to practice what I preach:) Nutritional and lifestyle adjustments have been critical to my healing, but these shifts could not have occurred without the profound spiritual growth that came as a result of my perfect storm and its aftermath. Nothing draws us closer to God than suffering. My spiritual practices of prayer, worship and reading Scripture helped me to shift my mindset, heal my mind/body and start down the path of cultivating joy and a healthy lifestyle.
I want you to know that it is possible to heal your brain and body, and experience relief from symptoms of anxiety and depression. Today, I’d like to share with you three essential principles for creating a healthy brain and a joyful life. These are some of my key personal strategies for using food as medicine, detoxifying and staying connected to God. Positive side benefits include: stress resilience, improved memory, abundant energy, restorative sleep, greater focus and concentration, better digestive health and decreased risk of chronic disease. Enjoy!
Principle #1: Food is Medicine
What you put on the end of your fork is one of the most important factors in creating a healthy brain and body. I consider eating nutritious food to be an essential practice in restoring and maintaining brain health, and I encourage you to educate yourself about how to optimize your own nutritional status. I know this can be a confusing topic because so many experts give conflicting advice, but let me break it down for you. Here are my simple food rules:
- Eat real food! If your grandmother never heard of it, don’t eat it.
- Strive to make the healthiest choice in each situation. It’s not about perfectionism.
- Do your best and forgive yourself quickly when you get off track.
- Avoid all or nothing thinking (e.g. I ate one cookie, so I might as well eat the whole bag!)
- Slow down and relax before sitting down to eat. Take time to pray and be grateful for your food.
- Take small bites, eat slowly and chew your food.
- Eat breakfast every day. Don’t skip meals, unless you are intentional fasting.
- When you’re tempted to eat extra snacks, try drinking a glass of water or doing a short burst of exercise instead.
- Make a plan, write it down, refer to it often and stick to it.
- Vow to eliminate high fructose corn syrup and partially hydrogenated oils.
- Avoid the deprivation mindset. Remember WHY you are caring for your body!
- Start a green smoothie habit.
- Aim for at least five servings of non-starchy veggies per day.
- Eat the rainbow! Plant food contains colorful pigments that heal our body and protect us from disease.
- Learn to identify and overcome your emotional eating triggers.
- When in doubt, drink more water.
- Weigh yourself daily and make lifestyle adjustments if your weight goes out of range.
- Sit down at the table to eat. Avoid eating in the car, at your desk or while watching TV.
- Eat nutritious food before going to parties. Be the person to bring a healthy dish to potlucks.
- Indulge in a treat once in a while! Eat a small serving and savor. Lose the guilt.
- Eliminate sugary beverages and drinks with artificial sweeteners.
- Eat home cooked meals whenever possible.
- Use small plates.
- Don’t bring junk food into your home.
- Walk after larger meals. This helps to blunt the spike in blood sugar that tends to occur after meals.
Principle #2: Daily Detoxification
It’s no secret that we live in a toxic world. We are constantly bombarded by external pollutants (e.g. industrial chemicals in the rainwater, exhaust fumes in the air, pesticides and antibiotics in our food, heavy metals and pharmaceuticals in the water and petroleum by-products in our lotions, soaps and shampoos). The good news is that our bodies are designed to breakdown and excrete toxins via our liver, kidneys, gastrointestinal tract and skin. That is, as long as we are healthy, not dehydrated, not constipated, not overly stressed, exercising regularly, sleeping soundly, well-nourished AND the toxic levels are not too high! Unfortunately, in our fast-paced, industrialized society, few of us are getting adequate self-care and pollution levels are alarmingly high. Our health and brain function suffers because our natural detoxification systems get overwhelmed.
When the amount of toxins coming into our body (via our lungs, skin, food and water) exceeds certain thresholds, the liver cannot keep up and toxins are retained and stored in the body. This can lead to a myriad of mysterious symptoms such as chronic fatigue, brain fog, high blood pressure and mood disturbance. Sub-optimal liver function, nutrient deficiencies and certain genetic variations can also make your body less efficient at detoxification, and leave you vulnerable to developing chronic diseases, like cancer, diabetes, heart disease and obesity.
In my private, functional medicine practice, I routinely test my patients and find high levels of heavy metals like lead, mercury and cadmium, as well as other environmental pollutants like glyphosate, phthalates, vinyl chloride, benzene, pyrethrins, xylenes, styrene, organophosphates, acrylamide, perchlorate, 1,3 butadiene, propylene oxide, 1-bromopropane, ethylene oxide and acrylonitrile. After we take steps to address these toxicities, patients often experience remarkable improvements in their health, and many actually reverse their chronic diseases. A daily detoxification routine is essential to restoring and maintaining optimal brain function and a healthy body.
While it is not possible to completely eliminate toxin/toxicant exposure from all sources, there are ways to minimize it. Check out the Environmental Working Group’s website at www.ewg.org for more information. Look for their guides on the following topics: better tap water, safer cosmetics, avoiding pesticides, flame retardants, triclosan, nonstick chemicals, better air quality, safer cleaning products, safer cell phone use and preventing cancer. Here’s some general advice for minimizing your toxic exposures and helping to support your body’s own detoxification systems:
- Do not smoke.
- Drink plenty of pure water (use a high quality water filter).
- Avoid Constipation.
- Minimize exposure to second-hand tobacco smoke, car and diesel fumes.
- Limit VOCs in the home by using VOC-free cleaning products, low-VOC paints, and choosing throw rugs instead of new carpeting.
- Use an effective air purification system.
- Wear protective clothing and/or apparatus when working with toxic materials.
- Replace furnace and air conditioning filters regularly.
- Store food and beverages in Bisphenol A (BPA)-free and phthalate-free containers.
- Avoid reheating foods in plastic containers.
- Choose organic produce whenever possible.
- If you eat fish, choose carefully. Check out seafoofwatch.org for consumer guides and lists of sustainably caught seafood. The S.M.A.S.H. (Salmon, Mackeral, Anchovies, Sardines, and Herring) fish tend to be higher in beneficial omega-3 fats and lower in mercury.
- Don’t take Tylenol for a hangover. Better yet, avoid excessive alcohol intake.
- Avoid synthetic pesticides/herbicides. Make peace with the bugs and weeds:)
- Avoid toxic cleaning products. Experiment with DIY home cleaning products that can work just as well and save you $.
- Clean indoor air by keeping houseplants in your home and office.
- Wash fruits and vegetables to decrease pesticide residue.
- Consider peeling skins off of produce to further lower pesticide levels.
- Increase consumption of fruits and vegetables, especially cruciferous vegetables (broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, watercress and cabbage), garlic, onions, grapes, berries and spices such as rosemary, basil, turmeric, cumin, poppy seeds and black pepper. These superfoods can help your body detox from chemical exposures.
- Limit intake of processed foods. Even ones that are free of synthetic preservatives may contain detectable amounts of toxic compounds that were introduced (by chemical transformation) during processing. For example, numerous toxins are produced by the high temperatures used to manufacture some processed food ingredients.
- Don’t eat charred foods. Cook meat at or below 250◦ F via stewing, braising, crockpot cooking (slow food preparation methods that utilize liquid).
- Consider using a far infared sauna with your doctor’s approval. It’s prudent to start very low and go slow, working up to 130 degrees F x 30 minutes 3-5 times a week. Be sure to use Castille soap after sauna exposure to wash away any toxins that were excreted onto your skin before they are reabsorbed.
While we are on the topic of toxicity, let’s not forget about the importance of our thought life, and the toxic effects of unhealthy fear, unforgiveness and negativity. You can transform your mind through prayer, worship, Scripture and staying connected with God’s Holy Spirit.
Principle #3: Renew Your Mind
And now, dear brothers and sisters, one final thing. Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise. ~Philippians 4:8, ESV
There is no magic formula or “7 easy steps to renewing the mind.” It’s a process, and thankfully we are not in charge! The Holy Spirit of God leads us on this journey. Quiet time alone with God, Scripture and a willing heart are a good place to start. I encourage you to set aside a block of quiet time today. No e-mail. No in-box. No social media. Just you, a comfy chair and a Bible. Prepare your mind/body with a quiet meditation and some gentle stretching…perhaps a cup of your favorite hot beverage. Then, simply be still, pray, read, and listen for God to speak to your heart about the next step on your healing journey. I’d love to hear your insights. Feel free to comment below or send me an e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Cynthia Libert, M.D.