TAKING TREATMENT FOR DEPRESSION IN A NEW DIRECTION

Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc - Nut, AdvDip Nut Med) 

For a number of years now depression has been thought of as a condition triggered by some ‘chemical imbalance’ within our brains – more specifically a deficiency of a neurotransmitter serotonin. However, more recently depression is now more understood of as a condition influenced by inflammation and closely connected to our immune system – and we now know that the majority of our immune cells are located within our gut (also where 97% of our serotonin is produced!).

Studies have found that depressed people have elevated levels of inflammatory proteins in plasma and cerebrospinal fluid, with increases of cytokines TNF-alpha, IL-6 and C-reactive protein.

Tryptophan is of importance to note - as an amino acid that is required for the synthesis of serotonin and melatonin. However, there is also a lesser known biochemical pathway for tryptophan and this is known as the kynurenine pathway. This kynurenine pathway accounts for about 99% of ingested tryptophan that isn’t used for protein synthesis (amino acids make up the structure of proteins within the body), and this pathway was first thought to be involved in the creation of a substance known as nicotinamide adenine dinucleotide (Davis & Liu, 2015)

…. (please stay with me through these biochemical terms – its really interesting stuff!)

The kynurenine pathway has been linked now with neurodegenerative disease, tumour proliferation, inflammation and depression! You see, when inflammation is present, more tryptophan goes into the kynurenine pathway to produce quinolinic acid and kynurenic acid, and not serotonin. Quinolinic acid and kynurenic acid are neuroactive and its believed that they contribute to behavioural changes experienced by individuals when inflammation is increased through exposure to stimuli like chronic stress, toxin exposure, diet or lifestyle. Common antidepressant medications (SSRIs) work by increasing the amount of tryptophan to serotonin, but also ignoring the effects of the inflammatory cytokines which have triggered the depression (Raison et al, 2010).

Factors that increase inflammation and increase risk and severity of depression

  • Inactivity

  • Reduced sleep

  • Social isolation

  • Obesity

  • Diet low in omega 3 fatty acids (anti-inflammatory fatty acids)

  • Low serum cholesterol

  • High sugar diet

  • Smoking

Interventions that reduce depressive symptoms have been reported to lower inflammatory and/or increase anti-inflammatory, immune-regulatory activity in the body and brain (Raison et al. 2010).

Apart from SSRI’s, there are a number of dietary interventions and lifestyle habits that can help to reduce inflammation, alleviate feelings of depression and help combat future occurrences of the condition…

Get in touch if you’d like to know more, I’d be happy to work with you as your health practitioner, using food as medicine and lifestyle modifications to have you happy and healthy.


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References

Davis, I., & Liu, A. (2015). What is the tryptophan kynurenine pathway and why is it important to neurotherapy? Expert Review of Neurotherapeutics15(7), 719–721. http://doi.org/10.1586/14737175.2015.1049999

Raison, C. L., Dantzer, R., Kelley, K. W., Lawson, M. A., Woolwine, B. J., Vogt, G., ... & Miller, A. H. (2010). CSF concentrations of brain tryptophan and kynurenines during immune stimulation with IFN-α: relationship to CNS immune responses and depression. Molecular psychiatry15(4), 393.

 

 

 

THE SCIENCE BEHIND MEDITATION

Written by: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, AdvDip. NutMed)

I’ve only just recently jumped on the band wagon, as of this year, and more recently made it a non-negotiable as part of my daily routine. When I started I didn’t really think there would be much change overall, but after even just 20minutes of meditating, my very first time I felt different and so I wanted to explore more the mechanisms of this action and figure out the science behind it, which brings us to this post. But first, a little background…

A LITTLE ABOUT ME;

I’ve had a history of anxiety and depression throughout childhood & adolescence, which subsided with age and a few lifestyle/dietary changes. But then just this last year they both began to rear their heads again. I had a few recent anxiety attacks, heart palpitations & months to a year of this flat, low, depressive mood that I couldn’t shake –

My kind of personality type is susceptible to anxiety and depression, I can be a bit of a perfectionist, I tend to succumb to a kind of stress referred to as ‘rumination’ – that constant worrying, about past or future, also considered a chronic stress. Rumination is also associated with high levels of cortisol which in turn effects the brain, the gut, immune system and hormones.

Anyway, the point of all this is that through meditating I felt a shift, things changed, my mood began to lift, my energy was improving, my sleep was more refreshing, anxious moments were deteriorating & I wanted to know more - I wanted to know the exact mechanisms of what meditation, mindfulness and breath work had on the brain, the nervous system, the body as a whole…

THE SCIENCE

Studies have shown that mindfulness practices may protect against the negative effects of rumination and helps to reduce the burden of chronic stress. In the brain, meditation increases the production of gamma waves, these gamma waves are an indication of neural plasticity – which is also linked to being able to learn new things, and a marker of youth and increased resilience.  

A study was conducted on individuals who had never meditated, they were instructed to meditate for 40mins per day, for a total of 8 weeks. The results were incredible! FOUR different brain regions were effected: The hippocampus (effecting our learning and memory), the pons (part of the brain stem where many neurotransmitters are synthesised), the parietal junction (which is associated with feelings of empathy and compassion) and the posterior cingulate (which is responsible for our ability to let our minds wander). In addition, there was also an observed decrease in size of the amygdala which has a role in the stress response, this was associated with a reduction in stress hormones (Hölzel et al, 2011).

What’s more is that science has demonstrated that through the simple act of deepening and slowing our breaths we can take our bodies out of this ‘fight or flight’ response and get back into our parasympathetic state of ‘rest and digest’, reducing the effects of unnecessary stress on the body (Jerath et al, 2006).

There have also been many studies conducted by Elizabeth Blackburn (Nobel prize winner) demonstrating how mindfulness & meditation can buffer the effects of stress on telomere length, which can reverse the ageing of some tissues – telomeres are like these little caps on the ends of our chromosomes which protect our DNA from damage, they shorten naturally each year and as cell replication occurs. This goes on & on until there’s no telomere left, resulting eventually in cell death. Stress can in fact accelerate this shortening, so by simply practicing meditation and mindfulness we can reduce this effect.

THE PRACTICALITY

So, how can we start to incorporate meditation into a busy life – well, there are a number of great apps you can download – 'headspace' for one, or my favourite ‘10% happier’ which contains a number of different guided meditations to choose from, ranging in times from 1 minute to 20 minutes, even with some guides that you can do on your daily commute, making it super easy to incorporate into day to day life.

I put the challenge out to you - try it, even if its only for a minute or two a day, or if its just to focus on taking long, slow deep breaths whilst driving to work, or waiting for the kettle to boil, these simple practices can have profound effects on wellbeing overall. 

As always, be kind to yourself & happy breathing! 

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REFERENCES;

Hölzel, B. K., Carmody, J., Vangel, M., Congleton, C., Yerramsetti, S. M., Gard, T., & Lazar, S. W. (2011). Mindfulness practice leads to increases in regional brain gray matter density. Psychiatry Research: Neuroimaging191(1), 36-43.

Jerath, R., Edry, J. W., Barnes, V. A., & Jerath, V. (2006). Physiology of long pranayamic breathing: neural respiratory elements may provide a mechanism that explains how slow deep breathing shifts the autonomic nervous system. Medical hypotheses67(3), 566-571.

 

EFFECTS OF STRESS & HOW TO COPE

Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, AdvDip NutMed)

We’re all busy, our lives are full of hustle & bustle, families, kids, work, friends, cooking, cleaning, shopping, travel, events, oh, life!

With these busy lives can come a whole lot of stress. For our bodies when stressed, can enter into a ‘fight or flight’ response – it can even occur due to intense exercise/physical exertion. This ‘fight or flight’ response involves many physiological and biochemical changes, making the nervous system hypersensitive. The body responds to any sort of stress, be it physical, mental or emotional by activating our sympathetic nervous system and our adrenal glands to start releasing hormones: cortisol, adrenaline and noradrenaline. Through this the body will conserve energy from other organ systems, thereby slowing down their function and divert this energy to our arms, legs and brains. This was for our survival, originally a ‘stress’ would occur to man from an attack or some sort of threat, a tiger for example. So by the body slowing down other processes and directing the extra energy to our limbs we could then turn to ‘fight’ or to get away from the threat, fast! After this attack or danger would occur, cortisol would turn off the release of adrenaline and the body would return to function as normal.

But now, in this day & age the stressful event could be long term & ongoing from time constraints, job pressures, study, relationships, weddings & other events to more serious conditions of long term illness, chronic pain or emotional distress. Our bodies will remain in this stressed out state, still experiencing the same physiological and biochemical changes –leading to slow digestion, decreased immune system, changes to menstruation, effecting fertility, increased blood glucose levels, depleting our adrenal stores & keeping our cortisol levels high. During this, the bodies nutritional demands are increased, but with our digestive system being effected it leads to poor function & nutrient absorption. The elevated cortisol, the depleted adrenal stores & the effects on blood sugar can then in turn effect our moods, leaving us feeling irritable and even anxious. Sleep is also effected, that feeling of being ‘tired but wired’ leaving us as insomniacs or waking unrefreshed after a long nights sleep.

This long-term stress and adrenal depletion can leave us with a label of ‘adrenal fatigue’ – you may or may not have heard this term already. Basically, the adrenal glands secrete cortisol, following a diurnal cycle. Levels should be high in the morning when we wake, then steadily decline throughout the day. People who are chronically stressed will have elevated basal cortisol and a flattened diurnal curve, resulting in flat cortisol – this response is referred to as ‘adrenal exhaustion’.

Chronic stress is inflammatory, it raises our biochemical inflammatory markers which affect our serotonin levels, leading to anxiety or depression. It’s associated with poor memory, that ‘foggy headed’ feeling, with mood changes and irritability. With stress also decreasing our immune function leaves us susceptible to allergic diseases and the development of conditions such as chronic fatigue, autoimmune diseases, premature aging, atherosclerosis, abdominal weight gain and even cancer! In women their menstruation & fertility are also effected.

As we can see, being stressed out can have some serious side effects, so what can we do about it? We can’t always escape the stress in our lives but there are ways we can deal with it.

The first thing is to assess the stress – look at what you can change, what is in your control & what you are willing to let go of, you might be able to lighten your load with work or other commitments & have more time for yourself (SO important!).

The second is to slow down. You’re busy, I get it & this doesn’t mean that you should have hours of meditation and stillness, but you can incorporate small pockets of ‘still’ into your day. What’s one thing you do every day? When you shower, or brush your teeth, even when you make a tea/coffee or are driving from one place to the next – make these moments a time of mindfulness. Breathing long, slow, deep breaths. Create awareness in that moment, noticing how you feel, your thoughts. Science has shown that by changing our breath from short, shallow breaths to long, slow & controlled we can get our bodies out of that ‘fight or flight’ response and back into a rested state. This can even be including 5-10 long breaths upon waking, taking your time to get up and out of bed – doesn’t have to be a radical change to your routine or take up too much time but you can find these pockets of still & embrace them.

Thirdly, single task! Do one thing at a time, for at least a few of the tasks you have to do in your day, not all of them – or you probably wouldn’t get anything done, ha! It is impossible for us to be focused on more than one thing (sorry self-proclaimed multi-taskers out there). When stress is rising focus on one thing you are thankful for – it can be as simple as ‘clean water’ or ‘your pillow’, changing your thoughts in the moment does not make the stressful event go away, but at least your body will be focused on something positive & help to diminish the negative effects associated with stress - worrying will not solve the problem either!

And lastly, what can we do nutritionally –

For one; (I’m sorry) but caffeine will have to go! This raises your stress hormones and puts more pressure on your adrenal glands.

Two; sugar also – get rid of it, stress raises your blood sugar levels, as well as sugar being highly inflammatory. This means no soft drinks, confectionary, cakes, chocolates, biscuits, even white, refined carbohydrates from breads, pasta etc

Three; get some vitamin C! Your adrenal glands need it, and they need to be supported – you can talk with your qualified practitioner about supplementation specific for you and include more coloured vegetables and fruits in the diet

Four; B vitamins – these are depleted in times of stress, again speak with your practitioner about supplementing and doses needed. This way you know you’re getting the best quality practitioner only supplements at a dose that is tailored to you and your current needs

Five; Magnesium - this mineral is also depleted during times of stress and is required for hundreds of enzymatic functions within the body, relaxes muscle & assists with energy production - deficiency can contribute to anxiety and depression, again consult your nutritionist/naturopath for the appropriate form of magnesium & the correct dosing. 

Six; Eat fat! Yep, lap it up! Good fats I’m referring to here (I’ve written a blog post on fats which you can find on this site, so you can know which ones to eat). This can include oily fish, avocado, olives and olive oil, nuts and seeds – these fats are anti-inflammatory, great for brain health and development and help to balance blood sugars. Fats also give flavour to your foods & increase satiety with meals, they are not to be feared!

Seven; Practice mindful meal times; digestion begins before you take your first bite. The site of food, smell of food & the thought of it begins to prepare your body to eat and digest. This in turn triggers saliva to begin to secrete digestive enzymes ready to break down this food. When we are eating on the run, working through our lunch breaks, or mindlessly eating whilst watching TV this process is inhibited. We can end up eating way more than we need to, leave us feeling bloated and sluggish, or with indigestion and we wonder why? Maybe you have food allergies, or maybe you’re just approaching food and mealtimes with the wrong mind set. Sit down at meal times, give thanks for your food - practicing gratitude, enjoy each bite, CHEW your food (its crazy how many of us don’t chew enough) and really be present, noticing how you feel, how it tastes – it can be almost a meditative experience.

With impaired digestion, some might find benefit in utilising a slow cooker, having more soft, water rich foods in the form of soups & stews – the slow cooking starts to break down the foods, with the water increased can help to aid digestion and reduce any digestive disturbances you may be experiencing.

Also to note – exercise can help with stress relief & the body’s ability to cope with increased amounts of stress, however if you’re already in that burnt out ‘adrenally exhausted’ phase, I recommend to exercise in a way that will not be overly stimulating, as that can create more stress on the body, but through a walk in nature, pilates & stretching – does not have to mean HIIT classes at the gym & can even just be 10mins of movement included in your day – even if you just park further away from work or wake a bit earlier each day to include this.

And lastly, seek help – if you’re not coping, or have in fact experienced a trauma, don’t try to tackle it alone. There is a big difference between being stressed out, and suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder – please, speak to your health professional about getting the appropriate support & treatment. Vulnerability is strength and asking for help is in no way showing weakness.

Be kind to yourself, listen to your body.

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WHAT DOES CHOCOLATE & BLUE-GREEN ALGAE HAVE IN COMMON? …

Written By: Brittani Kolasinski (BHSc Nut, Adv Dip Nut Med)

Ahh that feeling you get when you let that sweet chocolatey goodness just melt in your mouth, feelings of euphoria, the endorphins released and the happiness in your heart (and in your belly) – you could also say these are somewhat like the contentment you feel when captivated by a good book, focused on a project or the ‘runners high’ when you get back from a challenging workout, but to associate these all with the blue green vegetables of the sea? .. that’s probably not such a common feat.

The most well-known member of this blue-green algae family would be spirulina, and thankfully its becoming more popular as time goes on (with good reason!). It contains all our essential amino acids, making this guy a complete source of protein for vegans and vegetarians, has a wide range of B vitamins, contains vitamin E, and the essential minerals potassium, calcium, chromium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, phosphorus, selenium, sodium, & zinc.

The deep blue-green pigments of spirulina are all thanks to the phytonutrients within; chlorophyll, phycocyanin, zeaxanthin, beta-carotene, lutein & many more. These guys are responsible for the potent antioxidant levels, fighting free radical damage on a cellular level within the body. Spirulina also contains different enzymes & trace elements.

Spirulina has shown benefit for strengthening the immune system, displaying anti-cancer properties and its use for conditions such as diabetes mellitus type 2 through its blood-lipid lowering and anti-inflammatory potential.

So how do you associate the algae’s with the chocolates of the world? It all comes down to a little substance known as ‘PEA’ (phenylethylamine). A chemical that can be made within the body by the brain or adrenals from two of our amino acids – tyrosine and phenylalanine. The action of PEA increases neurotransmitters in the brain that help us focus or pay attention – those times that you’re just so engaged that you lose all track of time – that’s attributed to PEA. Studies have shown that high levels of PEA are found in happy people’s brains, due to PEA’s action of preventing dopamine from being deactivated, therefore, raising its levels. High levels of dopamine are associated with an optimistic attitude and increased concentration.

PEA is often referred to as the ‘love chemical’, and its responsible for the endorphin rush post exercise, when you are so captivated by a good book or movie or even when indulging in a chocolatey treat.

Some great ways to incorporate more algae into the diet can be through adding spirulina into green smoothies, home made salsa, salad dressings or just mixed into water with lemon juice. Always start with a small dose when having things for the first time – even if it is a naturally occurring substance, we are all different and can all respond differently to foods.

Enjoy the sea vegetables & all the happiness they bring x 

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