4 Ways to Improve your Mental Health

Updated: Mar 31

Do you have anxiety, depression or do you just feel angry or low most of the time? Have you tried therapy and drugs but nothing seems to be helping?

The causes of poor mental health can be a combination of several factors. It is important to give your brain exactly what it needs to flourish.

1. Balance blood sugar

Ever wonder why you crave biscuits,

chocolates, pastries, cakes, puddings, pizza,

white bread and pasta? These foods are addictive. When you eat these foods, a brain chemical, dopamine, is activated. The same chemical that is triggered by certain recreational drugs. Dopamine controls your emotional response.

When you eat a biscuit you suddenly feel very happy. When you ate the biscuit your blood sugar levels rose rapidly, your body released an excessive amount of insulin to deal with the sudden extreme rise and this caused a quick drop. To feel that "high" again, you eat another biscuit to get the dopamine hit. Eating in this way regularly can stop dopamine from functioning properly and lead to mental health issues. Your dopamine levels become less reactive, toying with your emotions.

How do I know if I have a blood sugar imbalance?

Do you:

  • often have mood swings

  • find it difficult to concentrate

  • get dizzy or irritable if you go 4-6 hours without food

  • often over-react to stress

  • crave coffee or something sweet after meals

  • experience low energy

  • feel too tired to exercise

  • gain weight/ find it hard to lose weight

  • have energy slumps during the day or after meals

  • still feel tired after waking up

  • need tea, coffee or something sweet to get you going

  • crave sweets, chocolate, bread, cereal or pasta?

How do I deal with it?

The best way is to eat low GL foods. These foods do not create a spike in your blood sugar when eaten.

Some examples are:

  • kidney, garbanzo, pinto, soy, and black beans

  • fruits such as apples, pears, berries, plums and watermelon

  • vegetables

  • lentils

  • cashews and peanuts

  • whole-grain breads like barley, pumpernickel, and whole wheat.

Eating protein (nuts, seeds, chickpeas, lentils, cheese, beans, yoghurt, meat, fish etc.) with each meal also slows down the release of the sugars in the foods.

2. Omega-3s

EPA and DHA are two types of

omega-3 fatty acids. They are abundant in the

cell membranes of brain cells, they preserve cell membrane health and facilitate communication between brain cells. These essential fatty acids are therefore critical for the health of your brain.

In the human diet, EPA and DHA are almost exclusively found in fatty fish and fish oil. Most people do not consume the recommended amounts of fish and are thus likely to fall short of getting enough EPA and DHA in their diets. The body can make EPA and DHA out of another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA). ALA is found in a number of food sources, such as walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds, canola oil, soybeans and soybean oil. However, humans can't convert ALA to EPA and DHA very efficiently, it's estimated that less than 10% is converted. Therefore, taking fish oil may be a good option, especially for those who don’t eat much fish. Please consult with Michelle prior to taking any supplements.

3. B-vitamins

What is homocysteine?

Homocysteine is a common amino acid found in your blood. It mostly comes from eating meat. Raised levels of homocysteine is linked to cognitive dysfunction such as depression, anxiety and dementia. Vitamin B9 (folate) is needed to metabolise homocysteine. Vitamin B12 helps keep folate in its active form, allowing it to keep homocysteine levels low.  Vitamin B6 is used to break down homocysteine to cysteine. People who are deficient in these vitamins may have increased levels of homocysteine.

How can I tell if my levels are raised?

A Plasma Total Homocysteine test and a Urine Homocysteine test can be used to determine your levels. Find out more about testing here.

A normal level of homocysteine in the blood is less than 15 micromoles per litre (mcmol/L) of blood. Higher levels of homocysteine are split into three main categories:

Moderate: 15-30 mcmol/L

Intermediate: 30-100 mcmol/L

Severe: greater than 100 mcmol/L

Look out for symptoms of B12, folate or general vitamin deficiency:

  • pale skin

  • weakness

  • fatigue

  • tingling sensations (like pins and needles) in the hands, arms, legs, or feet

  • dizziness

  • mouth sores

  • mood changes

  • tongue swelling

  • growth problems (in children)

  • muscle weakness

  • unsteady movements

  • yellowish skin

  • shortness of breath

  • irregular heartbeat

  • mental confusion

  • forgetfulness

  • weight loss

What causes raised homocysteine?

  • poor diet

  • poor lifestyle - especially smoking and high coffee and alcohol intake

  • some prescription drugs (such as proton pump inhibitors)

  • diabetes

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • poor thyroid function

How do I lower my levels?

Ensure you are consuming sufficient foods containing:

  • Vitamin B12

Fish, meat, poultry, eggs, dairy products and fortified foods for vegans.

  • Folate

Legumes, asparagus, eggs, leafy greens, beets, citrus fruits, Brussels sprouts and broccoli.

  • Vitamin B6

Pork, chicken, turkey, wholegrain bread, oatmeal, wheatgerm, brown rice, eggs, vegetables and soya beans.

4. Phospholipids

One kind of phospholipid, choline, binds to fatty

acids (mentioned above) to form a neurotransmitter, acetylcholine. This is the most abundant neurotransmitter

in the human body and is responsible for memory and cognition.

Food sources of choline include eggs, liver and peanuts.

Please consult a practitioner prior to supplementing with any of the nutrients mentioned. If you would like help with your mental health and/ or are interested in testing, book a session with Michelle.

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BANT Registered Nutritionist,  

Registered Nutritional Therapist CNHC & Health Coaches Academy Certified Health Coach

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© 2016 by Michelle Boehm