9 Foods that Affect Your Mental Health

Greg Burzynski originally published this post on LinkedIn.


The brain works 24/7 to control thoughts, movements, breathing, heartbeat and senses; as a result, it requires constant supply of fuel, which come from the food you eat on a daily basis. However, your brain can only function well if you eat the right kind of food. This post will explore the foods that are likely to affect your brain negatively and positively.

Foods Likely to Affect Your Brain Positively

1. Blueberries

Blueberries contain compounds that protect the brain against oxidative stress and reduce the risk of developing dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. These compounds also improve the function of the part of the brain that controls learning and motor skills.

2. Nuts

Nuts contain vitamin E. High levels of vitamin E reduce the rate of cognitive decline in adults. Suitable nuts include cashews, almonds, filberts, flax seeds, sesame, sunflower seeds, and walnuts.

3. Salmon

Salmon fish contains omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce the symptoms of depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, and other mental disorders. This is possible because omega-3s stimulate the production of brain chemicals such as dopamine and serotonin.

4. Whole Grains

Whole grains are the prime source of energy. They provide a steady source of fuel to the brain, enabling it to perform its functions effectively. Healthy whole grains include oats, barley, beans, soy, wheat and bulgur.

5. Leafy Vegetables

Leafy vegetables contain high amounts of folic acid and vitamin B. A deficiency in these nutrients can lead to depression, fatigue and insomnia. Best examples of leafy vegetables include romaine, turnip, broccoli, mustard greens and spinach.

Foods Likely to Affect Your Brain Negatively

6. Tuna

Many people love tuna because of its taste. However, tuna contains high amounts of mercury, which can take a toll on the brain function. A research conducted by the University of South Florida found that high levels of mercury in the blood contribute to a five percent cognitive decline.

7. White Rice

White rice has a high glycemic index that increases the risk of depression. A studyconducted in 2015 found out that women who have eaten food high glycemic-index foods were more likely to report new-onset depression than those who ate foods rich in lactose and fiber.

8. Fruit Juice/Sugary Drinks

Fruit juice contains a lot of sugar. Consistent intake of sugar can reduce cognitive flexibility and memory. This is possible because sugar promotes the growth of clostridiales, a gut bacteria that increases gut inflammation and downstream the brain is affected.

9. Cheese

Cheese contains a lot of saturated fats that contribute to memory decline and inflammation in the brain. The saturated fats also damage the hypothalamus, the part of the brain which has many important functions including directing the release of hormones from the pituitary gland vital for regulating weight and metabolism.

Online Therapy

Psychotherapy is a great tool in mental health and is often used to combat the symptoms of depression, anxiety, panic disorder, schizophrenia, and many other mental health issues. However, for some people accessing a therapist just isn’t feasible, whether due to transportation issues, disability, or physical limitations, meaning that traditional therapy likely isn’t an option. Fortunately, there are new ways to access the same care received with talk therapy without even needing to leave your home through online therapy.

A major benefit the American Psychological Association (APA) has seen with online therapy is the comfortability level of being online rather than face to face. Patients, especially young adults, find that sharing their personal thoughts and concerns with a stranger is less intimidating via email, text, and even video calls.

There is still much to be pioneered in the future of online therapy. One of the most recent developments has been the tool named the  Mind Elevator. “A client enters a thought or feeling, hits submit and the tool evaluates that thought or feeling on a colorful scale that is like a big rainbow with sad and happy faces. The tool then provides a sentence of feedback and encourage the person to modify that thought or feeling to make it more positive, less self-critical or less negative or pessimistic. It also keeps track of several successive entries, so it responds to a whole chain of thoughts and feelings, not just the one that was most recently submitted,” as described by Dr. Sherry Benton in her article titled Reducing mental health disparities through online therapy. Artificial intelligence tools such as this can help aid those who are in need when a friend or a therapist isn’t available. They are specifically beneficial to patients with low-intensity needs and high motivation for engagement.

There are a few factors to be cognizant of when beginning your online therapy. In the United States especially, laws regarding psychiatry, psychology, therapy, and counseling differ from state to state. It is important to check the licensing of any “professional” you seek out as it is easy for someone to imitate these types of professionals online. Because of this, many insurance companies do not support this type of mental health care, therefore will not cover the cost. Just like starting at any other doctor’s office, make sure you do the proper research because the benefits you reap from online therapy can be extremely rewarding.

The Importance of Taking Care of Your Mental Health

Better physical health

Physical health and mental health are tightly connected. Many mental health issues, including depression and anxiety, can worsen your blood pressure and put a strain on your heart. People with these illnesses are more likely to die from heart-related illnesses. According to the WHO, poor mental health is a risk factor for chronic physical conditions, including chronic pain and chronic fatigue.

And this connection goes both ways. So, if you develop a chronic physical condition as a result of your chronic mental health issues, the stress of the physical conditions can cause your mental health to worsen. On the other hand, working to improve your physical health, for example through careful eating and exercise, can have a positive impact on your mental health by reducing your stress levels, improving your memory, releasing mood-boosting endorphins, and improving your sleep.

More productive

People experiencing mental health conditions struggle to be productive. Mental illnesses can make it harder for you to motivate yourself to work, and harder to focus on the work once you’re doing it. And over time, mental illnesses can severely decrease your sense of self-worth, leaving you feeling like you wouldn’t be able to produce anything worthwhile even if you could put the time in.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, you’ve probably noticed this phenomenon in your own life. Everyone has good days and bad days, and you’ve probably realized that you work better on your good days. And inversely, you’ve probably realized that when you are most productive, you feel better.

Better relationships

Bad mental health can cause your relationships to suffer. Mental illness can cause you to miss engagements, lash out at loved ones, or isolate yourself for long stretches of time. The overall stress of dealing with a mental illness, like any chronic illness, can also saturate your personal life. On the farthest end of the spectrum, people with severe mental illnesses can wind up completely isolated or stuck in an abusive relationship.

Again, even if you don’t have a mental illness, you will find yourself struggling socially when you’re tired, crabby, or stressed. Improving your mental health improves your relationship with your friends, your families, and your romantic partner. And having that support network there to help you is essential in maintaining your mental health.

How Effective is Medication in the Treatment of Addiction

Treatment for addiction with medicine-based therapy does not amount to pushing the envelope in the process of curing any addiction but it can make people productive again and lead normal lives as opposed to craving and seeking an illegal substance.

Misinformation or a lack of knowledge on Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy (MAT) may drive you to search for other methods of recovery from addiction.  This is why it is necessary to get well-versed with MAT.

Medication-Assisted Treatment/Therapy works by using opiates that are released in the neurological system. They cross the barrier of blood-brain and attach to receptors that are present on the brain cells. This process triggers an outpour of neurotransmitters and generates a high that is felt by the receiver.

This medicine-based treatment technique generally works in one of the two ways:

  1. Doctors may prescribe patients opioids that will trigger the same receptors that but are      absorbed in the blood over a longer period of time, rebutting the withdrawal symptoms and breaking a psychological link between consuming a drug and instantly feeling high.  Methadone is an example of such a medication, and is officially referred to as a full mu-opioid receptor agonist.  Another example isbuprenorphine which is a partial mu-opioid agonist.
  2. Doctors may prescribe antagonist opioids such as naltrexone or naloxone. They are drugs that cover the same receptors and creates barriers against them. And if the condition of any patient deteriorates or relapses, they should not feel euphoria if an illegal opioid is used, unless that dose is large enough to displace the blocking drug.  Opioid cravings are reduced as well and there is no abuse potential with naltrexone, or naloxone.

Is MAT genuinely the way to go to cure any addiction?

So far, the data and the statistics that show the success rate of MAT is significantly high enough to outweigh any drawbacks. Better outcomes are seen with this form of therapy than those without medication assistance. It reduces the danger of relapses, has the potential to prevent grave diseases like HIV, and has been known to be effective in preventing overdoses.

In spite of all the positive outcomes, experts believe there are quite a few gaps in this technique. One of the gaps is determining the suitability of each drug for an individual. It is of utmost importance to choose the right drug for the right patient. Each drug has different risks and benefits for different psychological states. For instance, the patient can overdose and die on methadone whereas they cannot have any such ill effects from naltrexone and with buprenorphine it becomes less likely.

Ultimately, the decision is made through discussions between the patient and the medical professional who decides the best course of treatment. Working together is the best course to determining what the right treatment for each patient will be.

A Look into Mind-Body Medicine

In most Western medical practices, mental health and physical health are viewed as two separate entities; physical health is handled by a primary care physician and mental health is covered by a psychologist or psychiatrist as needed. However, newer practices are pulling from centuries-old beliefs that the health of the mind and the health of the body are more interconnected than we’ve been practicing.

Mens sana in corpore sano.

In ancient Greek times, there was a firm and widely held belief that the mind and body are connected and influence the health of one another. A well-known Latin phrase was developed from this belief: “mens sana in corpore sano” translates to mean “a healthy mind in a healthy body.” In essence, total, holistic wellness is wellness in both your mental and physical health. This duality between mind and body remained the common belief and practice until the Renaissance and Enlightenment periods when they were separated into two different entities. In the 17th century, Rene Descarte described humans as being comprised of two contrasting substances which could not unify with one another; the mind being sentient and able to reason but without substance, and the body with substance but constricted to the physics of earth whereas the mind is not.

Reconnecting the mind and body.

As medical knowledge progressed and our understanding of health deepened, the importance and influence of the mind began to creep its way back into discussions of physical health in the 20th century. They began to study the power that the mind has over the body in the wake of studies on how placebos can affect the body’s ability to control pain.

Mind-body health today.

Today, an entire sector of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) is devoted to researching the connection between mind and body health. The National Center for Complementary and Integrative Health (NCCIH) studies the impact that mental, social, emotional, spiritual, and behavioral factors can directly affect a person’s health.

Some mind-body medicine practices from the NCCIH include mindfulness, meditation, tai chi, yoga, deep breathing, massage, and homeopathy. Mind-body practices also promote the use of natural products like herbs, minerals, probiotics, and vitamins.

The designation that mind-body health practices are “alternative medicine” presents a misinforming picture of the power that incorporating these holistic practices in life can have. “Alternative” gives the impression that all typical Western health practices are abandoned when in reality it just expands the scope through with which we view these practices and understand their impact.

Mental Illness in America

We’ve come a long way as far as cultural perception and stigma surrounding mental illness are concerned. As far back as ancient Egypt, Greece, and Rome, mental illness was viewed as divine punishment or unholy possession, and this perception continued on through the Middle Ages. In America, by the time the 18th century rolled around the perceptions had changed but the stigma had not. Although supernatural factors were no longer believed to be the common cause of mental illnesses, the lack of understanding and preconceived ideas about mental illnesses perpetuated the desire for the confinement of these individuals.

The first major move in the treatment of mental illness in America came from Dorothea Dix, an American teacher and author turned activist who sought to expose and change the horrific conditions of the mental institutions that existed throughout the nation. In the 1800s, the stipulations for institutionalization were vast and arbitrary. On top of the horrific terms on which people could be committed, the conditions in these places were shockingly terrible. One example of this occurred at Auburn Prison in 1821where the majority of 80 male patients in solitary confinement either broke down mentally or committed suicide. Dorothea saw the injustices these people faced — in her words, being kept “in cages, closets, cellars, stalls, pens! Chained, naked, beaten with rods, and lashed into obedience!” —and pledged to help them the best she could.

Over a 40-year period, Dorothea was directly responsible for the United States government’s funding of 32 state psychiatric hospitals across the country. While her work did wonders for the advancement of people who are mentally ill, it also lead to mass institutionalization where any people seen as public nuisances or were viewed as dangerous were committed to these institutions.

The early 1900s offered some strides as well as some fallbacks. The use of electroshock therapy became widespread in the treatment of mental illness, often without the use of anesthesia. Patients were also subjected to frontal lobotomies and hydrotherapy where patients were submerged in or blasted with water as means of treatment. However, in the 1950s, new medications that could help stabilize unstable patients mixed with funding cuts to large, scandal-ridden state hospitals lead to deinstitutionalization which dramatically reduced the number of patients being held at these centers.

Stay tuned for Part 2 in the series of Mental Illness in America.

How Common are Mental Health Problems?

Mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; every year over 42 million people in the U.S. suffer from some kind of mental illness such as bipolar disorder, depression or schizophrenia. Other types of mental illness are anxiety disorders, mood disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders and personality disorders.

Additional mental health problems include stress response syndromes. Stress response syndromes happen when a person develops emotional or behavioral symptoms when faced with a stressful event or situation. Stress events that cause stress responses are a major illness, a natural disaster like a tornado, death of a loved one, divorce or marriage, or a major move overseas. Those who suffer from these dissociative disorders suffer with severe disturbances or changes in memory or identity.

Keep in mind; there are many things which can cause mental illness such as inherited traits. It probably is no surprise that mental illness is more common in those who have blood relatives who have a mental illness, and genes linking certain conditions are being described frequently. Another factor is exposure to environmental stressors before birth such as alcohol or drugs.  In utero exposure or circumstances can bring about epigenetic changes which will shape one’s life for better or for worse.  Imbalances in neurochemistry or brain chemistry are often biochemical reason or a cause of mental illness.

It’s no surprise, I’m sure especially to the younger generation which carries much school debt that stressful life situations include financial problems and can be an additive factor to one suffering from mental illness.  A childhood with abuse or neglect, and a limited social network can set the stage for mental illness.

There are several effective strategies that can be taken that reduce and in some cases reverse mental illness.  One of these pillars is psychotherapy.  Psychotherapy is when mental illness is treated by a trained mental health professional through counseling discussions. Psychotherapy delves into a person’s feelings, thoughts and behaviors to begin heal or improve a person’s well-being. Medication is also prescribed for some mental illness conditions. Case management is another way to treat mental illness and coordinates services for a person with the help of a case manager which can be likened to a “project manager”.  Hospitalization may be necessary for certain patients given circumstances.  Group therapy through support groups, or peer support also may be beneficial in numerous cases.

Other treatments that you can do for yourself, include treating yourself with respect and kindness, not being overly critical of yourself, making time for hobbies or other relaxation strategies.  Even small things like finding time to read a book or do a crossword puzzle. It can not be emphasized enough how important it is to eat nutritious food, exercise, get enough sleep, and to be surrounded by positive or nurturing people; those who are family-oriented and those who support you with your way of life.  Giving back by volunteering to help others, being mindful and learning how to deal with stress through journal writing or simply looking for the humor in life. Taking a moment to be grateful or just going outside for awhile and appreciating what you see; all are activities that can help treat and prevent certain mental health problems.

To conclude, mental health problems in the U.S. are more common than you realize; however, there are many effective treatment strategies which can mitigate mental illness or ideally prevent.

Finding Care in Medical Deserts: How Dallas, TX Struggles to Offer Adequate Help

The quality of healthcare in Dallas, Texas, has been portrayed as a gulf for certain sections of the population, like racial and ethnic minority groups with respect to the quality of practical care services rendered, and hands-on care that can be expected. In a groundbreaking report by the Institute of Medicine Crossing the quality chasm: A New Health System for the 21st Century the institute threw a gauntlet at all healthcare organizations to induce encompassing six prominent goals: safety, timeliness, effectiveness, efficiency, equity, and patient-centeredness. The essence of the proposal was to ensure equal administration of high quality care to all races and ethnicities, irrespective of any discretely private motive a patient might have for seeking medical attention.

Over time, studies of inequalities in admittance, usage, and consequences of health care in Dallas has looked for and continue to critically scrutinize situations that raise questions about moral, ethical, and economic concerns. These often translate to gross injustice that must be addressed if the recommendations of the Institute of Medicine can come to fruition. Based on significant variations in care according to age, gender, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomic status, aberrations have been noted in the Dallas system that decries expectations of “best care” for all and sundry. An important aspect to eliminating health care injustices, appropriately directed at tackling equity issues, by highlighting specific objectives targeted at eliminating identified injustices that seek to arrive at a culturally astute health care system, must establish a communally advantageous relationship between healthcare providers and the community. Essential mechanisms for arriving at such a relationship must comprise a strengthening of the patient, primary care provider relationships that mitigate kinks within the healthcare system and enhance patient accessibility to care. This will also assist the development of relationships with pertinent local community leaders/lay health advisors, advocates, and organizations.

In a study conducted by Dallas News at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and Parkland Memorial Hospital, two iconic medical care providers of Dallas metropolis. The paper discovered at Parkland, decades of elusive entanglements that resulted in serious, and endless harm to an average of two patients per day; according to the hospital’s own admission statement. Records and testimonials from both hospitals, following referral to Federal inquiries, revealed instances of malpractices among loosely supervised residents, as well as, Medicare billing fraud supportive of the Dallas News findings. The paper has posted its archived findings, along with other investigative writings at its blog “DMN Investigates”. Which is accessible at www.dallasnews.com/medinvestigation. The findings are truly informative, exposing a whole lot of shortcomings, particularly, as applies to the Dallas Medical Care system. Procurement of the true information that went into the compilation of the reports proved very challenging as the hospitals refused to share the data on patient outcomes. However, the News channel resolved to ingenious reporting strategies backed by the implementation of the “open record law” and the like, to procure the data for the compilation of the studies.

The reporting uncovered several malpractices with the Medical Care industry and drew the attention of the Department of Healthcare and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General. The investigative story exposed that generally, the Medical Care industry do not like to have open discussions, despite the notable grandness of their practice on human toll, grounded on their intense commitment to preserving what is described as “the privilege of self-regulation”, a concentrated defense against the exposition of shortcomings within the industry. Continuous studies by the newspaper, show that although no one takes delight in needless harm to patients, everything depends on the provision of an indiscriminate patient-centered care. Which will require in part, abandoning a reliance on cheap labor provided by residents, believed to offer new doctors the opportunity to learn from their mistakes. Measures to add resident supervision is being emphasized. A replacement of several key officials within the medical system is being implemented. Despite great achievements made because of studies of elusive behavior and malpractices, there is so much at stake with several valuable lives to protect. There is, therefore, still plenty of room for improvement within the Dallas Medical Care system. There exists some evidence that community health workers who play multiple roles in the healthcare system, and act as links between patients and providers, as well as, contributing to the management of patient aftercare can impact the quality of care and help reduce the cost of healthcare. Promotion of sustainable healthcare, disease prevention together with a quality healthcare is only attainable through a delicate balance of “compeers” that eradicates injustices in the healthcare system.

Opioid Use in the United States

The use of opioids is widespread and common in many first-world countries and is only globally second to cancer medicines in the rate of usage. Hundreds of millions of pain prescriptions are written each year, for various reasons, and the market for opioids is around $24 billion, an astronomical amount. While you would think that this number would be distributed throughout the world, it’s unfortunately mostly concentrated in the United States. This number works out to around 80 percent of opioids being used in the United States.

Lack of limitations

One of the reasons that the United States leads with the amount of opioids prescribed and used is likely the past lack of limitations on the drug. Previously, people who used opioids for pain relief were easily able to get multiple prescriptions from different doctors or have prescriptions renewed before they should be in an effort to take more medications. Another difference between the United States and other countries in opioid prescription is medical culture.  American doctors were much more willing to prescribe the pills for people suffering from acute and chronic pain. In other countries, opioids are only prescribed in extreme trauma cases, like childbirth, severe burns, and end-of-life care. Studying in Europe it was rather rare to see patients ask or receive the various potent opioids inappropriately.  Conversely, when I started my training nearly ten years ago the culture was to liberally give out opioids at the slightest whimper.  Since U.S. doctors were more willing to prescribe opioids, less serious medical conditions were and sometimes are treated with opioids.  Only now is the pendulum swinging the other way and there have been new regulations limiting opioid prescribing.  

Amount of prescriptions

According to the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM), a number of opioids prescribed has quadrupled, with close to 300 million prescriptions written in 2012, “which is enough to provide every American adult with a bottle of opioid pills”. Not every American adult has a bottle of opioids, which is even more concerning because it means that others have lots of different opioids they’re constantly taking. While it may be still fairly easy to acquire a prescription from a doctor, many people also receive their opioids from family members or friends who have their own prescription.

High risk of addiction

Opioids whether legal or illegal can be extremely addicting, which is why it’s so concerning at the rate they’re being used in the United States.  In this document, ASAM breaks down a lot of the numbers associated with opioid use and addiction. People are willing to share pain medication, especially when they receive it for less serious medical conditions and then end up having pills or prescriptions left over that they can give to loved ones suffering from chronic pain, or to sell. Unfortunately, opioids are also a gateway to heroin usage. Many people initially start taking opioids and then work their way up to heroin, because they’ve become addicted to their prescription pills and need to get that high. It’s important to limit, or at least carefully monitor, the amount of opioids being consumed in the United States.

Three Early Signs of Opioid Addiction

What are OPIOIDS?
Opioids are drugs that react on the nervous system relieving pain anywhere in the body. Many Opioids are common drugs like Robitussin A-C, Tylenol with Codeine, Empirin with Codeine, Fiorinal with Codeine, Roxanol, Duramorph, and Demerol and others.

Their names sound pretty common, many are everyday medications, and significantly make a difference in the lives of millions of people when properly taken.

OPIOID Abuse
Opioid abuse delivers many effects on the body. It is no longer the relief of pain, or the feeling received with the ease of movement, and a euphoric feeling as the pain subsides. Internally, the effects on the body can go unnoticed because of the relief from suffering is welcomed and enjoyed.

Causes of OPIOID Abuse
Although there is no direct evidence of genetic factors causing addiction to opiates, studies have indicated individuals with a direct family member addicted to opioids are more inclined to become addicted themselves. This could also be a factor of lifestyle and the people a person chooses as close friends.

What Signifies Addiction
The risk of dependency is dependent on the drug was taken. All opioids are addictive, but some are more quickly addictive than others, and dosage of the opioid taken is detrimental to addiction and the person’s health. Also included in the effects of opioids is the height and weight of the consumer and the time frame in which the dosage was taken. Of course, the mixture of alcohol and opioids is forbidden and extremely dangerous. Mixing alcohol and opioids is life-threatening and harmful to bodily organs and their ability to properly function.

As drug use increases, the frequency of doses increases, and the time between doses is shortened as a person gravitates to addiction.

What Are Three Early Key Signs of Addiction?

  • Feeling that you must use the drug regularly, or taking the drug several times each day not only when needed.
  • Feeling more of the opioid drug is required to obtain the same euphoric feeling. Pleasure in feeling euphoria rather than the relief of pain.
  • Doing things you would normally not do just to get a supply of the opioid, keeping a supply on hand for special events.

Recognizing Drug Abuse in Family and Friends

  • School work, attendance, activities and performance drop for no apparent reason.
  • Motivation decreases and health problems begin to appear.
  • The sudden lack of personal hygiene and grooming.
  • Behavioral changes, manners, family connection, secretive, and isolates themselves from family activities.
  • Excessive spending of money or the need for unusual amounts of money.