Mental Health

Spotlight On: Magnesium

Photo by  Radu Florin  on  Unsplash

Photo by Radu Florin on Unsplash

Magnesium is one of my favourite essential minerals because it does SO much in the body, and is helpful for mental, emotional and physical conditions.  Along with zinc, it is also one of the nutrients that I tend to see signs of deficiency in many of my clients who come to see me both for Naturopathic and remedial massage treatments.

Every cell in your body requires magnesium to function, and it plays many roles in the body including converting food into energy, creating proteins and amino acids and repairing DNA.  It can also help with reducing insulin resistance, improving PMS symptoms, reducing inflammation and improving exercise performance. But some of the more commonly known roles (and the ones people tend to come and see me for) are muscle contraction and relaxation, and the regulation of neurotransmitters. (1)

Not getting enough magnesium can lead to many common symptoms including low mood, higher than normal stress levels, restless sleep, fatigue and muscle twitches and spasms.  Other symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to include high blood pressure, heart palpitations, migraines, osteoporosis and asthma. (2) Let’s have a look at some of the more common conditions and symptoms that low magnesium may contribute to:

Stress & Mood
The relationship between magnesium and stress is a two way street – stress depletes magnesium, and magnesium counteracts stress.  So when you are going through times of high stress, you need more magnesium!  Magnesium helps to reduce stress by balancing the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is the body’s main stress response system.  Without enough, your cortisol and adrenaline is left unchecked which exacerbates your body’s fight or flight response.  Stress can be physical or mental, however the results are very similar.  When in this fight or flight state, your muscles become tense, which can further exacerbate stress.  Magnesium is muscle relaxant, and so can help calm both the nervous system and your muscles, reducing your overall stress levels. (3)  Magnesium also plays a role in neurotransmitter function, including those responsible for regulating mood such as serotonin, GABA and dopamine.  It is required for the body to both create these neurotransmitters and allow them to transmit, and so can be a factor in mental health and mood conditions such as depression and anxiety. (4)

Sleep & Fatigue
If a client has troubles with getting to and staying asleep, one of the first things I recommend is magnesium, especially if they’re showing any other signs or symptoms of deficiency.  Not only can magnesium help you get to sleep, it can help you get a better quality and deeper rest.  As mentioned in the previous section, magnesium can help calm the nervous system down which in turn can help promote sleep. It helps to activate the parasympathetic nervous system which is responsible for helping you relax, and it plays a role in regulating melatonin, which is the chemical responsible for managing your sleep/wake cycle. (5) Poor quality sleep can also contribute to fatigue, and so one thing to really look at is if you are fatigued, are you sleeping poorly?  In some cases, addressing the sleep issue can help to improve fatigue.  The other way magnesium helps with fatigue is that its involved in formation and storage of the energy molecule adenosine triphosphate (ATP).  Low magnesium can also contribute to oxidative stress and inflammation in the body, which has been shown to contribute to conditions such as chronic fatigue and depression. (6)

Muscle Tension & Exercise Performance
Magnesium can help reduce muscle tension and improve recovery from exercise due to its role in relaxing muscles.  Its opposing mineral is calcium, which contributes to muscle contraction – and so the balance of these two minerals in the body is important.  This also relates to how magnesium status can impact on heart palpitations and increases in blood pressure – due to increase contraction in the cardiovascular muscles. Low levels of magnesium can also increase lactic acid build up which is well known to cause post workout tension and cramping.  For those who exercise frequently, and especially endurance athletes, the need for magnesium increases due to increased sweat and overall nutrients required for the body to function. (7)

Now that you know how important magnesium is, how do you get it?  The food sources highest in magnesium include seeds, dark leafy greens, dark chocolate (yay!), whole grains, bananas, legumes, nuts, avocado and some fish. (8) However some people have a higher demand that exceeds what they may get from dietary sources alone, and may require supplementation.  I generally recommend a powder form of magnesium over tablets, because it is better absorbed.  I don’t recommend buying a cheap product from the supermarket, if you are looking for a retail product go for brands like BioCeuticals, ATP Science, Ethical Nutrients or Herbs of Gold. 

And if you’re ever unsure about whether you need magnesium or something else to help with your stress, sleep or fatigue, then please be sure to visit the Holistia Naturopathy page so that you can start your own personal healing journey!

 References:

1.         Spritzler F. 10 Evidence-Based Health Benefits of Magnesium2018 23 April 2019. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/10-proven-magnesium-benefits.
2.         Arnarson A. 7 Signs and Symptoms of Magnesium Deficiency2017 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-deficiency-symptoms.
3.         Smith MD. Can Magnesium Help You Cope with Stress?2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.betternutrition.com/supplements/more-magnesium-less-stress.
4.         Greenblatt J. MAGNESIUM: THE MISSING LINK IN MENTAL HEALTH?2016 23 April 2019. Available from:
http://www.immh.org/article-source/2016/11/17/magnesium-the-missing-link-in-mental-health.
5.         Jennings K-A. How Magnesium Can Help You Sleep2017 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.healthline.com/nutrition/magnesium-and-sleep.
6.         STAFF U. Low Energy Causes May Be Rooted in These 3 Nutritional Deficiencies2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://universityhealthnews.com/daily/energy/3-top-nutritional-deficiencies-as-fatigue-causes/.
7.         PHARMA W. This is how to protect your muscles from magnesium deficiencyN.D. 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.woerwagpharma.de/en/health-topics/bone-muscle-joint-health/this-is-how-to-protect-your-muscles-from-magnesium-deficiency/.
8.         Blackmores. 10 magnesium foods for your health2018 23 April 2019. Available from:
https://www.blackmores.com.au/energy/10-magnesium-foods-for-your-health.

 

Passive Superficial Front Line Stretch

If I’ve sent you the link to this page, chances are that I have recommended this stretch for you to help open up the front of the body, especially through the chest and the front of the shoulders.

In this day of desk sitting and technology, the majority of clients I see who come in for remedial massage or structural integration work have the typical head forward, shoulders rounded posture. This posture is problematic because it can create tension and pain in the back, shoulders and neck. And that’s where most people feel it so assume that’s where the problem is.

I love this stretch because its easy to do, and that makes it doable. For most people, in the evening when watching TV or winding down for bed can be a great time to do this. To start with you may only be able to do it for 3-5 minutes, and that’s ok! As long as you do it consistently, every day. Chances are, if you’re shoulders are pulled forward and down, or your head is drawn forward, it’s something that has been building consistently over many years - and so it will take time to counteract this. And, once things are aligned a bit better - this can be a great way to help prevent the problem in future.

How to do the stretch:

1. Use either a rolled up yoga mat or a half foam roller for this. Either works, it depends on how much of a stretch you need. For many, rolling up the yoga mat can be enough to begin with. I would not recommend using a full round roller for this as it will be way too high.

2. Lie on the foam roller or yoga mat as pictured below. You will want to try and get your back nice and flat by tucking your tailbone under, and dropping your chin towards your chest a little more than is pictured below, to give you some flatness in the upper neck (but only go to where is comfortable). Have your arms out at 90 degrees (or less, if needed) with palms facing upwards. The amount of stretch and how comfortable you feel depends on where you move the arms - and you can have them wherever works for you.

3. Hold this position for however feels comfortable for you. You can start with 3-5 minutes, and then work up towards 10-15 minutes. The more time you spend at a desk or in a position which encourages your shoulders to round forward, the more important this will be for you.

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Gut Health – Why is it so important?

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The topic of “gut health” is coming up more and more frequently in the media, documentaries and on social media.  But why is it so important?

There seems to be a lot more research coming out about the role our digestive system has on various other aspects of our physical (and mental!) wellbeing.  I find this awesome because it means that every person can do something to change their health. 

As a Naturopath, I find that almost all of my clients will show symptoms of gut issues, even if the problem they are coming to see me about isn’t specifically digestion-related.  So gut healing and repair is almost always the first place I start with their healing journey.  For many people, healing the gut can help to reduce a whole range of symptoms.

So what sort of things can be impacted by gut health?

1.  Digestion & Elimination
This is of course the most obvious one, so I will start here. Now, while what is “normal” for one person and another can vary, there are some obvious signs of digestive issues when it comes to food intake and elimination.

Symptoms such as heartburn, reflux, bloating, excessive wind or burping, pain on elimination, diarrhoea, constipation (and alternating between the two) are all problems that relate to issues within the gastrointestinal system. 

These sorts of symptoms can be problematic not just from the physical discomfort, but also with the stress and anxiety that can be associated with experiencing these symptoms on a daily basis. And while these symptoms may be due to a variety of diagnosed disorders, one of the more common disorders with these symptoms (experienced by one in five Australians (1)) is IBS.   IBS describes a set of symptoms that can be caused by a variety of things such as stress, infection, poor diet and food intolerances.  It also indicates that your digestive system may not be properly breaking down and digesting the food you eat, which means that those nutrients may not be properly absorbed.  This then can have a knock on effect with other body systems not working as well as they should be.

2.  Immune Function
When you consider the fact that poor digestive health can mean that the nutrients you eat aren’t getting absorbed properly, it stands to reason that this could contribute to poor immune function.  There are a number of nutrients such as zinc and vitamin C which are essential for immune health, and if you’re not absorbing these nutrients from your food you may end up prone to getting sick more often and unable to fight infections. 

The other factor that is important to consider is the role that the “good bacteria” in your gut plays with your immune health.  In simple terms, there needs to be a healthy balance of the varieties of bacteria in your gut – and the foods that you eat and the functionality of your digestive system plays a huge role in how well this is balanced. (2) There is a lot more research being done in this area which is very exciting, and we are learning more and more about how important this balance is for our immune function.  Not only that, imbalance can also increase inflammation in the body and lead to other diseases such as heart disease, cancer and diabetes.

The flip side of this problem is that your gut health can also impact on your immune system in the opposite way, where it becomes overstimulated wreaking havoc in the form of allergies, asthma, and even autoimmune conditions. (3, 4)

3. Mental Health
There is increasing information becoming available about the link between gut health and mental health.  Your mental health can be affected by inflammation in the body, food choices, stress, your gut bacteria balance and absorption of nutrients.

Many of the neurotransmitters that are involved in mental health have a relationship with the digestive system – for example 90% of serotonin is synthesized within the gut with your gut bacteria playing an important role in that process.(5)   This is one of the great examples, as serotonin is important for mood and sleep regulation, memory and function. (6) Your gut and your brain have a direct connection with each other,(7)  and this two way relationship can be impacted both by how well your gut functions (which affects your brain) and what’s going on with your brain (for example, chronic stress can impact on how well your gut functions).  This can create bit of a loop, and can sometimes be tricky to work out what’s the bigger factor in the chicken/egg conundrum.

Improving your gut health doesn’t have to be a big complicated process.  For some people it does require a little additional help, and that’s where I come in!  But that doesn’t mean you can’t start making changes to your diet and lifestyle right away to have an impact on your health.

So, here are three things you can start doing today!

1.  Start a food diary
For many people, gut related issues stem from incompatible or intolerant foods.  The best way to start looking at this is to keep a food and mood diary for at least a week, to try and identify if there are any foods that are exacerbating symptoms.  This can be obvious for the more common trigger foods such as milk, bread, or eggs, but sometimes there can be foods that contribute to symptoms on a lower level and can be trickier to identify.  If you’re unsure, then it’s helpful to look at something like Bio-Compatibility Testing to help you work out what to eat and what to leave out.  

2.  Eat the Rainbow
I am sure you have heard this one many times over but it is one of the most important recommendations!  Eating a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables of different colours not only ensures that you get a variety of nutrients into you, it also ensure that you are feeding a variety of those microbes that help with immune function and mental health.  Fresh really is best!  Eating the same thing every day means you’re only feeding certain types of bacteria, and you need that balance.

3.  Bone Broth/ Vegie Broth Is Your Friend
An important part of gut healing is the repair and nourishment of the gut lining.  If you’ve had chronic digestive complaints for a long time, chances are your gut lining may be inflamed and reactive, which can compound the digestive issues.  By including a nourishing bone broth or gut healing vegie broth (link) you can help to heal and seal your gut lining, reducing the inflammation and allowing it to function the way it is meant to.

While these tips are great for getting started, it is really important to be aware that if you have severe digestive symptoms that seem to have come out of the blue, you must ensure that you see a health professional about it.  There are some serious conditions that can cause digestive symptoms and so when in doubt always always get it checked out.

 

References:
1.         Irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)2015 03 May 2018. Available from: https://www.betterhealth.vic.gov.au/health/conditionsandtreatments/irritable-bowel-syndrome-ibs.
2.         University OS. Gut microbes closely linked to proper immune function, other health issues2013 03 May 2018. Available from: https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/09/130916122214.htm.
3.         Van Evra J. Inside the Microbiome: Why Good Gut Bacteria Is the Big Hope For Allergic Disease. Allergic Living [Internet]. 2017 03 May 2018. Available from: https://www.allergicliving.com/2017/11/30/inside-the-microbiome-why-good-gut-bacteria-is-the-big-hope-for-allergic-disease/.
4.         Craven C. How Balancing Gut Bacteria Can Ease Autoimmune Diseases2016 03 May 2018. Available from: https://www.healthline.com/health-news/how-gut-bacteria-ease-autoimmune-diseases - 1.
5.         Stoller-Conrad J. Microbes Help Produce Serotonin in Gut2015 03 May 2018. Available from: http://www.caltech.edu/news/microbes-help-produce-serotonin-gut-46495.
6.         McIntosh J. What is serotonin and what does it do?2018 03 May 2018. Available from: https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248.
7.         Bertrand P, Loughman A, Jackson M. Gut feeling: how your microbiota affects your mood, sleep and stress levels2016 03 May 2018. Available from: https://theconversation.com/gut-feeling-how-your-microbiota-affects-your-mood-sleep-and-stress-levels-65107.

Sleep Hygiene – What Does It Mean?

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov,  www.unsplash.com

Photo by Vladislav Muslakov, www.unsplash.com

One of the common issues that I experience with my clients is sleep complaints.   This includes the ability to get to sleep, quality of sleep, and the ability to wake up feeling refreshed after getting enough sleep.  The main sleep issue that I come across is the inability to fall asleep with ease (racing mind, laying awake, anxiety, overthinking), closely followed by waking up feeling lethargic, and like you’ve not actually slept well at all.

A 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults found that sleep problems are quite common, with around 33-45% of adults having difficulty sleeping or feeling the results of inadequate sleep during the day.  Of these people, around 20% experienced problems relating to chronic insomnia.  Most interestingly, 26% of respondents stated that they use the internet right before sleep and experience sleep related difficulties.(1)  For some people, an underlying medical condition such as restless legs or sleep apnoea can cause problems sleeping, however for the majority of people its due to their sleeping and night time habits.

Lack of sleep can affect a person’s physical and mental health and wellbeing, as well as their ability to work and function with day to day tasks. Not only that, it could shorten your life expectancy, and put you at risk for diseases such as obesity, heart disease and diabetes. (2)

Why is sleep so important?
When we sleep, there are many functions that the body carries out that are required for optimal health and well-being. 

Sleeping is important for maintaining memory and consciousness – and during REM sleep the brain can clear your working memory and improve the ability to process information when you next wake.  It is also during sleep that your brain is able to remove toxic accumulation of by-products of neural activity that are accumulated during the da.  This is due to the fact that when you sleep the space between the brain cells increases, allowing for the waste to be removed more effectively.

During sleep, your body also repairs itself.  The major functions designed to restore the body such as muscle growth, tissue repair, protein synthesis and growth hormone release mostly happen during sleep.  It is also important for immune function and to conserve energy resources. (3)

So as you can see, sleep is pretty important!

Unfortunately, a lot of people don’t realize the effect their evening and pre-bed time habits have on their ability to get to and stay asleep.  And this is where the term “sleep hygiene” comes in.   These are first-step basics that you can implement to try and help you get a good night’s rest.  Of course some of you may require more – which I can definitely help with – but this is a great place to start.

1.  Your electronic devices are probably contributing to your sleep issues
When you consider the survey results above, you’ll notice the link between using the internet right before bed and prevalence of sleep issues.  This is not a coincidence, and it has to do with both the use of electronic devices and not allowing your mind to calm down and relax before bed.  Our bodies are designed to regulate our sleep / wake cycle based on light.  Electronic devices emit a “blue light” which is fine during the day because it can boost attention and reaction times, however at night it has been shown to inhibit the secretion of melatonin, which is essential for good sleep. (4)

If you have trouble getting to sleep at night, it would probably be beneficial for you avoid looking at bright screens for a good 2-3 hours before bed.  However we all know this may not be realistic at all.  A lot of people work late, or use TV to relax after a busy day, or like to read in bed.  If you can, try for at least an hour before you want to sleep.  If even that is too difficult, it would be worth investing in a pair of red lens glasses to wear in the evening.  Red light has the least power to shift your circadian rhythm and suppress melatonin, meaning it will reduce the effect that blue light has.  Smart phones also have the ability to either install an app that will put a red overlay over the screen, or may have a night time setting that will do a similar thing.  These apps can also be installed on some desktops/laptops.  I would strongly recommend taking the TV out of the bedroom if you have one, to avoid the temptation of watching TV while trying to get to sleep.

2.  Create a routine around going to bed.
This is something new parents do for babies, to help them wind down at the end of the day and teach them that night time is for sleeping.  The same applies for adults. If you are still rushing from your day, or try to jump straight into bed after working or watching a high paced TV show then your body hasn’t had the chance to wind down, and it’s fair to expect you won’t be able to go to sleep right away. 

If this is you, then maybe it’s time to create your sleep time routine.  What sort of calming and relaxing things can you incorporate into it?  For some, it’s the making and drinking of a bed time tea.  For others, it may be yoga or stretching in the quiet of the house.  Some like to read a book (best to use a real book or a red light filter if it must be an electronic device!), meditate, breathing exercises, have a shower or bath, or have a body care routine.  Anything is possible, but the key is to establish this routine and turn it into a habit.  And then your body will start recognizing this as “preparing for sleep”, and start to wind down as you begin your routine.  By the time you want to actually sleep, your body and mind should be ready.

3.  Create a sleep environment that promotes good sleep.
If you are sensitive to light, try block out curtains and covering your clock/putting your phone face down.  If you know that your phone will tempt you to check if you hear it beeping or buzzing, turn on flight mode so that you cannot be disturbed by it (or leave it in another room).  If you are someone who requires sound to sleep, consider a white noise machine or try a podcast like “Sleep with Me”.  Make sure your bedroom is free of clutter so that energetically you are not feeling overwhelmed or feeling confined when you are in your bed.   And try not to work in bed!

4.  As always, diet is important!
It’s not just a matter of what you eat, but when you eat.  Heavy meals right before bed can hinder your sleep.  Not only that, it could cause you to wake during the night with reflux and indigestion.  This is because our bodies are designed to better digest foods while in an upright position. (5) The stomach can take up to 3 hours to empty, which is why it’s best to eat at least 3 hours before bed OR have a very light dinner. 

If you were to look at the Chinese Medicine perspective, the stomach has the highest amount of energy at 7-9am (which is why a decent breakfast at this time is a perfect way to start the day), which means that it has the least amount of energy between 7-9pm (which is when most people eat a heavy dinner).   So if falling asleep is an issue for you (or night time waking due to heartburn or digestive discomfort), consider eating earlier (by 6-6:30pm) and have a lighter, easily digestible meal – and then keep a food and mood diary and see if it makes a difference.

These are just some suggestions you can start straight away to make some changes to improve your quality of sleep.  Of course, there are a number of herbal remedies and nutritional supplements that can be helpful in promoting sleep, such as magnesium, chamomile, lavender and passionflower.  Essential oils, bath salts, and magnesium lotions can all be helpful too.  If you feel you require some guidance or further support in this area, then that is what I am here for!

 

 


References:
1.         Adams R, Appleton S, Taylor A, McEvoy D, Antic N. Report to the Sleep Health Foundation 2016 Sleep Health Survey of Australian Adults The Adelaide Institute for Sleep Health; 2016.
2.         NHS. Why lack of sleep is bad for your health2015 16 Feb 18. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Livewell/tiredness-and-fatigue/Pages/lack-of-sleep-health-risks.aspx.
3.         Osiecki H. Promoting Restful Sleep: The Overlooked Factor for Wellbeing. n.d.
4.         Health H. Blue light has a dark side2012 16 Feb 18. Available from: https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/blue-light-has-a-dark-side.
5.         Brodwin E. Here's Why You Should Never Eat Right Before Bed2016 16 Feb 18. Available from: https://www.sciencealert.com/here-s-why-you-should-never-eat-right-before-bed.