Category Archives: exercise

Depression, Food, Sunshine, Gut Microbiome

A family member was admitted to a psychiatric hospital this year with a major depressive episode. For the sake of anonymity lets call her Margie. I investigated the hospital and found that the medical director, chief nursing officer and CEO had excellent credentials. I asked Margie about her food choices, opportunity for exercise and time outdoors. All of these were deplorable. The only opportunity to spend time outdoors was to go outside with the smoking group for 20 minutes twice per day (cigarette breaks). There was no exercise program or exercise opportunity other than walking the halls and walking up and down the stairs with the smoking group going to/from a smoking session. The only green leafy vegetable available was iceberg lettuce (minimal nutritional value). Food options included high sugar and high starch content items, with very few vegetables and fresh fruits. Sugar and refined carbohydrates contribute to inflammation and gut dysbiosis, both of which contribute to psychiatric illness.

Margie had insomnia and depression. These two problems travel together and feed on each other. The lack of outdoor light in the morning and presence of artificial light in the evening all contribute to disruption of  circadian rhythm, worsening depression and insomnia. Lack of exercise also contributes to both.

Here is an excerpt of a letter I sent to her treating psychiatrist with copies to the CEO, medical director and chief nursing officer.

I do have concerns about the lack of availability at XXXXXXXXX Hospital of two essential components to mental health, specifically nutritional support and exercise.

So far the dietician has not yet consulted with XXXXX. I called the dietary department to discuss my concerns that she has been served primarily nutritionally deplete starch and sugar laden foods with a minimum of vegetables, fruit, healthy fat and protein. I was told that the only green leafy vegetable available is lettuce and when I inquired about other vegetables the response was very limited. Bob in the dietary department was great and very receptive to my concerns but seems somewhat limited in the availability of appropriate nutrient dense food at XXXXXXXX.

In addition, Maria tells me that XXXXXXX has no exercise program or exercise facility for patients. The importance of exercise and nutrition has been discussed extensively in the psychiatry literature.

Enclosed are a few review articles and abstracts relevant to nutrition and exercise for in-patient psychiatry. I hope you find these useful and would consider making efforts along the lines of the author’s recommendations in these studies and review articles.

I found the review by Dr LaChance and Dr. Ramsey “Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression” to be most informative. You are probably aware that Dr. Ramsey has presented many lectures at the annual meeting of the American Psychiatric Association. The authors of the other studies enclosed have also been well represented at that meeting.

Despite requesting a response from the Medical Director, Chief Nursing Officer, and CEO, I never received any communication in response to my concerns.

The concept of “NUTRITIONAL PSYCHIATRY” has received much attention in the psychiatry literature. This article was published in the World Journal of Psychiatry. Antidepressant foods: An evidence-based nutrient profiling system for depression.

The article discusses nutrients that are “related to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders”

Here is a summary:

Twelve Antidepressant Nutrients relate to the prevention and treatment of depressive disorders: Folate, iron, long-chain omega-3 fatty acids (EPA and DHA), magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin B12, vitamin C, and zinc.

The highest scoring foods were bivalves such as oysters and mussels, various seafoods, and organ meats for animal foods. The highest scoring plant foods were leafy greens, lettuces, peppers, and cruciferous vegetables.

This description aligns with the anti-inflammatory diet that I recommend to patients.

This dietary approach provides essential nutrients for brain health but also provides for healthy diversity in the gut microbiome,.

The relationship between psychiatric illness and the gut microbiome has been extensively reviewed in the medical literature.

Source of image:

Frontiers in Integrative Neuroscience, 11 September 2018 | https://doi.org/10.3389/fnint.2018.00033

This complicated picture depicts the interaction between food, gut microbiome, immune system, inflammation, endocrine system (stress response mediated by the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis), nervous system, neuro-transmitters including serotonin (the target of many ante-depressant medications). BBB is the blood brain barrier. ENS is the enteric nervous system. SCFAs are short chain fatty acids, very important for health, produced by “good” gut bacteria by using dietary fiber. SCFAs serve several useful purposes including nourishment for the cells that line the gut, protection of the tight junctions between those cells (prevent leaky gut), direct anti-inflammatory actions and more. Leaky gut leads to an increase in pro-inflammatory substances crossing the gut barrier and entering the body (instead of staying in the gut and leaving with stool) with a cascade of undesirable consequences. LPS (lipopolysaccharides) are bacterial wall toxins that stimulate the immune system and create inflammation. This inflammatory response is a major contributor to death in the setting of systemic infections (sepsis).

If you are interested in understanding this picture you can read the entire article here.

It is clear from this picture that the authors recommend beans and whole grains. I advise  against the consumption of grains and legumes in favor of colorful vegetables which provide for 5-7 times the amount of fiber per calorie compared to grains. Many reasons to avoid grains and legumes discussed on the website many times.

Fiber-rich diets are the main fermentable sources for SCFAs which contribute to the attenuation of systemic inflammation by inducing regulatory T cells. (Lucas et al., 2018) and through multiple other mechanisms.

SCFAs are one of many metabolites produced by gut bacteria that contribute to the prevention of depression

The mechanisms of action include direct communication to the brain through the vagus nerve, absorption of SCFAs into the blood where it can reach the brain and have beneficial effects, dampening of the inflammatory immune response, protecting the gut lining as mentioned above. These are depicted below.

 

SCFAs and depression

Image Source : Microb Cell 2019 Oct 7,; 6(10): 451-481, PMID 31646148

Exercise protects against depression and is useful as therapy for depression.

In her discussion of depression as a brain inflammatory disorder Psychiatrist Emily Dean describes well some of these interactions.

This is not the first time I have observed  very limited access to nutritious foods, exercise and sunlight in the setting of a psychiatric hospital. Unfortunately, it will likely not be the last despite multiple studies and articles in the medical literature pointing to the importance of these three ingredients for general and psychiatric health.

To prevent and treat depression and other psychiatric illnesses, nutrition, exercise, sunshine are all important. Lack of these basic treatment modalities hampers recovery and health.

Eat clean, drink filtered water, love, laugh, exercise outdoors in a greenspace, get some morning sunlight, block the blue light before bed, engage in meaningful work, find a sense of purpose.

Doctor Bob

 

 

 

 

Exercise as Medicine

For many chronic health problems, regular exercise is more effective than any drug.

Exercise as Medicine is a major movement at John’s Hopkins School of Medicine.

You can visit this website for links to many topics on the benefits of exercise.

You can find the top 10 things you need to know about exercise here. They include the following evidence based recommendations from the Physical Activity Guidelines for Americans.

any amount of physical activity has some health benefits. Americans can benefit from small amounts of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity throughout the day.

The benefits of exercise are cumulative, walk 10 minutes 3 times per day and you get the same benefit as a 30 minute walk. Walk  5 minutes 6 times and the benefit equals that of 30 minutes continuous walking. So you can break up your exercise in little pieces throughout the day. No requirement for a specific long period devoted to exercise.

New evidence shows that physical activity has immediate health benefits. For example, physical activity can reduce anxiety and blood pressure and improve quality of sleep and insulin sensitivity.

Exercise improves cognition, decreases cancer risk, decreases risk of depression, hypertension, diabetes, stroke and heart disease. It lowers risk of falls and injuries from falls. It decreases pain and helps a variety of conditions. Exercise reduces all cause mortality (death rates from all causes)

Here are some direct quotes from the second edition of the  Physical Activity Guidelines.

  • For youth, physical activity can help improve cognition,* bone health, fitness, and heart health. It can also reduce the risk of depression.
  • For adults, physical activity helps prevent 8 types of cancer (bladder,* breast, colon, endometrium,* esophagus,* kidney,* stomach,* and lung*); reduces the risk of dementia* (includingAlzheimer’s disease*), all-cause mortality, heart disease, stroke, high blood pressure, type 2 diabetes, and depression; and improves bone health, physical function, and quality of life.
  • For older adults, physical activity also lowers the risk of falls and injuries from falls.*
  • For pregnant women, physical activity reduces the risk of postpartum depression.*
  • New evidence shows that physical activity can help manage more health conditions that Americans already have. For example, physical activity can decrease pain for those with osteoarthritis, reduce disease progression for hypertension and type 2 diabetes, reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and improve cognition for those with dementia, multiple sclerosis, ADHD, and Parkinson’s disease.

You can choose from a variety of TEDtalks on exercise here.

I particularly enjoyed my friend Darryl Edwards talk here.

 

So sleep well, exercise often, eat clean, filter your water, avoid environmental toxins, get plenty of sunshine, and most important of all, stay connected with friends and family.

Doctor Bob

 

Sleep! You can’t live without it.

Circadian rhythm refers to the cycling of hormones according to the time of day. Every hormone cycles with daylight and darkness, each in it’s own way. Our brain has a master clock, called the circadian clock, controlled by specialized cells deep in the brain. There is a direct connection from our retina (in the back of the eyes) to the circadian clock in the brain. Blue light (part of the normal outdoor spectrum of light) stimulates very specific receptor cells in the retina which in turn communicates directly with the circadian clock telling the brain whether it is day or night. To synchronize our hormones and achieve restorative sleep, we must get outdoor light exposure to our eyes (without sunglasses, early in the day) and limit light exposure in the evening.

Artificial light, especially from cell phones and other devices that emit intense blue light, shift work, late night social activity, poor eating habits, sedentary lifestyle and at the opposite extreme, late evening workouts,  can all disrupt our circadian rhythm preventing adequate restorative sleep. A rare genetic illness called fatal insomnia that strikes adults at middle age prevents sleep and results in death within a few months, highlighting the importance of sleep. Sleep deprivation can kill a human quicker than starvation! Adequate amounts of deep non-REM sleep are required for tissue regeneration, healing, DNA repair and immune function. REM sleep with dreaming provides great benefit by organizing our memory, discharging the emotional content of traumatic events, and facilitating creative brain activity. One night of short-sleep produces a state of inattention and slow reflexes as dangerous as driving under the influence of alcohol intoxication. Chronic  short sleep and disrupted circadian rhythm results in increased risk of depression, cancer, hypertension, diabetes, dementia, obesity, metabolic syndrome, insulin resistance, heart attack and stroke, to name a few. Sleep interruption immediately halts weight loss during a calorie restricted diet (likely the result of hormonal disruption). So getting an adequate amount of restorative sleep every night is essential to good health. Here a few tips to help achieve a good night’s sleep each and every night.

  1. GET OUTDOOR LIGHT EXPOSURE ON YOUR EYES WITHOUT SUNGLASSES EVERY DAY, EARLY IN THE DAY. This helps set your biologic/circadian clock. Even on a cloudy day, outdoor light is much stronger and natural than indoor light. It is essential for setting your biologic/circadian clock. If you cannot get outside, stand or sit in front of a large window for 20-30 minutes in the morning, looking outside. Take a lunch break outside without sunglasses. Wear a shade hat instead of sunglasses. Your brain needs to experience natural outdoor light during the day.
  2. Avoid bright light in the evening, especially the light from TV, computer screens, cell phones, which all emit intense blue light and trick your brain into thinking it is daytime. Wear blue light blocking glasses/goggles for 2-3 hours before bed. (Amber tinted glasses which block blue light can be purchased on-line and can be worn over reading glasses) There is also software available that will decrease the blue light intensity of computer screens and cell phones in the evening.
  3. Practice time restricted eating. Limit all eating to an eight hour period, thus providing for an over-night fast of 16 hours. If that does not seem possible try to limit eating to a 10-hour period which provides a 14-hour overnight fast. This improves sleep, circadian rhythm, blood pressure, blood sugar and reduces stress hormones. NO SNACKS BETWEEN MEALS. NO FOOD FOR 2 HOURS BEFORE BED. For every hour decrease in eating time period from 12 hours to 8 hours you get health benefit.
  4. Eat an anti-inflammatory diet.
  5. If you snore, are overweight/obese, fall asleep during the day, or do not feel refreshed in the morning ask your doctor to order a sleep study. Obstructive Sleep Apnea makes restorative sleep impossible and increases risk of heart attack, stroke and most chronic diseases.
  6. Avoid alcohol altogether and avoid caffeine after late morning.  Alcohol in the evening may help you fall asleep but it results in a withdrawal from alcohol during the night. This disrupts normal sleep patterns.
  7. Sleep in a cold, dark, quiet room. Use black-out curtains, no night lights, no phone charger lights, no lights of any kind should be on in the room. Any amount of light in the room impairs the production of melatonin which facilitates sleep onset.
  8. Have a winddown time every evening. Develop habits of non-stressful activities, soft music, dim light, casual conversation, enjoyable reading. Do not spend evening time dealing with finances, conflict, or emotional activity.
  9. Try a magnesium supplement before bedtime. Magnesium glycinate, magnesium citrate, magnesium gluconate, are absorbed much better than cheaper supplements such as magnesium oxide. Magnesium L-Threonate is expensive, but it crosses the blood brain barrier into the brain with the greatest brain penetration of all magnesium supplements.
  10. Manage stress with yoga, meditation, regular exercise (but no intense exercise in the evening.) Perform most of your exercise outdoors in a green space. This provides much more health benefit than the equivalent exercise indoors.
  11. Regular contact with supportive family and friends is essential to health and reduces stress. The greatest predictor of health vs disease is the amount of social connectedness an individual experiences.
  12. Establish regular wake-up times and go-to-bed times. Regular sleep habits are essential. If you must rely on alarm clocks you do not have good sleep habits.

A few words about alcohol, caffeine and sleeping pills.

A drink or two in the evening may help you relax but it disrupts your sleep by causing a mild episode of alcohol withdrawal as your liver metabolizes the alcohol and your blood levels drop. Even this slight degree of alcohol withdrawal will impair a good night’s sleep.

Caffeine impairs sleep by blocking adenosine receptors in the brain. Adenosine is the neurotransmitter that increases gradually during the day creating a sate referred to as sleep pressure. Some people metabolize caffeine quickly, others slowly. The slower you metabolize caffeine the longer it takes to clear it from your adenosine receptors. Without adequate sleep pressure (adenosine receptors filled with adenosine in the brain) you cannot fall asleep. Many sleep experts recommend complete abstinence from caffeine and suggest that if you need caffeine to get started in the morning you are regularly sleep deprived.

Sleeping pills of all kinds interfere with normal sleep architecture. While they facilitate falling asleep, they impair your ability to achieve deep restorative stages of sleep and can produce many undesirable side effects including addiction, withdrawal symptoms, sleep walking, sleep driving, worsening of asthma and COPD, constipation, diarrhea, daytime drowsiness, burning and tingling sensations, unusual dreams, weakness, heartburn, etc…. Most importantly they all interfere with cycling through the various stages of sleep in a normal, restorative pattern!

If you want to explore these concepts in depth here are two excellent books that discuss sleep and circadian rhythm.

Why We Sleep, by Matthew Walker Ph.D.

The Circadian Code, by Satchin Panda Ph.D.

Eat clean, sleep well, spend time exercising out of doors, love one another.

Bob Hansen MD

The Broken Brain Docuseries is now re-running

Due to popular demand the producers of this terrific series are making it available again  on line this weekend. If you have not taken advantage of this information you can do it here:

Replay (YouTube) | Broken Brain

Enjoy

Bob Hansen MD

The Broken Brain on-line “docuseries” is running now.

I would encourage everyone to watch this series of daily interviews and discussions on lifestyle and brain health. This was organized and produced by Mark Hyman MD, director of the Functional Medicine Clinic at Cleveland Clinic, well known author, speaker and physician, Discussions cover many topics including environmental toxins (such as heavy metals and Roundup), nutrition, exercise, sleep, stress reduction, gut bacteria, and more with specific reference to the effects on your brain and risk for dreaded conditions such as Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, etc. These conditions can be prevented and when present, they can be treated with interventions not usually employed by modern medicine, unless you are fortunate enough to be working with a Functional Medicine practitioner.

You can sign up to receive a daily email with a link to the on-line video. Each video in the series is available for 24 hours starting at 3 PM PST, 6 PM EST.

Here is the link to get started with the third episode in this series.

Episode 3: Dementia and Alzheimer’s [LIVE] | Broken Brain

To Your Health,

Bob Hansen MD

Cartoon humor: A Prescription for Health!

 

prescription-for-exercise-cropped

Hat tip to Tommy Wood MD, PhD for introducing me to this great cartoon.

So what would happen if your doctor prescribed this? Would you be shocked? Would you follow the advice? Sadly few doctors make such recommendations as explicitly as this cartoon and fewer patients follow the advice.

How important are the elements in this advice?

They are essential. We too often focus on dietary concerns at the expense of ignoring other important low hanging fruit. Early morning  outdoor exercise with exposure to natural light in a green space, even on a cloudy or rainy day, is essential for health. Why? There are many reasons. Click the link above to read fitness expert Darryl Edward’s discussion with references. In fact outdoor exercise in a greenspace is more beneficial than the same exercise indoors. The reasons are many, including but not limited to Vitamin D production.

Early daytime exposure to natural outdoor light helps to maintain our Circadian rhythm and align the biologic clock in all of our cells and organs with the central biological Circadian clock in our brain. Most folks do not know that we have a biologic clock deep within our brain and that all the organs and cells of our body also have clocks. They all need to be synchronized with each other and with the sun for optimal health. When they are not synchronized bad things happen. Night shift workers and other folks with disturbed sleep have higher rates of cancer , depressionhypertension, heart attack and stroke.

Maintaining our circadian rhythm is vital to achieving adequate high quality restorative sleep. In turn, obtaining adequate restorative sleep contributes to lower cardiovascular disease risk in addition to four traditional lifestyle risk factors.

Exposure to artificial light at night disrupts our circadian rhythm and impairs the onset of sleep.

In medical school I learned that our retina has two cell types, rods and cones. But advances in science have revealed a  third cell type called retinal ganglionic cells. 

These cells are  particularly sensitive to blue light and directly connected to our central biological clock . Exposure to artificial light, especially from TV screens, computers, cell phones and other electronic devices after sunset disrupts our sleep cycle and delays the onset of sleep. That is why wearing blue light filtering glasses in the evening helps many folks to improve their sleep quality and duration.

Sleep deprivation for even one night causes elevation in interleukin 6 levels the following day. Interleukin 6 suppresses immune function and excessive levels cause bone and tissue damage (especially cardiovascular). Sleep deprivation  increases  Stress hormones (cortisol, adrenalin), decreases prolactin and Growth hormone , and decreases the nightly production of ATP .

Melatonin , often called the sleep hormone, is produced most abundantly during restorative sleep and essential for tissue healing, immune function, cancer prevention, and defense against tissue oxidation. These are just a few of the roles melatonin and sleep cycles play in determining our health..

So exercise outdoors in a green space daily to help synchronize your biologic clock with the sun, dim the lights in the evening and if you must watch TV or work on electronic devices before bed wear Blue Light filter glasses .

Of course eating an abundance of colorful fresh organic vegetables and fruits, and practicing some stress reduction techniques every day are equally important and essential to health and functional status.

Finally, not mentioned in the cartoon above is another healthy lifestyle choice, intermittent fasting (IF). IF will be discussed in the next post.

Until then, sleep well, exercise regularly out doors in a green space environment, eat clean, learn and practice some regular stress reduction techniques and read the next post about IF.

Bob Hansen MD

Functional Medicine: Getting to the Root Causes of Illness, A cure for Alzheimer’s

Today I watched a great TED talk by Dr. Rangan Chaterjee discussing his own journey in the discovery and implementation of a functional medicine approach to caring for his patients. The concept of using basic science and clinical science to diagnose and treat the root causes of illness, rather than treating symptoms, has been around for more than two decades.  This approach has recently started to attract more attention, especially within the community of younger physicians who have become more dissatisfied with the frustrations of traditional allopathic medicine.

Here is the talk. Dr. Chatterjee covers lots of ground in a passionate and informative talk.

Enjoy this talk. If you would like to learn about how a functional medicine approach can CURE ALZHEIMER’S DISEASE then watch this video of Dr. Bredesen who gave this lecture at a meeting of the American College of Nutrition.

Doctor Bredesen, an acclaimed neuroscientist, researcher, and more recently a brilliant clinician, has been criticized by the academic research community for implementing a clinical research protocol that addresses more than one variable at a time! Unfortunately, medical science has been handcuffed by the drug-model of clinical research wherein only one variable (drug vs. placebo for example) is studied. But if an illness has many potential contributing root causes, changing only one variable is doomed to failure, as Dr. Bredesen explains in this lecture.

Sleep well, eat clean, get outdoors every morning to help keep your circadian rhythm and biological clock in order.

Bob Hansen MD