This page is for information only and it does not constitute medical advice. For personal and informed medical advice, please consult your doctor.
The mind-body connection
My first scientific love was biology – in fact, I read Natural Sciences at university which included a wide range of biological and medical related modules in my first and second years, before finishing with Psychology in my final year. I also have a lifelong chronic disease. It’s these two experiences in my life that have led me to believe the mind and body and highly connected – in fact, I would argue there is no distinction at all.
So looking after our minds, as we learn to do in therapy, is very helpful for our physical bodies. For example, soothing rhythm breathing improves a physiological measure called heart rate variability, which is a measure of how well the nervous system responds to stress.
Equally, looking after our physical bodies, including addressing our nutrient. exercise and sleep needs, can hugely support out minds.
This page discusses various medical checks and lifestyle improvements you can make to support your mental health and wellbeing.
Vitamin D deficiency is a prevalent health concern with far-reaching implications for overall well-being. Often referred to as the “sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D is produced by the skin in response to sunlight exposure and is crucial for various bodily functions. Insufficient levels of vitamin D have been associated with a range of health issues, including weakened bones, compromised immune function, and an increased risk of chronic diseases.
Beyond its well-established role in calcium absorption and bone health, emerging research suggests a potential link between vitamin D deficiency and mental health, with some studies indicating an association with conditions like depression and anxiety.
Certain populations, such as individuals with limited sun exposure, those with darker skin tones, older adults, and people with conditions that affect fat absorption, are at a higher risk of vitamin D deficiency. Addressing this deficiency often involves a combination of dietary changes, supplements, and increased exposure to sunlight, underscoring the importance of recognizing and managing this nutritional shortfall for overall health and well-being.
In the UK, it is estimated that 1 in 6 people have a vitamin D deficiency and the Government advises everyone to take a Vitamin D supplement daily in the winter.
For more info see here
Get your Vitamin D levels checked!
The link between vitamin B12 and depression underscores the intricate relationship between nutritional status and mental health. Vitamin B12, a water-soluble vitamin essential for various physiological functions, plays a crucial role in the synthesis of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine, which are key regulators of mood and emotion. Deficiency in vitamin B12 can disrupt these neurotransmitter pathways, potentially contributing to the development or exacerbation of depressive symptoms.
Research has indicated that individuals with lower levels of vitamin B12 are more susceptible to depression. Moreover, certain demographics, such as older adults and vegetarians, are at an increased risk of B12 deficiency due to dietary choices and absorption issues. Recognizing and addressing this nutritional shortfall is vital, as supplementing vitamin B12 or incorporating B12-rich foods into the diet can have a positive impact on mood and overall mental well-being.
For more info see here.
If you are experiencing low mood and you might be low in B12 (especially if you are over the age of 60 or a vegetarian or vegan), I would advise having this checked.
Thyroid issues, whether in the form of hypothyroidism (underactive thyroid) or hyperthyroidism (overactive thyroid), can significantly impact mental health. The thyroid gland plays a pivotal role in regulating metabolism by producing hormones that influence various bodily functions, including brain function.
In hypothyroidism, the reduced production of thyroid hormones can lead to symptoms such as fatigue, lethargy, and cognitive impairment, often mimicking depression. On the other hand, hyperthyroidism, characterized by an excess of thyroid hormones, may manifest as anxiety, restlessness, insomnia and irritability, resembling symptoms of anxiety disorders.
If you are experiencing persistent mood changes or cognitive difficulties, you should seek medical evaluation to rule out any potential thyroid-related factors influencing your mental health. Risk factors include a family history of thyroid issues, being female and over the age of 60, but also certain medications and autoimmune conditions carry a risk of affecting your thyroid function. It’s best to have screen to rule it out.
For more info, see here.
There is no doubt about it – we are in the middle of a global sleep crisis. With all the distractions of modern life available 24/7, many of us no longer get adequate sleep. If there is one lifestyle change you are prepared to make – choose this one. I believe it has the most profound effect on our mental health.
The relationship between sleep and mental health is intricate and bidirectional, with each influencing the other in profound ways. Quality sleep is crucial for maintaining optimal cognitive function, emotional well-being, and overall mental health. Sleep deprivation or poor sleep quality has been linked to an increased risk of various mental health issues, including anxiety disorders, depression, and mood disturbances. Getting more high quality sleep will improve the health of your brain and body.
Conversely, individuals with mental health conditions often experience disruptions in their sleep patterns. Insomnia, hypersomnia, or irregular sleep-wake cycles are common manifestations. The mechanisms underlying this connection involve the intricate interplay of neurotransmitters and hormones that regulate both sleep and mood. Therapy can often help improve sleep.
Find out more here.