Men’s Health Week is celebrated annually during the week ending with Father’s Day which this year is the 14th-20th June. It provides an opportunity to educate the public about how to improve men’s health. This year there is an emphasis on mental health. Even before COVID men's mental health was a cause for concern. This has been exacerbated by the uncertainties of living through a pandemic. There is an unsettling disparity between the number of men who die from suicide and the small percentage of men who seek help for depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.
The CAN DO Challenge
Five ways to wellness have been identified. Many of these benefit mental health as well as overall wellbeing. The suggestion is to try one on each day of the week during Men’s Health Week and to continue with those that work for you.
The five ways are:
- Connect – spend time with other people
- Active – get physical in whatever way you fancy; go for a run, walk, cycle ride or get together with friends for team sports.
- Notice – pay attention to your environment. Be present.
- Discover - learn something new or read a book that’s out of your comfort zone.
- Offer - do something for someone else. Help out a neighbour or friend or volunteer for a local charity or community group.
Show Us Your Blue
On Friday the 18th June everybody is invited to support the men’s health message by wearing blue.
Food for Mental Health
In addition to these 5 steps don’t underestimate the importance of nutrition for mental health. There is growing evidence for the relationship between nutritional deficiencies, diet quality and mental health (1). Here’s some of the latest research into diets and foods that can support mental health.
Mediterranean Diet – people who eat a diet based on fruit and vegetables, whole grains, beans, lentils, nuts, fish, poultry, and olive oil are less likely to develop chronic illnesses and depressive symptoms (2,3).
Anti-inflammatory Diet - high levels of inflammation are associated with an increased risk of depression. Anti-inflammatory foods include olive oil, fish, nuts, seeds, fruit and vegetables. Herbs and spices are packed with anti-inflammatory antioxidants. Include sumac, turmeric, black pepper, cumin, cloves, ginger, garlic, coriander, and cinnamon.
Eat Breakfast - a study into student health in 28 countries found that skipping breakfast was associated with depression, loneliness, sleep problems and poor academic performance (4).
The Microbiome - the health of our microbiome affects every aspect of health including mood, behaviour, energy, weight, cravings, hormone balance and immunity. To increase the diversity of organisms in the gut eat a wide range of plant foods including some fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, miso, tamari, kimchi and kombucha. These have a beneficial effect on the microbiome and brain function (5).
Serotonin and Tryptophan - serotonin plays an important role in mood and sleep. Tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin. Eating a tryptophan rich diet may help those who are susceptible to depression (6,7). Tryptophan is found in chickpeas, chicken, turkey, eggs, cacao, tahini, pumpkin seeds, rice, bananas, tofu and oats.
Tryptophan needs vitamin B6 to be converted into serotonin, and insulin to cross the blood brain barrier so combine tryptophan rich foods with carbohydrates and B vitamins.
Keep blood sugar stable – having protein and fibre with each meal helps to avoid the blood sugar roller-coaster and dips in mood. Try adding Tom Oliver’s protein powders to your meals and snacks for an extra protein boost.
Almonds – have been shown to improve hyperglycaemia and reduce symptoms of depression. Part of the beneficial effect may be because almonds stimulate the growth of Short Chain Fatty Acid producing bacteria in the gut (8).
Chocolate - you may be delighted to learn that polyphenols in chocolate have a positive effect on mood (9). Tom Oliver’s protein powders and snack bars come in a range of chocolatey flavours that will cheer you right up.
Get seedy – hemp, chia, pumpkin and flax seeds all contain the omega 3 and 6 Essential Fatty Acids needed for brain health.
Foods to Avoid - consumption of sweetened drinks, sugary foods, fried foods, processed meats, red meat, baked products and ultra-processed foods are associated with an increased risk of depression (10,11,12)
Nutrients for Mental Health
Given the side effects, and sometimes ineffectiveness of anti-depressant drugs nutrients and ingredients of natural origin are being investigated for their effect on brain chemicals and mood. Here are some suggestions for supplements that may help balance mood:
Tom Oliver’s Curcumin - curcumin is a compound derived from turmeric. It exhibits a wide range of beneficial properties including being a potent antidepressant (13).
Tom Oliver’s Probiotics - there appear to be specific gut bacteria that are associated with mental health disorders. Alterations in the populations of these organisms may contribute to depression. In turn depressive states may change the make up of the microbiome (14,15)
Tom Oliver’s Omega 3 – there may be a modest beneficial effect of omega 3 fats on symptoms of depression (16).
Tom Oliver’s B Complex – needed to convert carbohydrates into energy. Vitamin B5 plays a role in cortisol production. Vitamin B6 is needed to make neurotransmitters.
Tom Oliver’s Vitamin C – the adrenal glands have a high need for vitamin C which is depleted by physical and emotional stress.
Tom Oliver’s Vitamin D3 – may improve mental health, especially if combined with probiotics (17).
Tom Oliver’s Magnesium – vital for the nervous system and energy production. Chronic stress can deplete magnesium stores.
Tom Oliver’s Zinc – has a beneficial effect on neurotransmitters involved in depression.
If you have persistent feelings of sadness, depression or hopelessness that last for weeks consult your health care provider or seek psychological support from a professional therapist.