Preventing Caregiver Burnout with Good Nutrition and Foods that Support Neurotransmitters

Keto diet concept - salmon, avocado, eggs, nuts and seedsWhether you want to support your brain health, relieve stress and anxiety about caregiving responsibilities, or just want to rev up your energy, stamina and immunity, here are some ways to protect your health and support your mood.

Start your day with an energizing breakfast to stabilize your blood sugar, so your mood stays even and you can perform at your best. When blood sugar is too high or low it’s a signal to the body to store calories, which adds fat around your middle. If you’re nauseous in the morning it means your blood sugar is low.

Eat within one hour upon rising and by 10am, and make sure your breakfast isn’t coffee and a doughnut. Have some protein and a healthy fat such as an omelet and avocado and a piece of whole grain or gluten-free toast. It’ll provide you with the energy you need to get through the morning while maintaining a sense of equilibrium.

Healthy Breakfast with Wholemeal Bread Toast and Poached Egg

Breakfast of Champions

  • Top a bagel or slice of whole wheat break with a fried egg, sliced tomato, avocado, slice of low-fat cheese
  • Bagel topped with hummus, tomato, goat cheese
  • Spread a tablespoon of almond butter on a piece of bread or bagel
  • Yogurt/granola parfait with fresh fruit
  • Sautéed greens (kale or spinach) and onion, and a corn tortilla topped with eggs, beans, sprinkle of cheese, salsa
  • Oatmeal or multi-grain cereal with almonds or walnuts, prunes, cinnamon, flax seed meal, Greek yogurt
  • Spinach mushroom omelet with salsa, berries and wheat toast
  • Whole-grain mini-quiche with ½ cup of berries

Hydrate!

Senior couple staying hydrated after running jogging

Our body is 50-65% water. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and to flush out toxins. The brain, which is 70% water, gets dehydrated just like your body. When it is dehydrated, neurotransmission—which is heavily dependent on water—is impaired, resulting in poor memory, concentration and impaired abstract thinking. The next time your mind is muddled, drink a tall glass of water and notice the difference. Choose smoothies, fresh juices, water, herbal teas.

Neurotransmitters are the brain chemicals that communicate information throughout your brain and body. The brain uses neurotransmitters to tell your heart to beat, your lungs to breathe, and your stomach to digest. They can also affect mood, sleep, concentration, weight, and can cause adverse symptoms when they are out of balance. Neurotransmitter levels can be depleted many ways. It is estimated that 86% of Americans have suboptimal neurotransmitter levels. Stress, poor diet, poor digestion, poor blood sugar control, drug (prescription and recreational), alcohol and caffeine can deplete them. (Emmons, The Chemistry of Joy, 2006).

 

list of neurotransmitters

Serotonin is necessary for a stable mood.

A deficiency can result in depression, irritability, sudden tears, insomnia, anxiety, or panic attacks, binge eating, carbohydrate craving, an overactive mind, and low tolerance to stress. When chronic stress is combined with nutrient deficiencies because of poor eating habits the risk of mood disorders can increase.

Foods that enhance serotonin: Salmon, Soy, turkey, cheese, eggs, spinach, cottage cheese, nuts, milk, avocado, meat, chocolate

Activities that enhance serotonin: cross crawl movement, as in swimming, hiking, biking

Dopamine keeps us focused and motivated. Dopamine is sometimes referred to as a “gas pedal” neurotransmitter. A deficiency can result in depressed mood, excessive sleeping, eight gain, obesity, lack of energy, addictions. When in balance, dopamine increases alertness, wakefulness, energy. It is depleted by addictions, sugar, cigarettes.

Foods that enhance dopamine: Meat, wild game, eggs, chocolate, blueberries, yoghurt, milk, soy, cheese, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes.

Activities than enhance dopamine: Deep breathing, weight bearing exercise and strength training enhance dopamine.

GABA inhibits nerve cells from firing. Too many carbs and refined foods deplete GABA. Exercise, and being outdoors, paying attention to your personal needs are important.

Passion flower, lemon balm and valerian help support GABA, especially helps you fall asleep.

How to boost your neurotransmitters

  • Focus on complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits and veggies) and eliminate junk foods or refined carbs.
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 snacks/day. Include a high-quality protein with every meal
  • Unlimited amounts of fresh veggies
  • Eat a good breakfast

Do you lie awake at night?

Lack of sleep triggers the body to increase production of cortisol, the stress hormone, which makes it harder to fall asleep and stay in a deep sleep because on some level your body and brain think they need to stay alert for danger. Although insomnia isn’t considered a disease by itself, it can lead to numerous health problems. Lack of sleep may result in slower reflexes, irritability, fatigue, lack of motivation and depression. Your health, motivation, productivity, mood and energy all depend on getting quality sleep.

Foods that promote sleep

Although it’s not recommended to have a full meal close to bedtime, eating a snack helps maintain blood sugar levels, which helps promote restful sleep.

A cheese slice, or slice of turkey contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid, that promotes sleep. Other foods that might help: Whole grain crackers with nut butter, oatmeal, popcorn, almonds and walnuts. Some fruits (oranges, bananas, tart cherries, kiwis) contain melatonin.

  • Small amount of protein
  • Complex carbs
  • Nuts
  • Cottage cheese
  • Chamomile tea, warm milk
  • Fruits

Eat more healthy fats and skip the hydrogenated and trans fats found in doughnuts, potato chips and other pastries and desserts.  Omega-3 fatty acids are rich in DHA, the major unsaturated fat in the brain. This long-chain fatty acid provides the necessary fluid quality to the membranes of the nerve cells so that electrical nerve impulses can flow easily along the circuits of the brain. One study found that Alzheimer’s patients given an omega-3-rich supplement experienced a significant improvement in their quality of life. Eating fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and other cold-water fish can protect you against Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia. Numerous studies have shown that elderly people who did not have dementia had high blood levels of docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), an essential fatty acid found in cold-water fish, in comparison to those with dementia, who had on average 30% to 40% lower blood levels of DHA.

 Ways to increase your DHA intake: eat cold-water fish such as wild-caught salmon, sardines and mackerel, at least twice a week. Add flax meal to cereal and baked goods, sprinkle flax oil on your salad, eat a small handful of walnuts at least several times a week.

Make Healthy Choices

Choose these

  • Water, green tea, herbal teas
  • Nuts & seeds
  • Avocado, olive oil, omega-3 fatty acids
  • Fresh fruits and Veggies
  • Fish, high-quality protein
  • SOUL foods (seasonal, organic, unadulterated, local)
  • Sugar alternatives: stevia, monk fruit, coconut sugar, maple syrup, agave, birch sugar, honey

Avoid these

  • Coffee, soda, artificial sweeteners
  • Chips, cookies, pastries, candy
  • Poor quality fats (hydrogenated,
  • Processed lunch meats
  • Dairy products with rBGH (growth hormones)

Remember this

Whether you’re eating breakfast, lunch, dinner or a snack, always think protein!

Assortment of healthy protein source and body building food

Build your meal around chicken, fish, tofu, cottage cheese or eggs, and then add low-starch vegetables or fruits. The general rule is to eat 3-4 ounces of lean, dense meat or 6 ounces of fish. Women should aim for around 30 grams of protein. Men should aim for around 40 grams of protein. Another rule of thumb is to divide your plate in half. Fill half of the plate with veggies, one quart with a protein, and the other quarter with a whole grain such as quinoa, rice, barley, etc.

Happy eating!


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Barbra Cohn cared for her husband Morris for 10 years. He passed away from younger-onset Alzheimer’s disease in 2010. Afterward, she was compelled to write “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia”–winner of the 2018 Book Excellence Award in self-help– in order to help other caregivers feel healthier and happier, have more energy, sleep better, feel more confident, deal with feelings of guilt and grief, and to ultimately experience inner peace. “Calmer Waters” is available at AmazonBarnes & NobleBoulder Book StoreTattered Cover Book Store,  Indie Bound.org, and many other fine independent bookstores, as well as public libraries.

 

Caring for yourself and others with good nutrition

Mary Collette Rogers interviewed me on her podcast “The Healthy Kitchen Companion.”

Find out more about Mary’s programs around The New Kitchen Way: cookhappylivehealthy.org/blog/

Discover insights and tools for handling the challenges of caregiving, particularly stress. Sobering statistics highlight the need for addressing this topic: In 2017, fully 16 million friends and family provided 18 billion hours of unpaid care for 5½ million Americans with Alzheimer’s. That figure, of course, accounts for just one of many chronic conditions that required the services of caregivers.

Equally important is the need for self-care since it is said that at some point you’ll either be a caregiver or be cared for yourself. Self-care can minimize the need for care from others, or make it possible to provide care to those you love.

In this conversation, Barbra Cohn and Mary Collette Rogers share a wealth of knowledge and strategies for using the power of good nutrition to alleviate the stress of caregiving–whether for yourself or others.

Barbra, author of Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s & Dementia, provides solid nutritional advice for
** Introducing the Stress Vitamins and minerals, and foods where they can be found
** How neurotransmitters like serotonin improve mood and how to use natural mood boosters in foods to uplift mood
** Why breakfast is the most important meal of the day for caregivers and key breakfast foods
** Barbra’s secret for boosting immunity, staying hydrated and replenishing nutrients drained by stress

Mary Collette, Healthy Kitchen Companion, explores how to ensure that Barbra’s nutritional wisdom doesn’t just get parked at the kitchen door. With The New Kitchen Way, her integrated approach to meal making, you’ll see good nutrition advice actually show up on your table–deliciously and easily. Learn
** About the power of organization and why it works as well in the kitchen as the business world
** How chaos and lack of control are the true culprits that sabotage kitchen fun and success
** How organization alleviates stress when you invite it into your kitchen and meal making
** How the kitchen and meal making can be broken down into just six areas, and
** How the 6 KitchenSmart Strategies easily guide you to get those six areas under control, leaving you relieved and confident about making nourishing meals.

 

 

8 Ways to Train Your Brain

Intelligence of the human brain

Intelligence of the human brain

National Train Your Brain Day is observed annually on October 13. The observance was created to encourage all of us to exercise our brain and improve our cognitive skills. Doing word puzzles and number games, playing Bridge and reading are every-day activities that are good for the brain. But there are many other things you can do.

  1. Dance as though no one is watching. My book “Calmer Waters: The Caregiver’s Journey Through Alzheimer’s and Dementia” includes a 21-year-long study that was summarized in an article that appeared in the New England Journal of Medicine in 2003. The study found that when compared to 11 other activities including team sports, swimming and bicycling, dancing is the best activity for supporting cognition and staving off mental decline. In fact, the more complex the dance, the better it is for enhancing problem-solving skills and memory. You don’t have to be a great dancer. Just put on your favorite dance music and let loose in your living room. Or, find a dance partner and learn how to salsa, tango, or swing.
  2. Play an instrument. Numerous studies have indicated that listening to music and playing an instrument can reduce anxiety and depression and support cognitive functioning. Playing an instrument sharpens your concentration, boosts listening skills, and supports your time management and organizational skills. The efficacy of music therapy A Study done at the Auditory Neuroscience Laboratory at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois, and led by Nina Kraus, shows that musicians suffer less from aging-related memory and hearing losses than non-musicians. It is believed to be the first study to provide biological evidence that lifelong musical experience has a good impact on the aging process. Kraus says the research shows that playing an instrument helps hearing and memory, which is among the most common complaints from normal aging.
  3. Exercise! Dr. Monika Fleshner, researcher/professor at the University of Colorado, Boulder, and contributor to “Calmer Waters,” has spent her career showing that exercise is vital to reducing stress and supporting healthy mental function. “Physically active individuals are stress robust,” says Fleshner. “They demonstrate both stress resistance and stress resilience.” Exercise seems to buffer many of the deleterious consequences of stress, including poor memory. Scientists have also found that exercise encourages the growth of new brain cells in the hippocampus, the area that is crucial to memory and learning.
  4. Say it out loud. When I meet someone for the first time, I inevitably look in the person’s eyes and don’t even listen to their spoken name. As a result, I rarely remember the person’s name. Next time, I will heed the expert advice of repeating the person’s name. This is considered the easiest way to remember everything from where you put your keys to your grocery list. Say it out loud to yourself, or mouth the words, in order to remember quickly.
  5. Get a good night’s sleep. According to a study published in the journal Neuroscience (June 30, 2005) sound sleep triggers changes in the brain that help to improve memory. New memories are formed within the brain when a person engages with information to be learned (for example, memorizing a list of words or mastering a piano concerto). However, these memories are initially fragile. In order to “stick” they must be solidified and improved. This process of “memory consolidation” occurs when connections between brain cells as well as between different brain regions are strengthened, and for many years was believed to develop merely as a passage of time. More recently, however, it has been demonstrated that time spent asleep also plays a key role in preserving memory. So, do your best to work on sleep hygiene. Unplug at least an hour before bed, soak in tub filled with Epsom salts, play soothing music, make sure the room is not too warm, etc. And, never go to bed mad.
  6. Doodle. In memory tests, doodlers performed 29% better than non-doodlers when asked to recall names and places, Experts say doodling doesn’t tax the mind and allows us to concentrate on the task at hand. It stops us daydreaming, too, which is distracting. The same theory holds for coloring in the beautiful new adult coloring books that have become popular the past several years.
  7. Learn something before bed. If you want to consolidate a memory go through the information right before you fall asleep. You’ll have few, if any, interfering memories so you’ll remember it the next day.
  8. Feed your neurotransmitters. These are the chemicals that allow your neurons to talk to one another. They are vital to memory, focus, learning, energy and happiness. Acetylcholine is the primary carrier of thought and memory, and if you don’t have enough of this important neurotransmitter, you will probably have memory and cognitive problems. For healthy acetylcholine production, make sure you’re getting the nutrients that it is made from. Dr. Dharma Singh Khalsa, author of Brain Longevity (Warner Books, Inc. 1997) and the president and medical director of the Alzheimer’s Research and Prevention Foundation in Tucson, Arizona, suggests supplementing with choline, which is present in high amounts in lecithin. Lecithin is available in capsule, granule, liquid, tablet and powder form. The recommended therapeutic dose is 2500 to 3000 mg. four times a day, for a total daily dose of 10,000 to 12,000 mg. In addition, it’s important to take 1000 mg. vitamin C, three times a day, along with 100 mg. of B5, which are needed to transform lecithin into acetylcholine. It’s also advisable to take B6 and zinc, which help in the synthesis of acetylcholine. The nutrient DMAE (dimethylaminoethanol) helps build acetylcholine levels. It is present in your brain in small quantities, and is also found in seafoods, including sardines. Since it is stimulating to the central nervous system, Dr. Khalsa suggests starting out with a low dose of about 40 mg. twice a day, and building up to 200 mg. daily, if you don’t feel overstimulated. 

 

 

 

 

 

How Does Food Affect Your Mood?

If you are a caregiver you are undoubtedly stressed. And people who are stressed typically crave and overeat soda, candy, chips, cookies, bread, pasta and icecream for a temporary lift. The problem is that eating refined carohydrates will give you a temporary fix, but your blood sugar will crash a couple hours later, leaving you tired and moody.

Bad Habits=Poor Food Choices

Along with craving refined carbs, caregivers often eat on the run—standing up, in the car, chowing down, or going through the “drive thru” lane at your favorite fast food restaurant. Do you grab a candy bar in the afternoon for a “pick-me-up”? Do you skip breakfast and grab a doughnut or bagel and coffee? Do you drink soda instead of water? Don’t feel guilty if you answered “yes” to any of these questions. It’s typical—but it’s not healthy.

Here’s a better way to reduce your stress

Neurotransmitters are the chemicals in the brain that allow neurons to communicate. They are supported by nutritious foods and are depleted by lack of sleep, poor eating habits, and certain drugs and environmental toxins. The important thing that caregivers need to know is that we can support our neurotransmitters with healthy eating habits. In turn, our neurotransmitters will help support our mood, energy, ability to sleep well, and perform at our best.

Here are the most important neurotransmitters and the foods that support them

1. Serotonin is necessary for a stable mood.

A deficiency can result in:

  • Depressed or irritable mood, sudden tears
  • Insomnia and anxiety
  • Binge eating
  • Overactive mind
  • Low tolerance to stress
  • Decreased immune function

Foods that enhance serotonin: Soy, turkey, cheese, cottage cheese, avocado, meat, comfort food (mashed potatoes, macaroni and cheese)

2. Dopamine keeps us focused and motivated.

A deficiency can result in:

  • Depressed mood
  • Excessive sleeping
  • Weight gain, obesity
  • Lack of energy
  • Lack of enjoyment
  • Low libido
  • Nicotine addiction

Foods that enhance dopamine: Meat, wild game, eggs, chocolate, blueberries, yoghurt, milk, soy, cheese, seeds and nuts, beans and legumes

3. Norepinephrine is responsiblie for stimulatory responses in the body.

A deficiency can result in:

  • Depressed mood
  • Poor sleep
  • Fatigue, low energy
  • Poor memory/focus
  • Apathy

Foods that enhance norepinephrine: almonds, apples, avocado, bananas, beef liver, cheese, fish, green veggies, lean meat, nuts, grains, pineapple, poultry, tofu

4. GABA is responsible for helping us to relax and reduce anxiety.

A deficiency can result in:

  • High anxiety, panic, worry
  • “Monkey mind”
  • Difficulty falling and staying asleep

Foods that enhance GABA: Green tea, almonds, bananas, beef liver, broccoli, brown rice, halibut, lentils, oats, oranges, spinach, walnuts, whole grains

How to boost your neurotransmitters

  • Eat a serving of high-quality protein with every meal and snack. Focus on complex carbohydrates, and eliminate junk foods (refined carbs).
  • Enjoy unlimited amounts of fresh veggies.
  • Eat a good breakfast!
  • Eat 3 balanced meals and 1-2 healthy snacks per day.

Recommended Reading

  1. The Mood Cure, Julia Ross, MA
  2. The Edge Effect: Achieve Total Health and Longevity with the Balanced Brain, Eric Braverman, MD
  3. The Chemistry of Joy, Henry Emmons, MD