Dietary Changes Now Proven to Effectively Treat Major Depression

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More than 15 million Americans suffer from serious depression, and it is estimated that globally some 350 million people are struggling with the challenging mental disorder. While the causes of depression are varied and largely unidentifiable, since the 1950’s the pharmaceutical industry has been developing a broad range of antidepressants, and it is now estimated that 8-10% of the American population is taking some type of antidepressants.

The problems with antidepressants are wide-ranging including addiction, costs, and a host of unfavorable side-effects including emotional numbness and even an increased risk of suicide. While antidepressants may very well help some people cope with the overwhelming effects of depression in the short-term, pharmaceutical treatments do not cure depression.

Pondering the reasons for such a major increase in depression in our society over the last couple of decades, many have speculated that a combination of lifestyle, social disconnectedness in a technologically advanced society, lack of exercise, environmental pollutants, and increased consumption of nutritionless and heavily processed foods are to blame. Yet, medical science has been slow to fully acknowledge and recommend lifestyle changes to patients, often preferring the recommendation of pharmaceuticals.

A world-first study, however, recently conducted by Deakin University in Australia has shown unequivocally that major depression can be conquered with the right dietary changes.

“We’ve known for some time that there is a clear association between the quality of people’s diets and their risk for depression. This is the case across countries, cultures and age groups, with healthy diets associated with reduced risk, and unhealthy diets associated with increased risk for depression. However, this is the first randomised controlled trial to directly test whether improving diet quality can actually treat clinical depression.” ~Professor Felice Jacka, Director of Deakin’s Food and Mood Centre

The study looked at adults with major depression, evaluating their progress with specific dietary changes over a three-month period, revealing the types of foods which help the most.

“The dietary group received information and assistance to improve the quality of their current diets, with a focus on increasing the consumption of vegetables, fruits, wholegrains, legumes, fish, lean red meats, olive oil and nuts, while reducing their consumption of unhealthy ‘extras’ foods, such as sweets, refined cereals, fried food, fast-food, processed meats and sugary drinks.” [Source]

Final Thoughts

In addition to the quality of one’s diet, depression is now also scientifically linked to inflammation in the body, as well as the health of the body’s microbiota, both of which are heavily influenced by the foods one chooses to consume.

The Deakin University study adds another crucial piece to the puzzle, and is an extremely important contribution to the ever-growing body of anecdotal evidence of people who have beaten their depression by taking control of many aspects of their lifestyle.

About the Author

Alex Pietrowski is an artist and writer concerned with preserving good health and the basic freedom to enjoy a healthy lifestyle. He is a staff writer for WakingTimes.com and Offgrid Outpost, a provider of storable food and emergency kits. Alex is an avid student of Yoga and life.

This article (Dietary Changes Now Proven to Effectively Treat Major Depression) was originally created and published by Waking Times and is published here under a Creative Commons license with attribution to Alex Pietrowski and WakingTimes.com.

Uncovering why playing a musical instrument can protect brain health

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A recent study conducted at Baycrest Health Sciences has uncovered a crucial piece into why playing a musical instrument can help older adults retain their listening skills and ward off age-related cognitive declines. This finding could lead to the development of brain rehabilitation interventions through musical training.

The study, published in the Journal of Neuroscience on May 24, found that learning to play a sound on a musical instrument alters the brain waves in a way that improves a person's listening and hearing skills over a short time frame. This change in brain activity demonstrates the brain's ability to rewire itself and compensate for injuries or diseases that may hamper a person's capacity to perform tasks.

"Music has been known to have beneficial effects on the brain, but there has been limited understanding into what about music makes a difference," says Dr. Bernhard Ross, senior scientist at Baycrest's Rotman Research Institute (RRI) and senior author on the study. "This is the first study demonstrating that learning the fine movement needed to reproduce a sound on an instrument changes the brain's perception of sound in a way that is not seen when listening to music."

This finding supports Dr. Ross' research using musical training to help stroke survivors rehabilitate motor movement in their upper bodies. Baycrest scientists have a history of breakthroughs into how a person's musical background impacts the listening abilities and cognitive function as they age and they continue to explore how brain changes during aging impact hearing.

The study involved 32 young, healthy adults who had normal hearing and no history of neurological or psychiatric disorders. The brain waves of participants were first recorded while they listened to bell-like sounds from a Tibetan singing bowl (a small bell struck with a wooden mallet to create sounds). After listening to the recording, half of the participants were provided the Tibetan singing bowl and asked to recreate the same sounds and rhythm by striking it and the other half recreated the sound by pressing a key on a computer keypad.

"It has been hypothesized that the act of playing music requires many brain systems to work together, such as the hearing, motor and perception systems," says Dr. Ross, who is also a medical biophysics professor at the University of Toronto. "This study was the first time we saw direct changes in the brain after one session, demonstrating that the action of creating music leads to a strong change in brain activity."

The study's next steps involve analyzing recovery between stroke patients with musical training compared to physiotherapy and the impact of musical training on the brains of older adults.

With additional funding, the study could explore developing musical trainingrehabilitation programs for other conditions that impact motor function, such as traumatic brain injury.

Research for this study was conducted with support from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, which supported research staff and equipment.

Dr. Ross' work is setting the foundation to develop hearing aids of the future and cognitive training programs to maintain hearing health.

11 Plants Native Americans Use To Cure EVERYTHING (From Joint Pain To Cancer)

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The Cherokee is a Native American tribe that is indigenous to the Southeastern United States. They believe that the Creator has given them a gift of understanding and preserving medicinal herbs.

The Cherokee trust the healing and preventative properties of nature’s pharmacy. Because many plants become scarce throughout history, the Cherokee promote proper gathering techniques. The old ones have taught them that if you are gathering, you should only pick every third plant you find. This ensures that enough specimens still remain and will continue to propagate. Here are some of the medicinal plants that were commonly used and foraged for by the Cherokee tribe.

However, the following 12 plants were used by this tribe in the treatment of almost every single illness and health condition. However, before we explain their properties, we must warn you that they can be quite strong and dangerous if not used properly.

Keep in mind that the Cherokee healers were experienced as they had centuries of practice. Furthermore, it is of high importance to understand their value as powerful natural medications, so you should be gentle when scavenging them.

These are the natural plants that provide amazing health benefits:

Plants For Healing

# Blackberry

To the Cherokee, the blackberry is the longest known remedy to an upset stomach, however this herb can be used for just about anything. Using a strong tea from the root of blackberry helps to reduce swelling of tissue and joints. A decoction from the roots, sweetened with honey or maple syrup, makes a great cough syrup. Even chewing on the leaves of blackberry can sooth bleeding gums.

Some other health benefits of blackberry fruit include:

  • better digestion

  • strengthened immune system

  • healthy functioning of the heart

  • prevention of cancer

  • relief from endothelial dysfunction

These tasty berries are also incredibly nutritious. Vitamins provided by blackberries include vitamin A, vitamin B6, vitamin C, vitamin E, vitamin K, thiamine, riboflavin, niacin, and folate. Blackberries also have an incredible mineral wealth of calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, and zinc. They are also a good source of dietary fiber and essential amino acids.

# Hummingbird Blossom (Buck Brush)

Hummingbird blossom has been used by the Cherokee for treatment of cysts, fibroid tumors, inflammation, and mouth/throat problems. Present day research has concluded that this herb is also great for treating high blood pressure and lymphatic blockages.

The Cherokee mainly use hummingbird blossom as a diuretic to stimulate kidney function, however it was was also used to treat conditions such as:

  • inflamed tonsils

  • enlarged lymph nodes

  • enlarged spleens

  • hemorrhoids

  • menstrual bleeding.

To get all of the benefits from hummingbird blossom, the Cherokee would steep the leave and flowers in a boiling water for about five minutes then drink the tea while it is still warm.

# Cattail

The Cherokee consider this herb to not exactly be a healing medicine, but rather a preventative medicine. It is an easily digestible food that can help with recovery from illnesses. Almost every part of this herb, except for the mature leaves and seed heads, can be used for medicinal purposes. The root of cattail is high in starch and the male plants are high in pollen content.

Cattail root can be prepared much like potatoes, boiled and mashed. The resulting paste is a great remedy for burns and sores. The pollen from cattail is a great source of protein and can be used as a supplement in baking. The fuzz from flowers, called the seed down, can also be used to prevent skin irritation in babies, such as diaper rash. The flowers of cattail can even be eaten to help with diarrhea.

# Pull Out a Sticker (Greenbriar)

The roots of this herb are high in starch while the leaves and stems are rich in various vitamins and minerals. Due to the rubbery texture of greenbriar, its roots can be used like potatoes. The starch in the root of greenbriar has a harsh, strange taste but is rich in calories.

The Cherokee use greenbriar as a blood purifier and mild diuretic that treats urinary infections. Many Cherokee healers make an ointment from the leaves and bark and apply it to minor sores and burns. The leaves from this herb can even be used in your tea to treat arthritis! The berries of greenbrier can be eaten raw or made into jams. They make great vegan jello shots too.

# Mint

Mint is a very popular herb in present day culture and is commonly used in tea. However, many people don’t know that mint contains a variety of antioxidant properties. It also contains magnesium, phosphorus potassium, calcium, vitamin C, vitamin A, and fiber!

The Cherokee use this herb to aid with digestion. The leaves can be crushed and used as cold compresses, made into ointments, and even added to your bath to sooth itchy skin. The Cherokee healers use a blend of stems and leaves to lower high blood pressure. If you are breast feeding and find your nipples cracking, try applying some mint water. It worked miracles for me!

# Mullein

This herb has the power to soothe asthma and chest congestion. According to the Cherokee, inhaling the smoke from burning mullein roots and leaves works miracles to calm your lungs and open up pathways. Mullein is exceptionally helpful to soothe the mucous membranes. You can make a warm decoction and soak your feet in it to reduce swelling and joint pain. Due to mullein’s anti-inflammatory properties, it soothes painful and irritated tissue. Mullein flowers can be used to make tea which has mild sedative effects.

# Qua lo ga (Sumac)

Every single part of this herb can be used for medicinal purposes! Sumac bark can be made into a mild decoction that can be taken to soothe diarrhea. The decoction from the bark can also be gargled to help with a sore throat. Ripe berries can make a pleasant beverage that is rich in vitamin C. The tea from the leaves of sumac can reduce fevers. You can even crush the leaves into an ointment to help relieve a poison ivy rash. A study published in Iranian Journal of Pharmaceutical Research reported that sumac, if added to daily diet, can help lower cholesterol levels.

# Big Stretch (Wild Ginger)

The Cherokee recommend a mild tea, made from the root of wild ginger, to stimulate better digestion. This herb can also help with intestinal gas, upset stomach and colic. A strong tea from the root of wild ginger can be used to remove secretion from the lungs. The Meskwaki, another Native American tribe, use crushed, steeped stems of wild ginger as a relief from earaches. You can use rootstocks from this herb as a substitute for regular ginger and flowers as flavoring for your favorite recipe!

# Jisdu Unigisdi (Wild Rose)

The fruit of a wild rose is a rich source of vitamin C and is a great remedy for the common cold and the flu. The Cherokee would make a mild tea out of wild rose hips to stimulate bladder and kidney function. You can even make your own petal infusion to soothe sore throat! Or try making a decoction from the root to help with diarrhea. My grand-mother use to make jam out of the petals and it was delicious.

# Squirrel Tail (Yarrow)

This herb is known best for its blood clotting properties. Fresh, crushed leaves can be applied to open wounds to stop excess bleeding. Yarrow’s juice, mixed with spring water, can stop internal bleeding from stomach and intestinal illnesses. You can also use the leaves to make tea which will stimulate abdominal functions and assist in proper digestion. It can also help with kidney and gallbladder related issues. Oh, and did I mention that you can use a decoction made from leaves and stems to help clear up your acne? It works wonders for chapped hands and other skin irritations.

# Kawi Iyusdi (Yellow Dock)

The Cherokee often use this herb in their kitchen. It is very similar to spinach but contains a lot more vitamins and minerals due to its long roots that gathers nutrients from deep underground. The leaves of yellow dock are a great source of iron and can also be used as a laxative. You can even prepare a juice decoction out of yellow dock stems to treat minor sores, diaper rash, and itching. The Cherokee healers use a decoction, made from the crushed roots of yellow dock, as warm wash for its antiseptic properties.

You should always remember that all of the above mentioned herbs are very potent and might be dangerous if used in the wrong way. The Cherokee healers have many centuries of practice and experience. Another thing to keep in mind is the fact that these herbs are all very valuable! They are the nature’s pharmacy, so please be kind and caring when scavenging any of these.

Science Says Silence Is Much More Important To Our Brains Than We Think

In 2011, the Finnish Tourist Board ran a campaign that used silence as a marketing ‘product’. They sought to entice people to visit Finland and experience the beauty of this silent land. They released a series of photographs of single figures in the nature and used the slogan “Silence, Please”. A tag line was added by Simon Anholt, an international country branding consultant, “No talking, but action.”

Eva Kiviranta the manager of the social media for VisitFinland.com said: “We decided, instead of saying that it’s really empty and really quiet and nobody is talking about anything here, let’s embrace it and make it a good thing”.

Finland may be on to something very big. You could be seeing the very beginnings of using silence as a selling point as silence may be becoming more and more attractive. As the world around becomes increasingly loud and cluttered you may find yourself seeking out the reprieve that silent places and silence have to offer. This may be a wise move as studies are showing that silence is much more important to your brains than you might think.

Regenerated brain cells may be just a matter of silence.

A 2013 study on mice published in the journal Brain, Structure and Function used differed types of noise and silence and monitored the effect the sound and silence had on the brains of the mice.[1] The silence was intended to be the control in the study but what they found was surprising. The scientists discovered that when the mice were exposed to two hours of silence per day they developed new cells in the hippocampus. The hippocampus is a region of the brain associated with memory, emotion and learning.

The growth of new cells in the brain does not necessarily translate to tangible health benefits. However, in this instance, researcher Imke Kirste says that the cells appeared to become functioning neurons.

“We saw that silence is really helping the new generated cells to differentiate into neurons, and integrate into the system.”

In this sense silence can quite literally grow your brain.

The brain is actively internalizing and evaluating information during silence

A 2001 study defined a “default mode” of brain function that showed that even when the brain was “resting” it was perpetually active internalizing and evaluating information.

Follow-up research found that the default mode is also used during the process of self-reflection. In 2013, in Frontiers in Human Neuroscience, Joseph Moran et al. wrote, the brain’s default mode network “is observed most closely during the psychological task of reflecting on one’s personalities and characteristics (self-reflection), rather than during self-recognition, thinking of the self-concept, or thinking about self-esteem, for example.

“When the brain rests it is able to integrate internal and external information into “a conscious workspace,” said Moran and colleagues.

When you are not distracted by noise or goal-orientated tasks, there appears to be a quiet time that allows your conscious workspace to process things. During these periods of silence, your brain has the freedom it needs to discover its place in your internal and external world.

The default mode helps you think about profound things in an imaginative way.

As Herman Melville once wrote,[2]

“All profound things and emotions of things are preceded and attended by silence.”

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Silence relieves stress and tension.

It has been found that noise can have a pronounced physical effect on our brains resulting in elevated levels of stress hormones. The sound waves reach the brain as electrical signals via the ear. The body reacts to these signals even if it is sleeping. It is thought that the amygdalae (located in the temporal lobes of the brain) which is associated with memory formation and emotion is activated and this causes a release of stress hormones. If you live in a consistently noisy environment that you are likely to experience chronically elevated levels of stress hormones.

A study that was published in 2002 in Psychological Science (Vol. 13, No. 9) examined the effects that the relocation of Munich’s airport had on children’s health and cognition. Gary W. Evans, a professor of human ecology at Cornell University notes that children who are exposed to noise develop a stress response that causes them to ignore the noise. What is of interest is that these children not only ignored harmful stimuli they also ignored stimuli that they should be paying attention to such as speech. 

“This study is among the strongest, probably the most definitive proof that noise – even at levels that do not produce any hearing damage – causes stress and is harmful to humans,” Evans says.[3]

Silence seems to have the opposite effect of the brain to noise. While noise may cause stress and tension silence releases tension in the brain and body. A study published in the journal Heart discovered that two minutes of silence can prove to be even more relaxing than listening to “relaxing” music. They based these findings of changes they noticed in blood pressure and blood circulation in the brain.[4]

Silence replenishes our cognitive resources.

The effect that noise pollution can have on cognitive task performance has been extensively studied. It has been found that noise harms task performance at work and school. It can also be the cause of decreased motivation and an increase in error making.  The cognitive functions most strongly affected by noise are reading attention, memory and problem solving.

Studies have also concluded that children exposed to households or classrooms near airplane flight paths, railways or highways have lower reading scores and are slower in their development of cognitive and language skills.

But it is not all bad news. It is possible for the brain to restore its finite cognitive resources. According to the attention restoration theory when you are in an environment with lower levels of sensory input the brain can ‘recover’ some of its cognitive abilities. In silence the brain is able to let down its sensory guard and restore some of what has been ‘lost’ through excess noise.[5]

Summation

Traveling to Finland may just well be on your list of things to do. There you may find the silence you need to help your brain. Or, if Finland is a bit out of reach for now, you could simply take a quiet walk in a peaceful place in your neighborhood. This might prove to do you and your brain a world of good.

Featured photo credit: Angelina Litvin via unsplash.com

Reference

[1]^Nautil US: This Is Your Brain on Silence[2]^HuffPost: Why Silence Is So Good For Your Brain[3]^American Psychological Association: Silence Please[4]^Heart.: Cardiovascular, cerebrovascular, and respiratory changes induced by different types of music in musicians and non‐musicians: the importance of silence[5]^Journal of Environmental Psychology: The Restorative Benefits of Nature: Toward an Integrative Framework

What Science Reveals About Gratitude’s Impact on the Brain

New research sheds light on the physiology of gratitude, bringing us closer to being able to understand and harness the health benefits of this powerful emotion.

Imagine you are on the run from a Nazi manhunt and are taken under the protection of a stranger. This stranger spends the winter providing you with food and shelter—even traveling to other towns to relay messages to your family members—yet has no hope or expectation of repayment from you. While your loved ones are systematically ensnared by the Nazi machine, this stranger keeps you alive and nourishes your faith in humanity, offering proof that in the midst of widespread horror, many individuals still act with unfettered compassion and dignity.

When you think about this stranger, what they risked, what you received—how would you feel?

You may feel a rush of positive emotion, joy from the relief of worrying about survival, and a sense of close connection to the stranger who has given you this gift. In concert, these feelings could be described as gratitude.

Does Gratitude Effect Our Brains?

Gratitude is celebrated throughout philosophy and religion; recent scientific studies suggest it carries significant benefits for our mental and physical health. But very little is known about what actually happens in our brain and body when we experience it.

Why does that matter? Because better understanding the physiology of gratitude can help pinpoint strategies for harnessing its health benefits and help people understand the importance of fostering this powerful emotion. The goal of my research has been to lay the groundwork for understanding what happens in the brain when we feel grateful—and a picture of the grateful brain is now starting to emerge.

Better understanding the physiology of gratitude can help pinpoint strategies for harnessing its health benefits

When I first embarked on the journey to study gratitude, I came across philosophical treatises and religious exhortations emphasizing the importance of gratitude, along with scientific studies suggesting that gratitude can improve your sleepenhance your romantic relationshipsprotect you from illnessmotivate you to exercise, and boost your happiness, among many other benefits.

At the time, however, very little was known about what happens in our brains and bodies when we experience gratitude, which made it difficult to understand how gratitude actually works. Since I’m a neuroscientist, I zeroed in on the neurobiology of gratitude with a more specific question in mind: Can our brain activity reveal anything about how gratitude achieves its significant benefits?

How Gratitude Strengthens the Mind-Body Connection

Given the clear relationship between mental and physical health, I thought that understanding what happens in the brain when we feel gratitude could tell us more about the mind-body connection—namely, how feeling positive emotion can improve bodily functions. I also thought these results could help scientists design programs aimed at generating gratitude by helping them zero in on the precise activities and experiences most essential to reaping gratitude’s benefits.

It must be said that actually capturing people in the moment of feeling gratitude poses some challenges. After all, some people may not feel gratitude when we expect them to, and others may even feel grateful in unexpected situations. I thought my best bet would be to try to induce gratitude through powerful stories of aid and sacrifice.

To achieve this, I turned to the USC Shoah Foundation Institute for Visual History, which houses the world’s largest repository of videotaped Holocaust survivor testimonies—many of which, perhaps surprisingly, are filled with breathtaking acts of selflessness and generosity. Along with a team of amazing undergraduates, I began by watching hundreds of hours of survivor testimony to find stories in which the survivor received help of some kind from another person.

We assembled a collection of these stories and transformed them into short scenarios that we shared with our participants. Each scenario was re-phrased into the second-person (e.g., “You are on a wintertime death march and a fellow prisoner gives you a warm coat”) and presented to our study’s participants. We asked them to imagine themselves in the scenario and feel, as much as possible, how they would feel if they were in the same situation. While participants reflected on these gifts, we measured their brain activity using modern brain imaging techniques (in the form of functional magnetic resonance imaging, or fMRI).

The regions associated with gratitude are part of the neural networks that light up when we socialize and experience pleasure.

For each of these scenarios, we asked participants how much gratitude they felt, and we correlated this rating with their brain activity in that moment. While such an approach will not elicit exactly the same feelings as actually living through such situations, participants overwhelmingly reported strong feelings of gratitude, deep engagement in the task, and, perhaps even more importantly, an increased empathy for and understanding of the Holocaust as a result of participating in the study.

What’s more, our results revealed that when participants reported those grateful feelings, their brains showed activity in a set of regions located in the medial pre-frontal cortex, an area in the frontal lobes of the brain where the two hemispheres meet. This area of the brain is associated with understanding other people’s perspectives, empathy, and feelings of relief. This is also an area of the brain that is massively connected to the systems in the body and brain that regulate emotion and support the process of stress relief.

Three Ways Gratitude Benefits Our Minds

These data told us a reasonable story about gratitude:

  1. It can help relieve stress and pain. The regions associated with gratitude are part of the neural networks that light up when we socialize and experience pleasure. These regions are also heavily connected to the parts of the brain that control basic emotion regulation, such as heart rate and arousal levels, and are associated with stress relief and thus pain reduction. Feeling grateful and recognizing help from others creates a more relaxed body state and allows the subsequent benefits of lowered stress to wash over us. (We recently published a scientific paper elaborating on these ideas.)

  2. It can improve our health over time. They are also closely linked to the brain’s “mu opioid” networks, which are activated during close interpersonal touch and relief from pain—and may have evolved out of the need for grooming one another for parasites. In other words, our data suggest that because gratitude relies on the brain networks associated with social bonding and stress relief, this may explain in part how grateful feelings lead to health benefits over time.

  3. It can help those with depression. Perhaps even more encouraging, researcher Prathik Kini and colleagues at Indiana University performed a subsequent study examining how practicing gratitude can alter brain function in depressed individuals. They found evidence that gratitude may induce structural changes in the very same parts of the brain that we found active in our experiment. Such a result, in complement to our own, tells a story of how the mental practice of gratitude may even be able to change and re-wire the brain.

This article originally appeared on Greater Good, the online magazine of UC Berkeley’s Greater Good Science Center, one of Mindful’s partners. View the original article.