While the holiday season is jovial and celebratory for the majority of Americans, it can also be a source of despondency and despair for others. This is especially true for those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder or have great fear and anxiety leading to self-imposed travel restrictions in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Fortunately, as of this writing, the most recent evidence suggests that if you’ve been vaccinated and “boosted”, the latter should be less of an overriding concern.
Nevertheless, as compared to the pre-COVID pandemic era, levels of depression and anxiety have also risen to unforseen heights. With the Holiday Season upon us, presented below is a heart healthy selection of foods/drinks proven to enhance mood and combat/limit depression and make your holiday season a more enjoyable one.
- Mushrooms: A new study of nearly 25,000 men and women found that compared to non-consumers, those who ate mushrooms on a regular basis were less likely to experience signs of depression. Mushrooms are an excellent source of ergothioneine (ERGO), an amino acid with antioxidant properties shown (in rodent studies) to alleviate symptoms of depression. Other good food sources of ERGO are beans (black, kidney) and oat bran.
- Cranberries: Cranberries are also rich in antioxidants and in the brain protective and anti-inflammatory compound ursolic acid. Ursolic acid not only reduces growth of certain tumors but has also been shown to improve memory and reduce mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression. Try a handful of cranberries or 4 ounces of pure cranberry juice each day to reap the benefits.
- Prebiotics: Non-digestible carbohydrate foods (prebiotics) such as garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions, promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria to reduce neuroinflammation and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Dark chocolate: A study of ~13,600 adults found that compared to non-consumers, daily consumption of dark chocolate (3.5 ounces) was associated with ~60% lower risk of depression.
- Coffee: Compared to minimal or no consumption, coffee drinkers have a 25% lower risk of depression. The most favorable results were observed with an average amount of 13.5 ounces consumed daily.
- Mediterranean Style Diet: A Mediterranean style diet (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish) is associated with improved mental health in men and women with depression.
- Kiwi: A recent study found that consuming a kiwifruit daily was associated with improved mood and overall well-being that was attributable to more than the high Vitamin C content.
- Bivalves: Mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are good/excellent sources of selenium associated with reduced depression and improved mood.
- Bananas: Bananas are an excellent source of Vitamin B6 with anti-anxiety, antidepressant properties. A banana a day may keep the psychiatrist away!
- Pumpkin Seeds: Try a small handful of pumpkin seeds daily. The rich content of tryptophan, zinc and magnesium may reduce anxiety and combat depression.
Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1
Despite the ravages bestowed by COVID-19, more than 500,000 men and women worldwide have attained centenarian status (living to 100 years and beyond), including nearly 100,000 residing in the U.S. Among this special group was my beloved father-in-law, Paul Miller, who taught math for 80 years and lived to the ripe young age of 104!
Many of us both inside/outside the medical profession find these individuals to be awe inspiring especially when they are still in relatively good physical and mental health upon reaching this major milestone. While we appreciate that exceptional longevity may be more heavily concentrated in a “Blue Zone“, the overwhelming majority of centenarians do not live in these regions. In fact, there are nearly 2,000 centenarians living in the great (though non-Blue Zone U.S.) state of Maryland!
Now a new study published in the prestigious journal, Nature, is assisting scientific efforts toward unlocking secrets for healthy aging and longevity. The study conducted in Japan, found that centenarians had high levels of protective gut byproducts. Also known as isoalloLCA, these secondary bile acids, contribute to gut health by inhibiting gut bacteria that promote inflammation and disease (such as C. difficile). While a cause-effect relationship between protective gut byproducts and longevity has yet to be established, this study is an important step in furthering our understanding of the relationship between gut and overall health.
Listed below are other secrets to enhance the likelihood of healthy longevity.
- Keep Saturated Animal Fats at Bay: A study that we conducted with Dr. Stan Hazen and colleagues at the Cleveland Clinic found that a low fat Ornish diet was associated with reduced levels of the gut byproduct TMAO compared to a high saturated fat Atkins diet. High levels of TMAO are associated with an increased risk of heart disease.
- Think Positively about Aging: A study from the Yale School of Public Health found that older men and women who were genetic carriers of a gene that promotes dementia (APOE4 variant) were 50% less likely to develop dementia if they felt positively about the aging process.
- Be Resilient: In a study of centenarians from Georgia and Japan, personality traits included a high degree of resiliency as characterized by high levels of openness and extraversion and low levels of hostility and neuroticism.
- Have a Sense of Humor:Jeanne Louise Calment, the world’s oldest woman who died at age 122, credited her sense of humor for successful aging. In fact, a 15-year study from Norway found that women with a strong sense of humor experienced a nearly 50% higher survival rate compared to those lacking a sense of humor even with pre-existing heart disease or other chronic ailments.
- Engage in Mentally Stimulating Activities: A Mayo clinic study found that participating in 3 mentally stimulating activities such as reading books, craft activities (e.g., quilting, or sewing) or playing card games/doing crossword puzzles ~age 70 was associated with a 45% reduction in cognitive decline over the subsequent 5 years.
- Volunteer: Volunteering, especially over age 60 is associated with meaningfully positive effects on health and overall well-being.
Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Check out his updated author page on Amazon.