This week Living Well have chatted to a new local business, Vagus Wellbeing, to find out about who they are and what they do. It was lovely to find out more about working around nutrition in North Tyneside, plus we have a bonus article for you… ‘Top 5 Foods to Support your Mental Health!’ 

The gut-brain connection may not be the first thing that comes to mind when thinking of mental health struggles, but new business Vagus Wellbeing is set to educate and empower us all about the connection between how we feel and what we eat. 

Registered Nutritional Therapist, Julie Pichler based in North Shields provides individual and group consultations helping people make the connection between mood and food. Symptoms associated with anxiety and depression such as fatigue, sleep disturbance, difficulty concentrating and muscle tension can be exacerbated or supported by food and lifestyle choices. 

Nutritional deficiencies such as the B Vitamins, Zinc and Vitamin D have long been associated with decreased brain function. We are literally what we eat, and the gut is the gateway to how our body senses our external environment. 

Not only is 70% of our immune system within the digestive tract, our gut also produces neurotransmitters and regulates our hormones. If our digestion is not working well, the chances our whole bodily system is affected. If we are feeling low, then we can sometimes feel helpless, but mealtimes in the most part are something we have control over, and it can be empowering to explain that we can improve our wellbeing and potentially reverse depression by daily changes to our diet.

Vagus Wellbeing’s Julie Pichler told us: “I’m so passionate about the power of lifestyle medicine. With the right support to facilitate behaviour change, the results can be life changing”. However, it wasn’t always this way for Julie as her previous background was in legal and insurance services, climbing the corporate ladder with long hours and travel, combined with a young family. A cancer diagnosis in Julie’s 30’s left a legacy of chronic pain being advised by conventional medicine to live on painkillers indefinitely, resulting in chronic fatigue, brain fog and ultimately burnout. 

Four years later, changes to diet, movement, stress reduction and adequate sleep, learning what your body needs to heal, the picture could not be more different. Julie went on to say: “I am testament that lifestyle change works, and using knowledge of our physiology and biochemistry, there are so many ways I can help others to reach their individual aspirations of wellbeing”.

Vagus Wellbeing also works alongside mental health charities and the third sector about the benefits to mental and physical health of nutrition and lifestyle medicine. Head to their website to find out more (plus some brilliant blog posts including tasty recipe suggestions!)

To find out more, go to www.vaguswellbeing.co.uk or call Julie on 07717 216715. 

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Top 5 Foods to Support your Mental Health! 

Our body and brain produce neurotransmitters, chemicals that guide our mood, such as serotonin, which helps us relax, dopamine, which helps us feel focused, and GABA which has a calming influence. Our food choices directly affect neurotransmitter production because food provides the building blocks for these chemicals, and with the gut home to 70% of our immune system, food can be a source of inflammation to our whole body including our brain. Certain nutrients such as B vitamins, magnesium and zinc have been shown to be central to brain function, so if we don’t fuel properly, we can be prone to low mood, concentration, or anxiety. 

So, what is best to eat? Variety of foods is a key pillar of health. Including food from these groups on a regular basis, will help increase your friendly bacteria, reduce inflammation and promote neurotransmitter balance: 

1. Fish and Seafood

Our grandparents intuitively knew that fish was good for the brain, and it's true. Omega 3 fats, particularly found in oily fish such as salmon, sardines, anchovies, and mackerel, stimulate the brain to grow and change, and help to reduce levels of inflammation. Seafood such as clams, mussels, scallops and oysters are also rich in zinc which help ensure efficient neurotransmitter messages from one brain cell to another, and also a key nutrient in a well-functioning immune system. 

2. Chickpeas

Chickpeas are a great source of B6, needed to convert our food into energy, support the blood cells to carry oxygen to the brain, as well as make neurotransmitters. They contain the essential amino-acid tryptophan supporting the sleep hormone melatonin. Low B6 can result in trouble concentrating, nervousness, irritability and sadness. 

3. Nuts and Seeds

Almonds, cashews and brazil nuts are a great source of magnesium, the ‘calming mineral’, with a deficiency shown to contribute to low mood. Flax, pumpkin and chia seeds sprinkled on oats or salads are also a great choice. 

4. Dark Green Leafy Vegetables

Spinach, sprouts, asparagus, cabbage and kale are your ‘go to’ for folate, the natural form of folic acid you may have heard given to pregnant women to support brain and spinal cord development in babies. Well, it's just as beneficial for adult brains with low levels of folate linked to depression and low energy. 

5. Fermented Foods

Foods such as kimchi, kombucha, miso, kefir and sauerkraut are are chock full of probiotics (live bacteria) which support the friendly strains of bacteria in our gut. Increasing the diversity of our bacterial strains has such positive effects on our overall health, the brain is just one organ to benefit.

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