I was supposed to attend an herbal intensive in Taos this weekend but because of COVID-19, the event was held virtually. I'm more of a hermit anyway, so the idea of getting the information in my own quiet space was still appealing. The instructor, Tiarona Low Dog, a physician and master herbalist, offered all I expected and more. There are so many ways to understand medicine. I'll start by saying that they're not just pills you down with a cool glass of water and a big swallow.
Medicine Is Lots of Things
Medicine can be an herb that you add to your food, like turmeric that is a powerful anti-inflammatory used often in Indian cuisine. The antihypertensive called garlic that you mince and cook up with some great pesto. It can be the L-theanine "chill-axation" you get with a nice oolong tea.
I can't remember the last time (before this class) that I thought of food as medicine. I'm too used to stuffing my face with the things I love, like refined sugars and carbs: pasta, potatoes, cookies and ice cream. I'm more inclined to think of my meals as a minefield of calories, carbs and weight gain. Could there really be some hidden society of sages that choose their food based on a decision to feel good or to relieve depression and anxiety? Yes! And they were at my herbal conference with Dr. Low Dog this weekend. I even discovered that you can reduce the glycemic load of your meal by 35%, just by adding an acid like vinegar, lemon or lime juice,
How cool is that?
But back to herbs for mental health...
Trophorestoratives for the Brain.
A Trophorestorative is a food that has an affinity for a specific body tissue or organ and that works to restore normal function. Today, we're going to look at one trophorestorative that has an affinity for the central nervous system, your brain and spinal cord with all its circuitry of nerves that allow you to feel a pin prick, or pins and needles when a leg or arm "falls asleep".
Omega-3 fatty acids
You've probably gotten used to thinking of Omega 3 fatty acids as a heart healthy food, but did you know that it's also good for brain health?
Omega 3's EPA and DHA have been shown to be helpful for reducing depression, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, and other mental disorders, most likely because of their impact on the production of neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin. Check out the effects of your typical antidepressant and you'll see that all of them increase one or both of the same neurotransmitters!
O-3's also support communication between neurons which can boost the brain's ability to remember.
Omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA can be found in wild cold water fish like salmon, herring, sardines, and mackerel. Your body can also produce EPA and DHA out of another omega-3 called alpha-linolenic acid (ALA) found in walnuts, flaxseeds, chia seeds and soybeans. And don't forget seaweed and avocados!
Gotta go make dinner now. I'll get back to the things I learned this weekend in my next blog post.
Elaine Orabona Foster, Ph.D.