Brain Health, Not Mental Health

Mental health and Brain Health

Again, this year I attended the Integrative Personalised Medicine congress held in London at the Queen Elizabeth centre. The day I attended was focused to mental health and what is being termed “mental psychiatry”. There was a plethora of wonderful speakers, including medical doctors such as Dr Ali Ajaz MD, Dr Uma Naidoo, Dr Georgia Ede as well functional medicine doctors and a wide range of professionals offering natural approaches and therapies. Wonderful Professor Kerry Bone presented on his favourite herbs to support the return to mental wellness.

When one of the speakers talked about the need for a paradigm shift from “Mental Health to Brain Health.” This resonated with me as I have not been able to understand why we refer to mental health with a negative connotation. When we use the term “physical health”, we generally qualify the state of physical health with either a positive or negative adjective, such as “good or bad state of health” or we assume it is fine until a specific label such as cardiovascular disease, respiratory problems or digestive issues are added to qualify where symptoms or an imbalance might exist within the body. Therefore, why do we not talk about mental-ill health?

The brain is the foundation to good mental health and the subject of many mental health diseases such as dementia related diseases – Alzheimer’s disease, Vascular dementia and Parkinson’s. Then there are other mental health conditions such as ADHD, autism and depression. What is the foundation to all these mental health dis-ease conditions? According to Chris Palmer, Patrick Holford and several other professionals who specialise in mental health, the foundation is poor metabolism, just as diabetes II is a metabolic disease, so are many of these conditions, in their view, a malfunctioning of the metabolism of the brain.

What are the key aspects of good brain health?

Patrick Holford has been running a campaign combined with research under the “Food for the Brain Foundation” umbrella for some time now. Anyone can go and complete the online test free of charge to check cognitive function. The resulting diagram clearly highlights issues for risk of brain ill-health using the traffic light system. This is supported with a comprehensive and simple overview of what actions are needed to correct the trajectory towards poor brain health. As Patrick Holford points out “Memory loss is preventable”. The myth that memory loss is a natural consequence of ageing or is genetic and that you are destined to suffer the same as earlier relatives, is simply not so. Only 1% of Alzheimer’s disease is caused by genes. How we live, what we eat and drink all have an impact, not only on physical health, but mental and brain health as well, and it is these actions that will either trigger the genetic link to express as a physical manifestation or not.

The brain is not separate from the rest of the body, it is an integral, interconnected part. As the saying goes “Healthy body, healthy mind.” Taking care of the health of your body will automatically include the brain and we know that poor gut health will impact brain health negatively due to the gut-brain axis.

Diet and Nutrition

Diet to be rich in natural foods, minimising or avoiding simple carbohydrates – wheat based and sugary foods – bread, pasta, cakes and pastries, as well as all processed foods. Cook your food from raw ingredients so that you know what it contains. Eat good fats rich in omega 3 to feed the brain – olive oil, avocados, and oily fish. Eat foods rich in B vitamins. The highest source of B vitamins can be found in meat, especially liver, seafood, eggs and poultry, as well as in green leafy vegetables, nuts seeds, beans and bananas. Antioxidants, responsible for neutralising free radicals in the body can be found in fresh fruit and vegetables, especially berries as well as orange, yellow and green coloured vegetables rich in vitamins A and C and vitamin E found in nuts and seeds. Having sugar cravings after a meal, you will be pleased to know that dark chocolate with minimum 80% cacao is a wonderful antioxidant and will satiate that craving.

When eating well, and this does not mean it has to be expensive foods, in fact often the cheaper cuts of meat, cooked up into a casserole or stew, are often richer in nutrients, supporting a healthy gut microbiome which in turn feeds the brain to support stable and consistent cognitive function.


In the west, good “old” water, has been replaced by drinking sodas, fruit and other mixed drinks. These drinks cannot hydrate body and mind in the same way that water does. Not only that they are full of nasties such as preservatives, additives, flavourings and sugar or even worse, sugar replacement such as aspartame. The brain is 70% water. Drinking a minimum of 1.5 litres a day, approximately 6-6.5 glasses a day will keep your body and brain hydrated. If you suffer from regular headaches or find it difficult to focus, try drinking a glass of water first before popping a pill to numb the pain. If this works you know that you are dehydrated and need to increase your water intake.

Lifestyle – Being Active

As the saying goes “Active body, Active mind”. Movement is important to support good brain health. Getting outside and breathing fresh air helps to clear the brain and reset focus.  Regular activity stimulates serotonin, the feel-good enzyme helping decrease depressive and anxious thoughts. Don’t think about running a marathon, be realistic and incorporate regular movement into your day whether walking, running, Yoga, Tai Chi or some other form of sport or enjoyment that gets you up and moving. Aim for 30 minutes or more per day. Exercise also helps to release stress from the body and reset your perspective on whatever it is that is causing you to feel overwhelmed and or stressed.

Good Quality Sleep

We all need good quality sleep every night for a minimum of six hours, ideally eight hours. Good quality means you wake feeling refreshed.

Having trouble getting to sleep, try some of these ideas – perhaps your sleep hygiene is not supporting the body’s natural rhythm. Try creating a regime that slows you down in preparation for bed in a way that helps the body recognise it is tired and ready to welcome sleep. Switch off all Wi-Fi driven devices a minimum of 1.5 hours before bed. Read a book, listen to music, chat or play a board game instead. Take a bath with relaxing essential oils of lavender, ylang-ylang or chamomile with the addition of Epsom salts to aid relaxation. Give your feet a good massage just before getting into bed. Give gratitude for the day and things that brought joy. Sleep in a coolish room that is completely dark. Be in bed by 11pm so that the body is slowing down, rather than going into “Pitta” time when you get a second wind and all systems are fired-up.

Difficulty staying asleep, use something like Rescue remedy (Bach Flowers) or Peace of Sleep (Living Tree Orchid Essences) spray or drops to help you relax. If this doesn't work consult a herbalist who will look at the overall picture and prescribe some herbs to help support the nervous system and induce sleep. Trying to function mentally without getting good quality sleep is very draining on all systems and bodily functions.

Overall good brain health and cognitive function, as with physical health relies on feeding your body with the nutritious foods to ensure your gut microbiome is healthy and balanced. An active lifestyle that drives physical and mental health will ensure your brain, mind and body are functioning well into “old” age and you enjoy good quality of life.


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