3 Pillars for Pet Guardian Health This Winter

December 13, 2021

For some, December is the most exciting month of the year, for others, we can feel like we’re dragging ourselves to the New Year, either way, it’s pretty typical for self-care to high-tail it out of the window.  We’re not talking warm baths and scented candles, we’re talking basic human needs; like mealtimes and movement. 

When we’re burning the candle at both ends, are we able to care for our pets as much as we’d like? 

Here at My Pet Nutritionist we value pet guardian health alongside their furry counterpart’s, so in a slightly different blog than usual, we thought we’d give you our top tips for human health this winter. 

1) Sleep!

If we listen to the old adage we should rise with the sun and sleep when it’s dark, then we’d spend most of the winter sleeping (geographical location depending of course), but there is some method in this madness.  Sleep is vital for health.

Sleep not only supports immune function but it also plays a key role in optimal mental health.

Poor sleep is regularly linked to depression, anxiety and other mental health challenges.  Sufficient REM sleep facilitates the processing of emotional information, which can be even more important for some people at this time of year. 

The other thing to consider at this time of year is that Seasonal Affective Disorder is a subtype of depression which also affects people during reduced daylight hours.  It is closely related to the disruption of internal biological clocks. 

Sleeping when it is dark is essential, but in the winter we rely heavily on artificial lights which can knock us out of sync.  It’s important to keep to our typical routine wherever possible.  Chrononutrition is the study of how when we eat influences our health – for example, shift workers eating during nighttime have reduced insulin tolerance compared to those who eat during the day.  Furthermore, rising early, and feeling alert when doing so is linked with better dietary control.  In other words, we are more likely to make good food choices if we rise with the sun, and go to bed with the moon. 

Top Tips for Improved Sleep 

-   Try grounding - Studies have shown that walking barefoot outside (where safe – think on the grass in the garden) improves both sleep and mood.  It’s a little more difficult in the winter, unless you want cold and muddy feet, but grounding mats may be worth looking into. 

-   Try blue blockers - artificial light suppresses melatonin production and this is the hormone that helps us feel sleepy.  Most of us head to bed with our phones or shortly after watching TV for a couple of hours.  Consider looking at blue blockers for screen time and try to disconnect from technology completely for a couple of hours before bed.  Engaging in that heated discussion on social media just before bed results in your body amping up, not calming down, so be realistic on whether it’s the blue light keeping you awake or what you’re exposing yourself to.

-   Increase oxygen in your bedroom - some of the best “oxygen boosting” plants include: English Ivy, Aloe Vera, Areca Palm, Snake Plant and Peace Lily.

-   Avoid excitotoxins in your diet - you tend to find excitotoxins in processed foods, but they do go by a range of names including: carrageenan, MSG, aspartame, E numbers, BHT and other preservatives.  Just like the name suggests they ramp up activity in your nervous system – which isn’t ideal if you’re trying to settle for the evening. 

2) Get Outside!

Being dog owners, we tend to head out in all weathers anyway, but this really is so important for our health.  Not only the cardiovascular benefits of physical exercise, but just simply being outside in nature.

Our species has existed for thousands upon thousands of years – but even the oldest cities have only been around a fraction of that!  What this means is that we largely evolved in nature, and this environment therefore shaped our brains – for want of a better phrase, going back to nature almost takes us back to our roots. 

-   Being in nature is seen to improve sleep scores,

-   Spending time in green spaces simply makes us happier,

-   Mental stress scores significantly reduce when we live in urban areas with increased green spaces,

-   Time in nature improves our relationships with others and also cognitive functioning,

It’s easy to look outside at the pouring rain and opt for some enrichment games instead, especially if your ever-expanding to-do -list is staring back at you, but we know that being in nature supports our stress resilience and tolerance.  Heading out for that brisk walk could be just what you need.

3) Eat Well!

At this time of year, we can all say we eat very well.  As we’re filling up on those moreish foods, we need to ensure we’re getting plenty of the nutrient dense ones too!

Every cell in every body has a job to do, and to do that job, it needs certain compounds; we get those compounds largely from the diet.

Particularly at this time of year, we may be interested in foods to support our immune function and our mental health.

Vitamin C helps encourage the production of white blood cells known as lymphocytes and phagocytes, which help protect the body against infection.  Sources of Vitamin C include red bell peppers and of course oranges.

Vitamin A helps maintain structural and functional integrity of mucosal cells in innate barriers (skin, respiratory tract etc).  It is also important for the functioning of natural killer cells, macrophages, and neutrophils.  In the adaptive immune response, vitamin A is necessary for the functioning of T and B cells and therefore for the generation of antibody responses to an antigen.

Beta carotene is converted to Vitamin A in the body but beta carotene, like all carotenoids is an antioxidant, which protects the body from free radicals.  Free radicals are produced by macrophages whilst fighting off invading germs, and these free radicals can then damage healthy cells leading to inflammation, so a diet rich in antioxidants can help mitigate the damage!  Beta carotene is found in yellow, red and green leafy vegetables like spinach, carrots and red peppers. 

In the innate immune system, vitamin B6 helps regulate inflammation and has roles in cytokine production and natural killer cell activity.  In the adaptive immunity system, vitamin B6 plays a role in the metabolism of amino acids, which are the building blocks of cytokines and antibodies.  B6 is also involved in lymphocyte proliferation, differentiation and maturation and it maintains Th1 immune responses.

Perhaps one of the most talked about vitamins for immunity is vitamin D, as it stimulates immune cell proliferation and cytokine production, and it helps protect against infection caused by pathogens.  It also demonstrates an inhibitory effect in adaptive immunity, suggesting that it is in fact an immune modulator.  Low vitamin D status is usually associated with increased sickness rates.  Great sources of vitamin D include oily fish, mushrooms, liver, eggs and any fortified foods.  But it is often difficult to get in the diet alone, especially during the winter.  A supplement may be warranted; speak to your healthcare provider first. 

Moving on to nutrients for mental health; we know that stress increases the demand placed on the body – you can think of it like a dump of nutrients.  Whenever we are stressed, we use nutrients to produce the stress related hormones, and then our body uses many nutrients in order to break them down and safely eliminate.  In cases of chronic stress, anxiety and depression, we regularly see deficiencies in Omega-3 fatty acids, along with B vitamins, zinc, magnesium and more!  We regularly see depression and anxiety in those who eat low protein diets, and in those who have low complex carbohydrate intake too!  Furthermore, low fruit and vegetable intake is often associated with increased scores of depression.

Top Nutrients for Mental Health:

-   Oranges – contains Vitamin C,

-   Spinach – contains magnesium, vitamin D, B9

-   Chocolate – dark – contains phenylethylamine supports neurotransmitter activity,

-   Blueberries – antioxidant, contains vitamin C, fibre,

-   Broccoli – contains B6 and B9,

-   Fish – oily and shellfish

-   Banana – fibre, and potassium and iron can support energy,

-   Walnuts – omega 3, B6, tryptophan, protein,

-   Eggs – choline,

-   Tea – L-theanine – contributes to nervous system function,

It’s easy to put others first, and many of us often do, but these tips apply to the whole family.  Whether animal or human, we could all benefit from prioritising sleeping, moving and eating well. 

Thanks for reading, and let us know your top tips for incorporating these into your life.

MPN Team x

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