With new COVID-19 lockdowns being mandated across the nation, and the vaccine is rolled out still in its initial phase, Dr. Andrew Brandeis looks at the often subtle ways eleven months of quarantine may have affected our health — and makes some supplement recommendations to help us battle back.
It is perfectly reasonable to be feeling terrible right now. We are social animals, and the toll self-isolation takes on both our physical and mental health is hard to overstate. From increased anxiety and generalized stress to decreased immunity due to lack of exercise and questionable diet choices, there are dozens of ways 'the new normal' has challenged us. Fortunately, with the vaccine rollout underway — and 2020 behind us — things are beginning to turn and, hopefully, healthier days lie ahead.
However, as the virus continues to surge in states all across the nation, many of us are still working, playing, and raising kids at home (I'm writing this from my' office,' which is also my daughter's 'school,' which is also her 'playground' and, on date nights, me and my wife's 'favorite restaurant'). Below, I have listed some of the more pervasive effects eleven months of quarantine can have on us, along with some simple ways to help combat them.
- Depression, anxiety, stress - Whether it's work, money, family, fear, Zoom, or all of the above, the pandemic has surfaced so many potential pain points. Again, given where we are, it's perfectly rational to be feeling streesed or depressed. But the concern is duration: Chronic stress, prolonged anxiety, debilitating depression eat away at our wellbeing and leave lasting deleterious effects on our health. Managing these when, and if, they move from occasional to chronic can be challenging (working in consultation with your doctor ((psychologist, psychiatrist)) or a healthcare professional is always recommended).
- A comprehensive 2019 paper evaluated the best available evidence on the effects of nutrient supplements on mental health and found the strongest correlation between omega-3 fatty acids and depression. Of the three types of omega-3s, ALA, EPA, and DHA, EPA appears to be most effective in combating symptoms associated with depression.
- There is a growing scientific consensus that probiotics can directly affect mental health and immune function. Probiotics are considered 'friendly' bacteria that line our digestive tracts and support our body's ability to absorb nutrients and fight infection. Because our gut produces many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain does, such as serotonin, dopamine, and gamma-aminobutyric, researchers sometimes refer to it as a "second brain". This gut-brain axis argues strongly for, in my opinion, the addition of a course of high-quality probiotics to most self-care regimens.
- Though Rhodiola (Rhodiola rosea) has long been understood in traditional medicine as a useful herb supporting our stress response systems, there has been a growing amount of science confirming this anecdotal understanding. Specifically, Rhodiola can be classified as an adaptogen, meaning it aids the body resistance to stress and anxiety.
- Finally, some additional supplements that some research indicates may help manage anxiety and stress include B-Complex vitamins (specifically B12) and the adaptogen herb ashwagandha.
- Vitamin D (the 'sunshine vitamin) - Vitamin D is an essential nutrient critical for healthy bones and a range of other vital functions. It was estimated that 70% of Americans lack sufficient amounts of Vitamin D, but this estimate was before mandated stay-at-home orders. Though we don't know what the consequences are of these past months, it's safe to assume, I think, that we have gotten a lot less sun, and thus, a lot less vitamin D.
I have kept this list practical and straightforward. While we work so hard to balance so much during this trying time, I think it's important to keep what we can as simple as possible. These six supplements are foundational to our 'new normal' health and wellness and should be included in our medicine cabinet.