A Blog

A Blog



by Kay Jennings, BSN, MHSA, MSN, PHMNP-BC, DPSc

photo-1441015401724-70d16b783f5c UNSPLASHAs a business owner and recipient of the Montana Excellence in Worksite Health Promotion Award for two consecutive years, I would like to share some ideas that may help other employers and their employees to maximize their personal health and wellness by addressing the effects of nutrition, motion, sleep, toxins, and stress.

Eat for Better Health  Many employers offer annual lab testing and this is a good place to start.  If lipids are elevated or blood sugar is a little high, then immediate attention to diet is essential.  I recommend “The Cardiometabolic Diet” which essentially recommends 5-7 vegetables, 5 fat servings and 5 protein servings a day. Cutting out processed refined foods and gluten is usually an excellent idea as well.

Changing diet requires planning and preparation, especially if you have meals that take place at work. Avoiding eating out is critical to manage blood sugar issues and to help lipids return to normal. I have found that Sundays are a good day to prepare snacks and soups or salads for the work week.  Mason jar salads are easy to make and ideas are plentiful on the internet.

Drink More Water  Having a quart jar on your desk to drink water is another great idea. A simple way to calculate the ideal number of ounces your body may require is to take your body weight and divide by two (in other words, if you weigh 180 pounds, try to drink 90 ounces of water each day). Get away from that coffee pot and drink pure, filtered water if available (or get a Brita style filter).

Get Out of Your Chair  Today’s sitting is yesterday’s smoking: The health care and scientific communities all agree that prolonged sitting can be as unhealthy as smoking.  So, how does one increase movement while at work?  Get up and move around at least every hour! Personally, I sit on a stability ball while seeing patients, I stand/walk on a treadmill with an elevated desk while doing computer work, and I have an exercise bike under my desk to pedal while I am reading or talking to staff.

I have even been known to get down on the floor and do planks to demonstrate to patients just how easy it is to get a full body strengthening break.  I would challenge each of you to do a 30-day plank challenge (search the internet for ideas and programs).

I also take every opportunity I can to get up out of my chair and take a brief walk in-between patient visits, always take the stairs instead of the elevator, and park furthest away from the building. These are simple yet incredibly effective ways to boost daily activity.

Get Your ZZZZZ’s  A minimum of 7-8 hours of sleep is essential to rest and repair of cells and, as you sleep, your brain works to eliminate toxins.

Do your best to eliminate “screen time” (that includes your computer, tablet, and cell phone) at least one hour before bed, sleep in a darkened room, use static or white noise if necessary, discourage pets in the bed, and keep the room cool.  If insomnia is a problem for you, specially compounded non-prescription sleep formulas with natural ingredients may be helpful.

“HeartMath”, a program that helps people obtain mastery over their heart rate variability, can benefit sleep.  Cognitive Behavior Therapy-Insomnia (CBT-I),  is another treatment that is recommended prior to using any hypnotic drugs.

Say ‘No’ To Toxins  Toxins seem to be everywhere.  Eliminating as many toxins as possible in your hygiene routine is a starting point:  Switch to natural toothpaste, deodorant, and shampoo in order to significantly decrease the toxic load. Another good idea is to drink from glass jars instead of plastic. And, check the Electro Magnetic Fields in your home and workspace, then rearrange electrical items so that where you sit or sleep the majority of the time is away from disruptive EMF’s.

Manage Your Stress  Finally, stress is the one game changer in our quest for health.  I don’t care what type of job you have, even if you are passionate and love what you do, as I do, you can’t avoid stressors in your life.  But, you can learn how to manage them.

Stress affects your adrenal glands and I find many of my patients are on the verge of adrenal exhaustion.  Diet, exercise, and mindfulness techniques all help to reduce stress.  Recently I have started offering HeartMath for stress management and find it to be extremely helpful for myself and my clients.

Stress also increases oxidative stress, so taking supplements to help restore the cells is important.  Consider taking Vitamins A, C, E, and a good B complex, since we do not get enough micronutrients in our food due to depleted soils.

Functional, Integrative Whole Health Approach to Mental Illness

by Kay Jennings, BSN, MHSA, MSN, PHMNP-BC, DPSc

photo-1474314881477-04c4aac40a0e UNSPLASHRecently, I was treating a young man with a diagnosis of Bipolar Disorder.  He had been in the Mental Health and Medicaid system since a teenager.  He was a new patient to me so I had ordered extensive blood work to assist me with identifying other underlying conditions that could be affecting his mood.  We reviewed the lab results together and several issues came up that could potentially shorten the quality and length of his life.  We discussed the interventions together and the life style changes that he could make.  At the end of the appointment he stated:  “Don’t forget that I have a mental illness”.  In his many years of treatment, he had never had a Mental Health practitioner actually look at his physical health.

According to The Kaiser Commission on Medicaid and the Uninsured, many individuals seeking behavioral health care also have physical conditions that require medical attention.

A 2006 report from the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors cited research showing that adults with serious mental illness die, on average, 25 years earlier than the general population.  The diseases that are killing this group as well as Americans in general are preventable conditions:  Cardiovascular Diseases, Obesity and Diabetes.  These are conditions that I see daily in my practice and they are easily reversed by utilizing life style interventions consisting of diet, exercise, reducing toxins, reducing stressors, managing hormones and cleaning up the gut.

In an effort to help reverse these outcomes I have been trained in Functional Integrative Medicine and Psychiatry.  Both of these specialties utilize the concept of root cause of diseases and look to the interconnectedness of the brain and the body.

A typical approach, in Functional Psychiatry, is to establish a partnership with the client. This is critical to recovery and maximal whole health.  Then the appropriate diagnostic labs are ordered.

Common findings and related symptoms identified by proper lab tests, that I have seen in my practice, are lipid problems, poor blood sugar regulation, adrenal stressors, hormonal imbalances, poor oxygenation of brain, poor utilization of nutrients, nutritional deficiencies, gluten sensitivity and inflammation in the body and brain.  Once this screening is complete, the lifestyle interventions that are needed for recovery are discussed.

In my practice, a prescription for Whole Health consists of eating a mainly whole foods diet, enrollment in the nutritional education, shopping and cooking classes, exercise evaluations and trainers to supervise exercise, all of which are offered by our Mental Health Center, Winds of Change.

Typically, a patient in my practice will present with Vitamin D deficiency, thyroid problems (often times undiagnosed Hashimoto’s), overweight or obesity issues, lipid problems and blood sugar regulation problems.  Their diet will consist of processed refined foods, they get little proper interval or resistance exercise, and they have modifiable risks factors such as smoking or drinking soda excessively.  Once they receive a written Rx for Wellness, they quickly enroll in the program and the results have been amazing.  Many, if not all of their symptoms improve, weight is lost and they have a better quality of life.

By improving the health of this population, the cost burden, to us as a society, is reduced.  More importantly, the quality of life for people suffering from Severe Disabling Mental Illness is greatly improved.

Through this functional, integrative whole health approach, I have seen lives dramatically changed daily. I am so inspired by the power of simple lifestyle interventions that I have committed my professional life to sharing this message of hope.

The Impact of Diet Choices on Your Child’s Mental Health

by Kay Jennings, BSN, MHSA, MSN, PHMNP-BC, DPSc

photo-1467321309980-a57856cd25f7n UNSPLASHIt is every parent’s dream that their child will have a healthy and happy childhood and grow up to be a productive citizen.  However, that is not the case in a growing number of children who end up suffering from a variety of mental health issues.

Parents find themselves caught up in a confusing and burdensome journey in their efforts to identify what is happening to their child. And often, the recommended treatments are incorrect. As a Functional Psychiatric Practitioner I am more interested discovering the root cause and then approaching the problem with lifestyle interventions in conjunction with other treatment methods as needed.

Before I go into some of the root causes of mental health issues, I would like to address prenatal health.  A significant contributor to the growing trend of very young children presenting with learning and behavioral problems is prenatal nutrition.  The health of the mother has definitely been found to impact the mental health of the child.  Mothers’ Vitamin D levels have been found to impact the rate of schizophrenia in the children.  Children are being born with essential fatty acid deficiencies at an alarming rate.  EPA and DHA fats are not provided in infant formula yet these fats are essential to the development of the infant’s nervous system.

Then there is the matter of our Standard American Diet (SAD) diet with excessive amounts of carbohydrates, GMO’s, processed foods and too many Omega-6’s.  This type of diet only serves to severely exacerbate the situation and compound the various learning and behavioral problems so often seen in this society.  Vitamin deficiencies or imbalances, such as copper and zinc, have been associated with violent behaviors and intermittent explosive disorder.

Another area that is not addressed by traditional allopathic medicine (which has a drug for every symptom) are food sensitivities.  Not allergies, but sensitivities.  In one study, cognitive functional decline and underachievement in post-secondary educations is 400% more likely with Gluten Sensitivity.  All ADHD patients or their parents report significant improvement in behavior and functioning after 6 months on a gluten-free diet (Niederhofer and Pittschieler 2006).

Consumption of dietary sugar or high-glycemic foods can cause a rapid rise and fall in blood sugar, which can trigger behavioral, learning and mood problems.  Our bodies, in an effort to pull blood sugar levels back to normal, releases Adrenalin.  Adrenalin then triggers the fight or flight response and will cause a child to have extreme difficulty sitting, listening or being on their best behavior.  Avoiding excess carbohydrates is key, along with regular consumption of protein and good sources of fat throughout the day.  I dare not mention school lunch programs, which are very heavy on carbohydrates, play a role in the behaviors mentioned.

OCD (Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder), tic disorders, anxiety, aggression, behavioral regression  and severe restricted food intake can often be misdiagnosed and can actually be symptoms of PANDAS (Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders) related to Strep Infections.  Treatment must target the underlying infection and support the immune system.  Testing is available for this condition.

Another non-invasive treatment for some mental health disorders, such as anxiety and ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), uses the concept of heart-brain interactions.  HeartMath Institute has done research since 1991 in this area and has compiled impressive results of this modality to treat various conditions in adults and children.

Appropriate diagnosis and interventions are critical to help a child avoid a lifetime of mental illness.  Start with cleaning up the diet, getting children outdoors to get some sun and exercise each day, and make sure they get adequate sleep.

There is hope for our children but it needs to start with parents modeling basic healthy life style choices which will not only change their health but the health of generations to come.

Does Age Matter? A Look at Diet, Lifestyle, and Dementia

by Kay Jennings, BSN, MHSA, MSN, PHMNP-BC, DPSc
Alzheimer’s disease is the most common form of dementia and impacts the lives of millions of Americans and is a tremendous burden on our health care system.  What if there were things that we could each do to avoid or delay the onset of this disease?  Well, the latest research indicates there are many things that one can do, starting 20 years prior to when this disease would typically present.

Age is a factor in the risk of getting Alzheimer’s and the percentage of people suffering from the disease doubles every 5 years after age 65.  People with parents or siblings who have the disease are at a higher risk and the hereditary factor is higher in early-onset (before age 65) Alzheimer’s.

So what can one do to change the expression of genes, avoid the disease, or delay the onset?  Researchers are finding that there are many things that impact this disease.

photo-1459800076366-76c011b33373 UNSPLASHOne of the simplest interventions is food.  Researchers from Chicago Rush University Medical Center have found that people who followed a MIND diet that they developed are less likely to become afflicted.  The diet is much like the Mediterranean diet and the anti-hypertension diet DASH.  Both encourage people to consume greens, berries, whole grains, nuts, fish, poultry, olive oil and wine.

Obesity can lead to accelerated cognitive decline and dementia.  Obese people have central obesity with increased blood sugar and triglycerides in the blood, increased blood pressure and low levels of good HDL.  The fat cells that make up central obesity are very inflammatory and increase inflammation in the brain.  Brain inflammation is associated with reduced brain volume and a greater risk of cognitive decline.  Lifestyle intervention including diet is mandatory to lose weight and lower one’s risk of cognitive decline.

Inflammation is one of the leading causes of chronic diseases. A recent study on extreme longevity concluded that having very low levels of inflammation in your body is the most potent predictor of living beyond 100 years of age.  Chronic inflammation can go on for years without you noticing until disease suddenly sets in.  A simple lab test, C-Reactive Protein (CRP), can measure inflammation in your body.  Or a fasting insulin level can be looked at for a marker of inflammation.  If you are inflamed, diet and exercise are the primary ways to combat inflammation.

The Western Style diet is full of processed refined, high fat and glucose foods.  To effect change in how we age, we must change our diet.  Eat real food!  One does not need a PhD in nutrition to get it right.  Shop the perimeter of the store.  Avoid processed vegetable oils and sugars.  Use high quality unprocessed fats such as olive oil and coconut oil.

Exercise research confirms that a life style that includes exercise also helps avoid or delay cognitive decline. Focused exercise should consist of intervals designed for one’s level and high intensity resistance/strength training of all major muscles groups 3 times per week.  Motion should be incorporated into each day.

Other suggestions to improve brain health and avoid cognitive decline are:  socialization, brain games “neurobics”, yoga, meditation, rest and recovery.  And on a final note, learn to laugh and play with friends and family.  Age is not nearly as important as the life style we choose to live.