Mood boosting spinach pesto

Mood enhancing spinach pesto

80g spinach

2-3 cloves of garlic crushed

½ lemon, juiced

50g pine nuts

Blitz all ingredients in a food processor using extra virgin olive oil to produce a consistency similar to a thick dip. Season to taste.

The science behind spinach and mood enhancement

Many anti-depressant drugs focus on the neurotransmitter serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) due to the fact changes in the brain’s serotonin system are observed in depression [1]. Serotonin is essential for overall health and wellbeing, and people report that it can produce a more positive mood. A class of drugs that act as serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SRIs) are used in the treatment of depression. SRIs ensure that serotonin is available for a longer duration at the neuronal synapse where it is thought to exert its mood-boosting effects. The mechanism of action for serotonin is not clear due to the complexity of the brain.

Tryptophan is an amino acid that the body is not able to synthesis itself, so it is considered an essential amino acid that must be taken through dietary sources. Tryptophan is also a precursor for making the neurotransmitter, serotonin, and has been shown to produce mood-enhancing effects itself [2]. There is much scientific evidence emerging that links the gut, the brain and the importance of diet on not just physical health, but mental health too [3]. In this regard, spinach is rich in tryptophan and therefore, may indeed be mood-boosting as well. Spinach is also rich in iron, vitamins and minerals, so why not try this spinach pesto recipe and add it to rice, pasta, fish or anything else you may fancy. You never know, it may just turn that frown into a smile!

It is essential to be aware that depression is very complex, and eating mood-boosting ingredients will not necessarily lead to a permanent cessation of symptoms; however, it should not cause any harm. Dietary changes can provide additional support to the use of conventional therapy (if recommended by your GP) and appropriate professional support i.e. by licensed counselling practitioners.


1.         Young, S.N., How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience : JPN, 2007. 32(6): p. 394-399.

2.         aan het Rot, M., et al., Social behaviour and mood in everyday life: the effects of tryptophan in quarrelsome individuals. J Psychiatry Neurosci, 2006. 31(4): p. 253-62.

3.         Jenkins, T.A., et al., Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 2016. 8(1): p. 56.

Exercise and health

I thought today I would provide a brief overview of why we should exercise; there will always be differences based on an individual’s own circumstances so this is a guide, written and summarised based on the science.

Health benefits from exercise

It is well established and understood that exercise positively impacts on physical, mental and emotional wellbeing. There are plenty of studies providing substantial evidence for regular physical exercise being able to reduce the incidence of chronic diseases in the older population. This evidence supports both infectious diseases, such as viral and bacterial and non-infectious, including cancer and cardiovascular disease. Additionally, exercise can help a person maintain healthy body weight, reduce the risk of developing type 2 diabetes, assist with sleep and promote bone strength.

Exercise and mental health

More recently, research has focused on the effect of exercise on mental health, with a wealth of evidence suggesting that exercise can contribute to mood enhancement. The mechanism is not entirely understood, although some suggest that the endorphins released during exercise have a calming and mood-lifting effect. Others report the release of monoamines, for example, the neurotransmitter serotonin, during exercise can act in the same way as anti-depression drugs. The reality could be a combination of effects.

Disease control

Exercise can assist in the control of diseases such as asthma, while not preventative, symptomatic control can be observed in some. From a subjective perspective, I can personally testify to this! Individuals suffering from cardiovascular disease, including post heart operation, can improve heart strength, under guidance from a qualified fitness trainer/medical professions. Also, exercise can assist with blood glucose management in diabetics, essential to controlling the symptoms of diabetes.

How much exercise is healthy?

There is a lot of scientific evidence to support the role of exercise in physical and mental wellbeing, still there is also the suggestion that too much or too intense exercise regimes may be harmful. The widely accepted consensus is that moderate exercise, which should be performed daily, is beneficial to health. Of course, it could be argued that moderate exercise is subjective and is also dependent on an individual’s level of fitness. As a general guide, a brisk walk is considered moderate exercise; however, in a more athletic individual, one would think that moderate exercise would be jogging. A good determiner would be that during exercise, a reasonable conversation should still be able to be held. There are some good guidelines provided by the NHS in terms of exercise that should be undertaken:

Exercise should not be a chore

To make sure exercise is not a chore, be sure to choose an activity you enjoy. Maybe incorporate exercise with a new hobby such as bird watching or flower spotting while walking? I am fortunate to live close to some beautiful walks, if you do not have the same luxury, consider listening to a series of informative or fun podcasts, this may help pass the time. It is also the perfect opportunity to join a club and meet new people, look up local cycling, jogging, hiking or walking groups.

In summary

Exercise is good for our health so whatever form of exercise you enjoy – just do it! Each person will have different limitations, so if in doubt about what type of exercise should be carried out, or it will be the first time for exercise, take medical advice. Finally, always listen to your body, if you experience chest pain, or breathing difficulties stop exercising and call for help. Some degree of muscle discomfort is likely to occur when starting a new form of exercise; however, this should not persist, and any post-exercise aches should disappear in a few days – if persistent seek professional assistance.

Dementia epidemiology

Neurodegenerative conditions are predicted by the World Health Organisation (WHO) to become the world’s leading cause of death by 2040. This class of disease constitutes a group of progressively debilitating conditions with unique disease-specific profiles, characterised by the selective loss of distinctive neuronal groups.

What is dementia?

Neurodegenerative dementias represent a class of pathologies that have varying degrees of, but unarguably, the progressive decline in cognitive functions such that there is interference in an individual’s ability to perform everyday duties, impacting on their social function and/or their capacity to perform usual occupational tasks.

Types of dementia

The most common forms of dementia include Alzheimer’s disease (AD), Lewy body dementia (DLB), frontotemporal dementia (FTD) and vascular dementia. Both AD and DLB continue to be the leading cause of degenerative dementia in the elderly population (Figure 1).

Figure 1 – Dementia subtypes and prevalence

Representative data from the Alzheimer’s society’s (UK) envisaged proportions of the subtypes of dementia and their prevalence in the UK alone. Adapted from (, published September 2014.

Dementia epidemiology

Dementia has emerged as an epidemic with aging being the predominant risk factor. By 2050, the number of people aged ≥60 years will have increased by 1.25 billion, accounting for approximately 22% of the total global population, with 79% living in less developed regions. Whilst the observed and projected increase in the number of people affected by dementia has largely been explained by the increase in population longevity, specifically in the developing world, dementia per seis not a natural part of the aging process.

Those affected by neurodegenerative dementias are principally aged 65 years and over with early-onset dementia accounting for only 2-5% of all cases, furthermore the prevalence nearly doubles with every additional 5 years of age following the age of 65 underscoring an increase in an age-related risk of developing neurodegeneration, in parallel with an increase in longevity.

In 2015 WHO reported 47.5 million people were afflicted worldwide by dementia, increasing from 35.6 million people in 2012 (WHO April 2012) and cases are predicted to rise by 7.7 million each year. It has been forecast that by 2050 the worldwide prevalence of dementia will reach 137.5 million. In the UK alone, 850,000 people are affected, this bestows a substantial burden on the economy with the cost of health care in the region of £26 billion, annually.

The broad-spectrum of dementia produces a gender bias with a predisposition towards females, 61% of dementia cases are seen in the female population when compared to 39% of males. This is a consistent observation that could be explained by the protracted longevity in females when compared to males. 

Global distribution of dementia

A systematic review contemplates the global prevalence of dementia and identifies a higher incidence in Latin-America and lowest in Sub-Saharan Africa with the greater proportion of dementia cases, being affiliated with low-middle range incomes. To corroborate this, more recent population-based studies on “high-income” countries have contradicted previous projections regarding dementia prevalence, indicating a decline in the age-associated risk of dementia. This has been attributed to various factors, largely surrounding the fact that higher levels of education and advances in treatment and diagnostics may lead to the early intervention of dementia indicators; these include cardiovascular risk factors such as obesity and diabetes. A recent UK based study on dementia has reported a 20% decrease in dementia incidence over the last two decades in males. If the previous projections are proving variable, then it is possible that the predicted figures may be regionally modulated in accordance with the scope of social health care support available and attainable by the general population.


McHugh, P.C., J.A. Wright, and D.R. Brown, Transcriptional regulation of the beta-synuclein 5′-promoter metal response element by metal transcription factor-1. PLoS One, 2011. 6(2): p. e17354.

McKeith, I.G., et al., Diagnosis and management of dementia with Lewy bodies: third report of the DLB Consortium. Neurology, 2005. 65(12): p. 1863-72.

Sousa, R.M., et al., Contribution of chronic diseases to disability in elderly people in countries with low and middle incomes: a 10/66 Dementia Research Group population-based survey. Lancet, 2009. 374(9704): p. 1821-1830.

van der Flier, W.M. and P. Scheltens, Epidemiology and risk factors of dementia. Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery & Psychiatry, 2005. 76(suppl 5): p. v2.

Prince, M., et al., The global prevalence of dementia: a systematic review and metaanalysis. Alzheimers Dement, 2013. 9(1): p. 63-75.e2.

Langa, K.M., Is the risk of Alzheimer’s disease and dementia declining? Alzheimer’s Research & Therapy, 2015. 7(1): p. 34.

Larson, E.B., K. Yaffe, and K.M. Langa, New Insights into the Dementia Epidemic. New England Journal of Medicine, 2013. 369(24): p. 2275-2277.

Matthews, F.E., et al., A two decade dementia incidence comparison from the Cognitive Function and Ageing Studies I and II. 2016. 7: p. 11398.

Introducing the Coronavirus

In December 2019, a new virus emerged that was named coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) by the World Health Organisation (WHO) in February. The virus has been classified as severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). It is preceded by two other coronaviruses: severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS). The knowledge collected from previous outbreaks along with data collection for COVID-19 will continue to provide sources of information for vaccination/drug development.

What is a coronavirus?

Coronaviruses are approximately 120 nm in diameter and are enveloped [1]. The virus particles contain strands of RNA – RNA gives the instructions for making proteins. For the viruses, these strands provide all the information needed to make multiple copies of themselves, including the spikes on the surface of the virus, the envelope, nucleocapsid that houses the RNA and the viral membrane. In order to do this, they need to gain entry into our cells and once inside our cell, they will hijack our own cellular machinery so they can make proteins from their RNA molecule and build more viruses.

How does coronavirus spread?

In order to make copies of itself, the virus needs to find a way to enter a host’s cell. It can do this by attaching itself to molecules on the cell surface of cells in the lungs. Scientists in China have shown that in the case of COVID-19 (and SARS) the virus binds to angiotensin-converting enzyme II (ACE2) which acts as a receptor [2] for the spikes on the viral envelope. From here it gains entry into the cytoplasm of the cell, and will access the machinery to replicate itself. Once the virus has replicated itself, its particles are released from the cells, and this is where coughing, for example, will release these new particles from the lungs into the air in droplets, ready to be picked up by a new unsuspecting host.

Why is there not a cure?

When a new infection occurs that has not been seen before, the immune system will not be prepared to fight it. This is the same with any new disease, whether viral or bacterial. Targeting the virus means getting to know everything about it before a cure can be found and even then, it takes months or years to develop a vaccine. WHO is presently working with Chinese scientists to get over 80 clinical trials up and running so the pressure is on and I have no doubt, everything that can be done, is being done.


1.            Li, X., et al., Molecular immune pathogenesis and diagnosis of COVID-19. Journal of Pharmaceutical Analysis, 2020.

2.            Zhou, P., et al., A pneumonia outbreak associated with a new coronavirus of probable bat origin. Nature, 2020. 579 (7798): p. 270-273.

“4 Things Everyone Should Know About the Coronavirus”

I write this post for Fitness Savvy, a company that I provide writing services to and I thought I would share it on my website also.

Covid-19 is the third known zoonotic coronavirus disease, and the previous two were SARS and MERS [1]. There is a flurry of research to understand the mechanisms of infection and transmission. Here is what we know:

Should I take anti-inflammatory medicine?

There have been some conflicting reports relating to the use of anti-inflammatory medicines in the treatment for the Covid-19. For those that are able to use paracetamol to alleviate symptoms, it is certainly wise to do so. The reason there is a question mark hanging over the use of drugs such as ibuprofen is due to their effect on the immune system. Anti-inflammatory medicines suppress the immune system, which may be necessary to moderate the immune response [2]. It may in some cases, have a negative impact on the body’s ability to respond appropriately to infection.

We know how to avoid Covid-19, but what happens if you get it?

There are currently no specified treatments to prevent Covid-19, although much work is being performed globally. Antibiotics, are prescribed for a bacterial infection and will not help with a viral infection and should not be sought. If symptoms transition into a bacterial infection, such as pneumonia antibiotics may be prescribed.

It is essential that dehydration is prevented, take on plenty of fluids to reduce the risk. Stay hydrated despite how unwell you may feel, small sips during regular intervals may help.

A fever is a natural response to an infection and is the body’s natural way of fighting [3], but can become uncontrolled. Medications such as paracetamol can be taken to reduce a fever and the symptoms associated with it.

Covid-19 affects the respiratory tract [1] and in more severe cases, oxygen may need to be administered to assist with the appropriate supply of oxygen to cells.

What is meant by those ‘at risk’?

At risk persons are usually those that are already immunocompromised, in addition to the very young and the elderly. Immunocompromised include patients having chemotherapy treatment for cancer, patients having undergone organ transplantation and/or patients with existing lung disease such as COPD or cystic fibrosis. Furthermore, the response to infections decreases with age and therefore, elderly persons, with underlying health conditions may be considered at risk []. Conversely, young patients are still developing their immune systems and may be more susceptible to symptoms and pregnant women are also considered at risk.

Can you catch Covid-19 twice?

When exposed to an infection, such as a virus, the body will develop immunity against repeated infections. In principle, our immune cells will recognise components and fight repeat infections rapidly. This rapid response will mean that you may not be aware of the infection, as the body will fight it appropriately. It does not mean that you will not pick up the same infection twice, rather you will be better prepared for subsequent infections.

There are conflicting reports regarding Covid-19, and when the infection is under control, more detailed data will be available for analysis. What may appear problematic for one cohort of people, maybe less so for another? The guidelines issued by the government are based on the most available date and should be adhered to unless informed otherwise.


1.            Sun, P., et al., Understanding of COVID-19 based on current evidence. J Med Virol, 2020.

2.            Coutinho, A.E. and K.E. Chapman, The anti-inflammatory and immunosuppressive effects of glucocorticoids, recent developments and mechanistic insights. Molecular and cellular endocrinology, 2011. 335(1): p. 2-13.

3.            Evans, S.S., E.A. Repasky, and D.T. Fisher, Fever and the thermal regulation of immunity: the immune system feels the heat. Nat Rev Immunol, 2015. 15(6): p. 335-49.