LIFEMend: a lifestyle approach to mental health

Topics:ACTA Members

The Lifestyle Medicine and Nutraceuticals Clinical Trial Network: Neuropsychiatric Disorders (LIFEMend), is dedicated to the investigation of lifestyle and nutraceutical therapies as treatments for neuropsychiatric illness. LIFEMend was established in 2018 and its members consist of like-minded academics who have an interest in either lifestyle or nutraceutical approaches for enhancing mental health or assisting in the treatment of psychiatric disorders.

“When we talk about lifestyle interventions, it could be interventions focussing on improving dietary quality, it could be improving physical activity through formalised exercise, mind-body-based approaches such as yoga, and aspects that may not be as well-known, such as the impact of technology usage or our environment.” Said Dr Jerome Sarris, Professor of Integrative Mental Health at NICM Health Research Institute and Chair of the LIFEMend Network.

Researchers in the LIFEMend network have a focus on conducting randomised controlled clinical trials (RCTs) assessing the application of lifestyle interventions such as diet and exercise, nutraceuticals (nutrition based-medicine) or phytoceuticals (plant-based medicine), in the management of psychiatric disorders.

Wellness and how it differs from general health

The World Health Organisation defines health as ‘a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’ meaning patient health is intrinsically linked to an overall state of wellbeing.

”While, for example, depressive symptoms can be reduced with medication, wellness is about improving a person’s quality of life so they feel both physically and mentally well—they have sufficient energy to do what they want, they’re mentally positive and resilient and have a perceived sense of overall wellbeing.

“On an individual level, it’s also important within the construct of wellness that a person has a sense of fulfilment – that their life has meaning. That connects with having meaningful employment, solid relationships, and a sense of belonging.

“From a psychological perspective we’re not expecting people to not have down day, but it’s about how they manage their mental health so it decreases the likelihood of this worsening to a  pathological level,” Said Dr Sarris.

LIFEMend research

LIFEMend researchers commonly employ a variety of technologies to analyse the impact of lifestyle or nutraceutical therapies on a range of psychiatric disorders, including pharmacogenomic testing to identify biomarkers and oxidative stress markers, and neuro-imaging (MRS, fMRI) to look at brainwave activity and analyse individual response to therapies. Some members such as Prof Murat Yucel from Monash use cutting-edge technologies such as virtual reality.

LIFEMend’s partners at Deakin IMPACT led by Prof Michael Berk, Prof Felice Jacka, and A/Prof Olivia Dean, conduct a range of rigorous RCTs testing lifestyle interventions such as dietary modification for enhancing mood (while also assessing the microbiome), in addition to studies on various nutraceuticals and phytoceuticals (e.g. n-acetyl cysteine, vitamin D, omega-3, manogsteen).

Besides researching natural products, NICM Health Institute researchers (Prof Jerome Sarris and the study lead researcher Maria Gonzalez) are conducting for example The Cancer TYME OUT (Tele-Yoga Mood Enhancement Oncology University Trial) trial, which will soon recruit patients with gynaecologically-based cancers, and aim to increase their overall wellbeing through the delivery of ‘teleyoga’—or virtually delivered, structured yoga. Yoga has been shown to assist in the reduction of anxiety and an increase in mood if undertaken regularly. Researchers will analyse health outcomes such as depression and anxiety (especially around cancer recurrence, which can be an existential fear for those with a cancer diagnosis).

Technology to increase patient access

Patients who are affected by psychiatric disorders can face barriers when seeking clinical treatment through traditional methods. That’s one reason why the LIFEMend network has been focussed on innovative technologies to enhance its capability for recruitment and clinical trials. By employing a tele-recruitment approach, the network can directly reach patients who may not have otherwise sought care.

“Post-COVID-19 we’re going to see a range of mental health conditions increase given job loss and relationship breakdown for example, so there will be an active population that will benefit from more mental health based research to determine innovative treatment options. Going forward I have no doubt such research will increasingly be administered through a teletrial format,” Said Dr Sarris.