What we put into our bodies can have a profound effect on our mood. Whether we eat different foods, use recreational drugs, smoke cigarettes, or drink alcohol, our brains respond to what we ingest, and some healthy dietary changes may be just what you need for a mood boost if you’re feeling depressed.
The concept of using food to aid in bolstering the severity of mood disorders was widely known before the advent of psychiatric medications. It can be hard to cut through the ‘holistic’ jargon that is sometimes used to sell a product rather than provide accurate information, but there are some science-based remedies that can be useful in your healing arsenal against depression and anxiety symptoms.
Modern psychiatric medicine is not a perfect system. Many people with mental health issues experience frustration when it comes to finding proper health coverage, let alone the aggravation and psychical symptoms that come with switching on and off different medications. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with a mental health problem or are curious about how food can affect your mood, these tips and tricks can help rule out any underlying dietary deficiencies that can damper your journey towards better mental health.
The recent craze in gluten-free dieting could mean deficiencies in the essential amino acid tryptophan. This nutrient is found in the proteins that come from wheat products. Those who forgo gluten could develop a deficiency if their diet isn’t well rounded. Tryptophan is a precursor to the neurotransmitter serotonin (the second “S” in SSRI antidepressants) and helps your body regulate your mood. If you have Celiac Disease and are concerned about your tryptophan intake, there are many other options of foods to try aside from wheat. Among the foods densest in tryptophan are pumpkin seeds, eggs, most meat and poultry, as well as tofu and lentils.
You can also gain the positive effects of tryptophan by taking the herbal supplement 5-HTP (5-Hydroxytryptophan.) This tablet, widely found at natural food stores, is made from the seeds of Griffonia simplicifolia, a shrub native to Africa. 5-HTP can be useful for mild depression, anxiety, and insomnia. This supplement is best taken at night for its sleep inducing effects. 5-HTP cannot be used in combination with most antidepressants and should only be used under the guidance of a doctor.
Your gastrointestinal tract contains a “second brain” called the enteric nervous system (ENT) that contains neurons that can cause changes in your mood. While the brain may inform your personality and technical skills, your ENT works with your brain to send messages about food cravings and overall psychical stress levels. Just like your brain, your ENT produces the neurotransmitter serotonin. From butterflies in your stomach to irritable bowel syndrome in stressful situations, your ENT is to blame.
Frequent antibiotic use for illnesses and the consumption of antibiotic ridden meat and poultry can strip your gastrointestinal tract of the necessary bacteria it needs to help your ENT send positive messages to your brain. The consumption of probiotics and prebiotics can help reduce the stress hormone cortisol and foster an overall healthy environment in your gastrointestinal tract. You can ensure your gut gets the attention it needs by taking daily probiotic supplements. Eating foods like yogurt, fermented foods like kimchi, and kefir milk are natural ways to ensure your body has the bacteria it needs to sustain your mood.
Known as “the sunshine vitamin,” vitamin D activates neurotransmitters in the brain, dopamine and serotonin, which impact your mood. Vitamin D is crucial during winter months when the days are shorter and SAD (seasonal affective disorder) can occur. Sun exposure in moderation can lift spirits by providing your body with vitamin D. Some natural food sources of vitamin D include tuna, salmon, Portobello mushrooms, and egg yolk.
Before adding supplements, it’s beneficial to get a routine blood test at your doctor to determine your vitamin D levels.
A study in the Behavioural Brain Research Journal found that when lab rats were fed a diet rich in omega-3 fatty acids, their stress levels were significantly reduced when performing complicated mazes. Omega-3s are essential to heart health, but their effects on mood is an added bonus for depression and anxiety.
Increase your omega-3 intake by eating foods like salmon, spinach, and herring. Flaxseed oil and canola oil are also an easy way to add omega-3s into your diet. You can use these oils for cooking, add them to baked goods, drizzle on cereals, and add to smoothies for a mood boost that’s also heart-healthy.
Meditation is a helpful practice for sufferers of anxiety and depression, but sometimes the act of sitting down in a quiet room is enough to drive anyone up a wall. The simple act of cooking your own meals can be a meditation practice in itself. Take some time to take in the sights, smells, and tastes when you cook using the nutrient rich foods mentioned above.
Remind yourself to be present when you’re cooking and use all your senses. You can acknowledge unwanted thoughts about your ‘to-do’ list or lingering worries, but regain focus on the task at hand. Cooking a delicious meal yourself is satisfying both mentally and psychically, and can also help in savoring the food and deter mindless eating that can leave you depressed. There are many resources about mindfulness online including books and guided audio that can add structure for beginners.
There are no magic bullets to end depression and anxiety, but learning how your mental and nutritional health relates can help your brain work better to regulate your mood. These foods, supplements, and meditation practices will work in tandem with therapy and help aid your personal journey to improving your mood in the long term.
– Article by Rachel Masters for The Untitled Magazine