Your mental health is an important part to your total well-being. Take care of your mental health by boosting mood naturally.
Before training in nutritional therapy, I wanted to be a psychologist. I put my all into a degree, and after graduating with a first class honors, I set about to change the world.
My first stop was a hospital for women with borderline personality disorder, the second was a day center for older adults with depression or Alzheimer’s, and the third was a research facility looking at children and families with mental health disorders.
Pre-university, I was caught in a storm in Thailand and returned with severe anxiety and panic attacks. It was definitely a difficult time but opened me up to a deeper experience of mental wellbeing, which I’m grateful for.
With that, and the work experience, I learned that talking, exercise, yoga, meditation AND medication for that matter all had a place, but I also saw that something was seriously missing. As I watched extremely ill women walk around locked corridors with liters of cola and endless prescription medication, I couldn’t continue to immerse myself in situations that showed no long-term improvement. I still wanted to be a therapist, but I needed a different route, and I had to discover what was missing.
I turned to nutrition. While working on a nutritional therapy diploma, I found what I had been looking for. As it turns out, there IS a missing piece of the puzzle, and it comes in the form of nutrients and system imbalances.
Digestion, energy regulation, detoxification, genetics, hormones, inflammation, immunity, and infection are all part of a matrix that determines mental wellbeing, and it is vital to address these factors if long-term change is to be achieved.
There are some key nutrients and supplements that help across the board with mood imbalances, and these are what I use with most of my clients:
B vitamins are the best. In particular, folate and B12 are the key vitamins for mental health and a deficiency in these can lead to low mood and depression. Folate is found in green vegetables, beans, nuts and seeds, and B12 in animal products or fortified foods. However, it is important to note that genetic variations affecting how these nutrients are absorbed are very common. It is a process called methylation, so if your symptoms are severe, long-lasting or something that’s in your family, I would always recommend having a DNA test to determine whether you have a modification in this gene. If this is the case, then using methylated B vitamins are the way forward. It’s something I always recommend getting tested though before you supplement, as over methylation can also be a problem.
Essential Fatty Acids
Omega 3 is something that should really be given to everyone with a mood imbalance. There are 2 types of omega 3: DHA and EPA, and both are vital for healthy brain function. Common drugs for depression are those that prevent inflammation, yet including an anti-inflammatory fat like fish oil could have a beneficial influence. Omega 3 is found in flaxseed and oily fish like salmon, sardines, and mackerel. Aim for 1000mg of EPA, which may mean adding a concentrated capsule supplement into your diet
Vitamin D is essential to emotional and mental health. Due to the application of sunscreen and spending most of our days indoors, vitamin D deficiency has become very common in the Western world. Low levels of vitamin D can be associated with depression, and serotonin (the happy hormone) has been found to increase when exposed to bright light. However, getting your doctor to test your vitamin D levels is essential before and after you supplement, to ensure that you have adequate levels and don’t exceed the requirement.
Zinc is a mineral that many people are deficient in, and it is related to the level of inflammation in the body. In our bodies, over 300 enzymes require zinc, rendering it vital for the effective signaling of cells. Zinc also modulates the binding of serotonin to its receptors and is implicated in the activation of brain-derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), which is found to be low in depression. The mineral is found in beans, legumes, and seafood, yet supplementation may be necessary if in a state of deficiency.
Bacteria in the gut determine how the brain functions and affect how your food gets digested and utilized i.e. how you are extracting the vital nutrients. Effective digestion is at the heart of wellbeing, and beneficial bacteria are at the heart of digestion. Including naturally fermented foods such as sauerkraut and kefir to enhance the beneficial bacteria, together with reducing sugars and alcohol that feed the pathogenic bacteria, can help create a balanced gut flora and alleviate depression. Removing possible food intolerances is also vital to gut health, ensuring the probiotics can do their job optimally.
Adaptogens are a group of herbs from ancient Eastern medicine known to exert their effects through working on the adrenal pathways. They are called adaptogens because they are thought to help your body adapt to stressful environments, and in particular can have therapeutic effects on mood and wellbeing. Ashwagandha, maca, and Rhodiola are particularly useful in mood disorders, helping to support the hormone system and stress pathway.
So in addition to meditation, talking, exercise, yoga, and, in some cases, medication, I now add a whole food diet, inflammation reduction, hormone balancing, and an assessment of nutrients and genetics.
It’s vital that the whole picture of health is addressed and we do everything in our power to take control of our happiness and wellbeing.
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