Category Archives: mood


How to Beat Blue Monday: Natural Energy and Mood Boosters

The holiday season is behind us and the most depressing day of the year is on the horizon. Blue Monday (the third Monday of the year) is cited to be the ‘perfect storm’ of post-holiday blues, gloomy weather, work stress and financial woes following Christmas over-indulgence.

Read on for tips on how to bring some post-Christmas cheer to your January with natural energy and mood boosters.

Probiotics for the Brain

New research shows that the health of our digestive tract has a direct impact on mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

Our brain and our gut are in constant communication. In fact, our gut microbiome – the microbes naturally present in our gut – influences the function of the brain because of its affect on the immune system, our hormones and neurotransmitter pathways.

“Our habits – including our diet – are important factors modulating the microbiome-gut-brain axis, so an appropriate diet is important for adequate mental health”, says physician Juan Lima-Ojeda, who specialises in mental health research.

Indeed probiotic supplements have been shown to relieve symptoms of depression and even show improved brain function in areas of the brain linked with mood.

For anyone looking to support a healthy mood it would be wise to focus on a diet aimed at optimising gut bacteria. Overindulgence at Christmas usually means an abundance of sugar and a lack of healthy fibre. Redress the balance with prebiotic foods such as bananas, garlic, leeks and onions to encourage a healthy gut microbiome. Probiotic yoghurts and good quality probiotic supplements can also help to replenish healthy bacteria, supporting mood and wellbeing.

Amino Acids improve Energy and Mood

Tyrosine is an amino acid used to make brain chemicals such as dopamine, and noradrenaline. It is often used in supplement form to support energy levels and to protect against the effects of stress.

When you experience stress, your brain uses tyrosine to make noradrenaline. This stimulates your central nervous system and increases your energy and mental power. It can, however, take time to then replenish tyrosine stores and so tyrosine supplementation may be helpful during stressful periods. Some studies suggest that both memory and performance under stress are improved with tyrosine supplementation.

Tyrosine may also be helpful after periods of sleep deprivation. Studies have found that tyrosine supplementation may help to improve memory, reasoning and vigilance in sleep-deprived adults.

To ensure a healthy intake of tyrosine, be sure to include plenty of tyrosine-rich foods such as fish, eggs, almonds, lima beans, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, oats and bananas. Those who supplement normally take around 500mg to 2000mg daily, split into two doses.

A second amino acid linked to mood is tryptophan, which is used to make serotonin, your brain’s ‘feel good’ hormone.

Low serotonin levels are linked with conditions such as depression. There is a lot of interest in a form of tryptophan called 5-HTP, a natural supplement that has been found in preliminary studies to be as effective as antidepressant drugs such as imipramine and fluvoxamine. Other studies have found that 5-HTP enhances feelings of wellbeing in healthy people.

The richest sources of tryptophan are beans, seafood, chicken and eggs. The supplement 5-HTP is believed to be effective at boosting brain levels of serotonin, especially if it is taken separately from food. The usual dosage for depression is 100mg, taken two or three times a day.

DHA: Brain Food

The human brain is almost 60% fat, and so the right type of fats are essential to support optimal mental health. The type of fat that makes up the cell membranes in the brain is an omega-3 fatty acid called DHA. Without good levels of DHA, the brain has trouble utilising serotonin. Low levels of DHA are therefore linked with depression and anxiety.

In studies, 300mg fish oil daily – a rich source of DHA – has been found to be effective in the treatment of mild depression. Fish oil has also been found in double blind studies to be helpful in relieving symptoms of anxiety at a dose of 2g daily.

The best sources of DHA are oily fish such as salmon, mackerel and sardines. While flaxseed provides some omega-3, vegetarians and vegans can actually obtain DHA through marine algae. Omega-3 supplements made from algae are just as effective as fish oil supplements, and provide a simple and direct source of vegetarian DHA.

Juan M. Lima-Ojeda et al. “I Am I and My Bacterial Circumstances”: Linking Gut Microbiome, Neurodevelopment, and Depression” Frontiers in Psychiatry. Published online August 22 2017
Tillisch K et al. Consumption of fermented milk product with probiotic modulates brain activity. Gastroenterology. 2013 Jun; 144(7):1394-401, 1401.e1-4.
. Dash S et al. The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2015 Jan; 28(1):1-6.
Maria Ines Pinto-Sanchez et al. Probiotic Bifidobacterium longum NCC3001 Reduces Depression Scores and Alters Brain Activity: a Pilot Study in Patients With Irritable Bowel Syndrome. Gastroenterology, 2017
Badawy A. Novel nutritional treatment for manic and psychotic disorders: a review of tryptophan and tyrosine depletion studies and the potential of protein-based formulations using glycomacropeptide. Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2013
Iovieno N et al. Second-tier natural antidepressants: review and critique. J Affect Disord. 2011
Kiecolt-Glaser JK et al. “Omega-3 supplementation lowers inflammation and anxiety in medical students: A randomized controlled trial.” Brain Behav Immun 25:1725-1734 (2011)

Mind and Mood Matters

Health Information Week: Mind and Mood Matters

Mind & Mood Matters

The brain is a vital, fascinating organ which has immense requirements to keep it functioning healthily. Mental health often alters when the brain lacks the adequate support it needs, meaning memory and mood may be affected. Certain circumstances may also leave the brain with additional needs, so what can be done to support your mental health?

Blood Flow

The brain is one blood-thirsty organ, with over 20% of blood leaving the heart going straight to the brain alone! Blood supplied to the brain carries vital oxygen, glucose and other important nutrients, so supporting circulation can be key to getting these nutrients to the brain. Compounds such as arginine pyroglutamate, gingko and periwinkle may aid healthy circulation.


Acetylcholine is a brain chemical that is linked to many brain processes, including memory. There are many nutrients that are used in the manufacture and release of acetylcholine including: choline, phosphatidyl serine, DMAE and vitamin B1. It is thought that memory issues may be related to high levels of inflammation, so taking a natural approach to reducing inflammation could prove wise. The omega 3 fatty acids found in oily fish are linked with regulating inflammation. Low levels of omega 3 may lead to an impaired ability to think effectively.


Protecting the brain is essential for preserving its ability to function healthily. Certain antioxidant nutrients not only offer protection, but may also play a role in keeping inflammation in check.

A good variety of antioxidant rich fruits and vegetables are important. Some of the most beneficial antioxidants for protection of brain tissue include the fat-soluble antioxidants such as vitamin E, CoQ10 and alpha lipoic acid. Extra vitamin C may also be beneficial as it could support the regeneration of vitamin E. Zinc helps our body to produce antioxidant enzymes, such as superoxide dismutase (SOD), and a low level of zinc has been linked to memory loss. Supplemental zinc may contribute to good memory retention.

Stress and Anxiety

Psychological stress is often down to how each individual perceives an event or consequence. The way in which a person responds or reacts can be a result of alterations in brain chemicals or co-factors.

Supplying what is needed to balance the brain and body can be essential for stress relief. Vitamin C, magnesium and B vitamins are all readily used during stressful times. Vitamin B5 in particular is required for the production of anti-stress hormones.

Rhodiola is an adaptogenic herb, which offers support during times of stress and may help to relieve symptoms such as fatigue and mild anxiety. As stress may often be associated with anxiety, nutrients such as magnesium and theanine could be of use in reducing or controlling anxiety.

There are other herbs which may also be of use. Passionflower is often thought to be as effective as some anti-anxiety medication. More recent research has shown that magnolia may also be of use, with recent studies finding it contains specific compounds that could help to aid in the reduction of anxiety.


Mood pattern alteration may be down to several factors including imbalanced neurotransmitter levels. The neurotransmitter serotonin may be altered during times of low mood and supporting this pathway may be beneficial. The amino acid tryptophan is the precursor to serotonin and low levels are thought to affect one’s mood.

Supplementing with tryptophan may raise the levels of serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is first converted to 5HTP and then to serotonin. Supplements of 5HTP are thought to be effective in improving symptoms of low mood. The herb St John’s Wort also demonstrates an action on serotonin levels and has been found to assist in cases of mild to moderate depression.

An area that is gaining a lot of attention recently is that of the link between mood and inflammation. It has been found that levels of inflammatory markers are high in cases of low mood. Curcumin, from the spice turmeric, has long been known to have an effect on inflammation and recent studies show it may be of use for mood patterns.

The omega 3 fatty acids, EPA and DHA, are incorporated into brain tissue and are known to influence mood. Several studies have backed up their use in cases of low mood.


Sleep issues may occur while stressed or dealing with low mood. Whatever the cause, sleep deprivation can be debilitating. Natural support for restoring healthy sleep patterns includes 5HTP. Once 5HTP is converted to serotonin it can then be converted to melatonin during the hours of darkness. Herbal support includes valerian, which may reduce the amount of time it takes to get to sleep, as well as improving sleep quality and reducing the number of wakenings. Hops have also been found to have qualities that assist with sleep and a combination of valerian and hops may be effective.

Whatever the problem, rest assured there are natural ways to offer support for the mind and help with mood issues. After all, your mind and mood really do matter.


Nutrition to Battle the January Blues

Monday 21st January – the Monday of the last full week in January – has been labelled ‘Blue Monday’, to signify the most depressing day of the year. Bad weather, empty pockets and that ‘back to work’ feeling can combine to make the best of us pretty miserable at this time of year.

The good news is that our mental and emotional health has been shown to be linked to our diet, suggesting that we can choose to eat our way to happiness. A new study of more than 8000 adults in the UK has found links between our food choices and mental health (1). The study was conducted by researchers at the University of Warwick and looked at the fruit and vegetable intake of each individual, comparing it to measures of life satisfaction, mental wellbeing and self-reports of happiness, nervousness and low mood.

The researchers also took into account other variables such as meat consumption, alcohol intake and  social and economic factors, so that these factors would not influence the results of the study.

They found that both happiness and mental health appear to rise in a ‘dose-response way’ along with the number of daily servings of fruit and vegetables. Wellbeing appeared to peak at seven portions of fruit and vegetables each day.

Study co-author Professor Sarah Stewart-Brown, Professor of Public Health at Warwick Medical School, said “the statistical power of fruit and vegetables was a surprise. Diet has traditionally been ignored by wellbeing researchers”.

Fruit and vegetables contain folic acid, potassiam and flavnoids.

There are a number of reasons why fruit and vegetable consumption might give our mental wellbeing a boost. For example, these foods provide an abundance of minerals such as potassium (2) and vitamins such as folic acid (3) which have an impact on adrenaline and serotonin receptors. Fruits and vegetables also provide a whole host of flavonoids, some of which can enter the brain and might very well have a positive influence on mood. Vitamin C, found in abundance in fruit and veg, is essential for the synthesis of noepinephrine, a chemical message in the brain that affects mood.

Of course this type of research is not able to prove causality. Do seven portions of fruit and vegetables create happiness, or do happy and well-adjusted individuals tend to eat more fruit and vegetables? The researchers admit that further controlled trials would be needed to prove such a link, but they maintain that the study’s results are compelling.

In the meantime, there is no harm in boosting your daily fruit and vegetable intake. It will certainly boost your physical health and it might just stave off those January blues. Just five small changes can help you to increase your daily fruit and vegetable intake:

  • Incorporate fruits and vegetables into your snacks by keeping raw carrots and other crunchy vegetables to hand.
  • Add chopped fruit or berries to your morning cereal.
  • Try a daily fruit or vegetable smoothie.
  • Replace your lunchtime sandwich with vegetable soup.
  • Replace your usual dessert with a fruit salad.


1. David G. Blanchflower, Andrew J. Oswald, Sarah Stewart-Brown (2012), Is Psychological Well-being Linked to the Consumption of Fruit and Vegetables? Warwick Economic Research Paper no. 996.

2. Torres S J, C A Nowson and A Worsley (2009), “Dietary electrolytes are related to mood”, British Journal of Nutrition, 100(5),1038-45.

3. Gilbody S, T Lightfoot and T Sheldon (2007), “Is low folate a risk factor for depression? A meta‐analysis and exploration of heterogeneity”, Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 61(7), 631–637. 

4. Image courtesy of ctr’s.


Beat the autumnal blues…

The nights are now well and truly drawing in and becoming colder and darker, so it’s common to feel low in mood.

Here are some helpful tips to keep you feeling upbeat:

Vitamin D
This sunshine vitamin has been getting more and more press coverage in recent months and it’s an important vitamin in supporting immunity amongst other things. Getting natural daylight is the best way to generate Vitamin D in your body; however in countries like the UK, the sun’s strength is not high enough between October and March to do this adequately. It’s important to eat foods containing vitamin D such as oily fish (mackerel, sardines etc), eggs, fortified breads and cereals. Supplementation is popular at this time of year with varying options of strengths (500iu – 5000iu) and types (tablets, capsules, sprays, sublingual) available. The UK Government now recommends that Vitamin D supplements should be taken by under 5’s, women who are pregnant or breast-feeding, everyone over 65 and anyone who has little sun exposure.

Omega 3
Continuing with the importance of fish and omega 3’s, it has been shown that those with diets high in fish and omega 3 fatty acids have been shown to have better moods. As well as other potential benefits such as improved skin quality, cardiovascular health and joint mobility.

Exercise is good for the mood
Exercise is good for helping to improve the mood during Autumn and Winter.

Natural Daylight
Balancing your circadian rhythm is important in balancing your mood and hormone levels. Try and get some natural daylight every day to avoid feeling low in energy and depressed – although it’s not easy if you work a in a 9-5 office environment. Go for a walk on your lunch break or offer to go to the shop for a colleague – any reason to get outside. Growing evidence also suggests sunshine can help protect against cancer, diabetes and heart disease. Having a SAD lightbox on your desk or at home can help beat the blues – opt for a lightbox with a 10,000 lux output from a respected manufacturer like Lumie or the Sad Lightbox Company.

That lunch break walk suggested previously can have a double effect on your mood – gentle exercise can increase endorphins which are those “feel good factors” keeping your looking on the bright side of life. Green Exercise (i.e. not in a gym) has been found to have more significant improvements in mood.

This supplement is well known for its mood-boosting properties. If you feel you still need some support then this may be a good option. Speak to your GP or Health Practitioner first though, as it can interfere with other medications.

Written by Katie Guest


Echium Seed Oil – Beauty from Within

Composed of several types of tissue, and functioning to protect the body from the everyday environmental barrage of abuse, the skin serves as our largest organ. The outer layer, known as the epidermis, is made up of a fibrous protein called keratin and numerous types of fat, including various omega-3 and omega-6 polyunsaturated fatty acids. Some of which are important for skin health and others not so. Though ‘biologically dead’ the epidermis remains active, with its fatty acid composition playing a key role in the health and appearance of the skin’s surface.

The skin lacks important enzymes to reconstruct omega-3 and omega-6 fats from food, so our skin’s makeup is a direct reflection of our diet. This may be good news if you eat plenty of oily fish, nuts, seeds and avocados and avoid refined carbohydrates and vegetable oils. If your plate typically resembles Western diet patterns, your skin will likely contain an abundance of omega-6 fats such as linoleic acid (LA) and arachidonic acid (AA) – the latter being linked directly with inflammation and inflammatory-based skin conditions such as psoriasis and eczema.

Igennus Echiomega
Igennus Echiomega is made from echium seed oil and is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Echium seed oil is a natural plant oil renowned for its unique profile of skin-supporting fatty acids. Especially rich in a rare form of omega-3 called stearidonic acid (SDA), as well as anti-inflammatory omega-6 GLA and omega-9, it provides the skin with an ideal balance of fats to regenerate cells and reduce inflammation.

Well known for its anti-ageing potential, echium seed oil is a popular ingredient in many skin creams and beauty products but only recently has it become available in supplement form to nourish the skin from within. Oral supplementation offers enhanced benefits over topical products (though a combination of both would offer synergistic benefits) due to more efficient absorption, enabling the beneficial fatty acids to be incorporated directly into skin cells to target inflammation beneath the skin’s surface.

Each Igennus Echiomega capsule provides 500mg echium seed oil, with just two capsules daily providing ideal levels for skincare. Offered in a capsule shell derived from seaweed, Echiomega is suitable for vegetarians and vegans.

Written by Dr Nina Bailey from Igennus Healthcare Nutrition


Beat the winter blues: diet and SAD

Previously I have written about the benefits of light therapy in treating seasonal affective disorder. Light therapy is a popular choice with those looking for a drug-free approach to dealing with SAD or the ‘winter blues’. An equally important consideration is how diet affects mood and symptoms in those with SAD – and in particular the importance of the macronutrients carbohydrate, protein and fat in the management of this condition.

Hormones and SAD

SAD is characterised by symptoms such as low mood, carbohydrate cravings, weight gain and fatigue (1, 2). These symptoms are linked to hormones that control our mood and energy levels.

Our body’s natural anti-depressant hormone, serotonin, is stimulated by light. The more light we have during the daytime, the more serotonin we produce. In the darker months of autumn and winter, serotonin levels can drop, resulting in feelings such as low mood, lack of energy and food cravings.

Likewise, darkness stimulates the hormone melatonin, which lowers body temperature and causes tiredness and feelings of fatigue.

How can diet help?

Those with SAD are thought to crave sugary and starchy foods because these types of carbohydrate temporarily boost levels of the body’s natural anti-depressant serotonin. These types of foods also boost energy levels and raise body temperature, countering the effects of melatonin.

Brown Rice
Whole grains such as brown rice and oats and proteins such as nuts help to keep blood sugar levels stable. (5)

Eating this type of diet can only be a temporary ‘fix’ however. In fact, a carbohydrate-rich diet based around sugary and starchy foods, leads to unstable blood sugar levels. This in turn can create a variety of symptoms that we might link to the ‘winter blues’ – moodiness, fatigue, foggy thinking and food cravings.

The solution is to eat a diet based around ‘low glycemic index’ carbohydrates that help to keep blood sugar levels stable. Whole grains such as brown rice and oats, as well as fresh fruits and vegetables are the wisest choices of carbohydrate.

Including a source of lean protein (such as chicken, turkey, eggs, beans or lentils) with each main meal is also a good idea. This helps the body in two ways. Firstly, including protein with each meal helps to control blood sugar levels, fighting off energy dips and cravings. Secondly, protein provides a source of the amino acid tryptophan, which the body can convert to serotonin. Including foods high in tryptophan – such as chicken, tuna, tofu, eggs, nuts, seeds and milk – in your daily diet can help to support your body in making serotonin.

Finally, healthy fats have been extensively studied in relation to depression and mood. Omega-3 fats also have a role in the production and utilisation of serotonin. Inflammatory chemicals in the body can cause serotonin deficiency in the brain. Omega-3 oils can reduce levels of these inflammatory chemicals, therefore helping to boost the brain’s serotonin levels.

The importance of omega-3 in dealing with SAD might explain the low incidence of SAD in Icelanders who have a diet high in oily fish (3). Ensuring a good level of omega-3 in your diet is essential. Including oily fish such as sardines, mackerel, herring or salmon in your diet can help to boost levels of omega-3, as can eating flaxseed oil, walnuts and omega-3 eggs.

Formal research in this area is limited, with many studies simply looking at the impact of a single meal on symptoms of SAD. This is an inadequate assessment of the role of diet. One study that looked at the longer term impact of diet on SAD showed promising results (4). I have certainly found in clinical practice that patients need to be consistent in their dietary choices in order to see an improvement in symptoms over time.

A well-managed diet, along with light therapy (such as a sunrise alarm clock or SAD light box), appears to be a safe approach to managing SAD. Of course carbohydrates, protein and fats are not the only nutrients of importance to those with the winter blues. Part 3 will examine the evidence behind other nutrients and dietary supplements in the support of SAD.


Written by Nadia Mason


1. Sher L. Genetic studies of seasonal affective disorder and seasonality. Comprehensive Psychiatry, 2001, Vol. 42, No. 2, pp. 105-110.

2. Magnusson A, Boivin D. Seasonal affective disorder: an overview. Chronobiology Int. 2003. 20(2):189-207.

3. Cott J, Hibbeln JR. Lack of seasonal mood change in Icelanders. American Journal of Psychiatry. 2001.

4. Wells, A, et al. (1998) Alterations in mood after changing to a low-fat diet. British Journal of Nutrition 79(1):23-30.

5. Image courtesy of Marcuso.





Researchers find that eating trans-fats may increase the risk of depression

Studies have found that long chain omega 3 fatty acids, from oily fish such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines, may be useful in the prevention and treatment of depression and low mood.  Now research has found (1) that eating trans-fats may increase the risk of suffering depression, and that olive oil  may protect against depression.

Trans fatty acids are created through manufacture when liquid vegetable oils are hardened, to a solid or semi-solid state, via a process known as hydrogenation.  (Hydrogenation is when naturally occurring cis-unsaturated double bonds are converted into trans unsaturated double bonds).  The process of hydrogenation also destroys the essential short chain omega 3 fatty acid alpha-linolenic acid from oils (for more information about the health benefits of omega 3 fats please read through my numerous posts on the subject).  Trans fatty acids have been linked to various adverse health effects. 

The study ran from 1999-2010 and involved 12,059 Spanish university graduates with an average age of  37.5 years.  All of the participants were initially free of depression.  At the beginning of the study a detailed and extensive food frequency questionnaire was used to estimate the intake of fatty acids.  During the six year follow-up period any cases of depression, as diagnosed by a physician, were reported.  In this time over 650 new cases of depression were identified.  Results found that trans fatty acids were associated with an increased risk of depression – the more trans fats consumed the higher the risk of depression.  On the other hand the more monounsaturated fat e.g. olive oil consumed the lower the risk, this was also true for polyunsaturated fats e.g. fish oil.  The authors of the study conclude: “A detrimental relationship was found between TFA [trans fatty acid] intake and depression risk, whereas weak inverse associations were found for MUFA [monosunsaturated fatty acid], PUFA [polyunsaturated fatty acids] and olive oil. These findings suggest that cardiovascular disease and depression may share some common nutritional determinants related to subtypes of fat intake”.

Specifically the results found that participants with an elevated consumption of trans-fats (2)presented up to a 48% increase in the risk of depression when they were compared to participants who did not consume these fats,”.   Associate professor Almudena Sánchez-Villegas one of the study authors also said (2)the more trans-fats that were consumed, the greater the harmful effect they produced in the volunteers,”

It is estimated that around 150 million persons worldwide suffer from depression.  In a press release Almudena Sánchez Villegas boldly hypothesises that this may be due (2)to radical changes in the sources of fats consumed in Western diets, where we have substituted certain types of beneficial fats — polyunsaturated and monounsaturated in nuts, vegetable oils and fish — for the saturated and trans-fats found in meats, butter and other products such as mass-produced pastries and fast food.

It is important to note that this published research (1) took place in a population with a low average intake of trans-fats, given that it made up only 0.4% of the total energy ingested by the volunteers. “Despite this, we observed an increase in the risk of suffering depression of nearly 50%. On this basis,” concluded another study author (2)we derive the importance of taking this effect into account in countries like the U.S., where the percentage of energy derived from these foots is around 2.5%.”

Please read my previous post for more information about the hypothesized dangers of eating a diet containing trans fats.  Evidence is increasing to support a relationship between improved nutrition and better mental health.  Please read my previous blog posts on depression and mood

(1)Sánchez-Villegas A et al.  2011.  Dietary Fat Intake and the Risk of Depression: The SUN Project. PLoS ONE, 2011; 6 (1): e16268 DOI: 10.1371/journal.pone.0016268

 (2)Press Release.  Public Library of Science (2011, January 26). Eating poorly can make you blue: Trans-fats increase risk of depression, while olive oil helps avoid risk. ScienceDaily. Retrieved January 27, 2011, from­ /releases/2011/01/110126171451.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


Nutrient supplements might impact brain function

 Nutrition impacts all aspects of health and the body.  What we eat can impact brain function and our mood and new research is constantly being released which indicates that having a good diet and a good supply of nutrients can impact our mental state.

Recently a double-blind placebo-controlled study (1) was conducted to investigate the effect of a multi-vitamin and mineral supplement on cognitive (brain) function and fatigue in over 200 healthy female individuals aged between 25 and 50 years old.  The participants were tested before and 9 weeks after starting the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement.  The tests that the women underwent included brain function tests and tasks related to mood and fatigue.   The group taking the multi-vitamin and mineral supplement had improved multi-tasking performance and better accuracy across the tasks compared to the placebo group.  The women taking the supplements also did better in terms of their mood and fatigue levels after performing the brain function tests.  The authors conclude that “These findings suggest that healthy members of the general population may benefit from augmented levels of vitamins/minerals via direct dietary supplementation”.

Another recent study (2) looked at the cognitive and mood effects of a high dose B-vitamin and mineral supplement in 215 men aged 30-55 years old.  The men completed assessments and tests prior to and on the last day of a 33-day supplement period.   Those men taking the supplement, compared to those taking the inactive placebo, had significant improvements in ratings on the stress test and the general health questionnaire as well as certain aspects of the mood test.  The men taking the supplement also rated themselves as less ‘mentally tired’ both before and after completing a cognitive (brain function) test.  The authors of this test conclude “Healthy members of the general population may benefit from augmented levels of vitamins/minerals via direct dietary supplementation. Specifically, supplementation led to improved ratings of stress, mental health and vigour and improved cognitive performance during intense mental processing”.

The authors of this study also write “Taken together with previous results showing beneficial effects of vitamin/mineral supplementation in healthy children and adults, these findings further suggest that augmenting vitamin/mineral levels in healthy, normal populations may provide beneficial effects in terms of brain function. It is unclear whether these effects represent a an offset of impairment due to marginal deficiencies or an improvement due to sub-optimal levels that would not, under current guidelines, be classed as deficiency. However, given that a large section of the population are unable or unwilling to eat the adequately balanced diet that would satisfy their micronutrient requirements, it seems that supplementation with multi-vitamins/minerals may be a useful and possibly necessary option for this portion of the population

This research is certainly interesting but further larger trials are be needed before making any recommendations for nutrient supplementation in order to enhance brain function and mood.  Always check with your medical doctor prior to taking any supplements.  Supplements should never be seen as an alternative to a healthy, balanced diet, however they can be useful to cover any shortfalls.  This research certainly highlights how nutrition can impact the brain and mood states.  Optimum functioning of the brain is dependent on a wide range nutrients and as the authors state, many people do not eat healthy balanced diets and may therefore be lacking in vitamins and minerals. Eating a nutrient dense diet which is rich in vegetables, fruits, unprocessed meat and fish, especially oily fish, nuts/seeds, beans and unprocessed wholegrains is a great way to ensure a plentiful supply of vitamins, minerals and essential fatty acids to the body and brain.


(1)Haskell CF et al.  2010.  Effects of a multi-vitamin/mineral supplement on cognitive function and fatigue during extended multi-tasking.  Hum Psychopharmacol. 25(6):448-61.

(2) Kennedy DO et al.  2010.  Effects of high-dose B vitamin complex with vitamin C and minerals on subjective mood and performance in healthy males. Psychopharmacology (Berl).   211(1):55-68.



Written by Ani Kowal


New study suggests omega 3 fats may be helpful for those suffering with major depression

Nutrition and the links to depression and mood are topics I have written about numerous times and I am highly interested in.  In particular I have been paying attention to the extensive work on long chain omega 3 fatty acids for the treatment of depression.   The long chain omega 3 fat, EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) which is found naturally in oily fish such as mackerel, trout, sardines and salmon seems particularly important in mood disorders.

Until now most studies have concentrated omega 3 fats for the treatment of mild and moderate depression.  However a newly published study (1) has found that omega 3 supplements are effective in individuals with major depression who do not have anxiety disorders.  The study (1) was published online in the internationally renowned ‘Journal of Clinical Psychiatry’ and concluded that “there was a clear benefit of omega-3 supplementation among patients with MDE [major depressive episode] without comorbid anxiety disorders”.

The study (1) was the largest ever study to assess the use of long chain omega 3 fatty acids in treating major depression.  The double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomised trial involved over 400 male and female individuals with major unipolar depression.  For 8 weeks half the participants took three capsules daily of a specific high EPA omega 3 supplement and the other half took three placebo capsules containing sunflower oil flavoured with a small quantity of fish oil.  The initial results found that, although there was a trend toward omega 3 being helpful for treating major depression the results were not significant.  However, further analysis found that omega 3 supplements significantly improved depressive symptoms in individuals diagnosed with depression unaccompanied by an anxiety disorder (such as generalized anxiety, phobias, post-traumatic stress disorder and panic disorder).  In these patients the results showed that efficacy of omega 3 fats was comparable to conventional antidepressant treatment.  An exciting and highly important finding.

In a press release (2) the lead study author, Dr Lespérance noted “Despite significant progress in neuroscience over the past two decades, depression is difficult to treat,”.  Depression, is now the world’s fourth leading cause of morbidity and death is expected to move up to the number two position by 2020.  The press release also mentions that there are a large number of patients who stop taking their medications in the first few months of treatment and those who refuse such treatment due to fear of stigmatization or side effects.  A large number of patients suffering from major depression use alternative treatments offered outside the healthcare system, Dr Lespérance comments that “Many of these treatments have not been adequately evaluated. That is why it was important to assess the efficacy of Omega-3, one of the most popular alternative approaches,”

The study (1) adds to previous evidence that omega 3 fats, especially EPA, might be useful in depressive disorders.  Many doctors and scientists have not been convinced by the current evidence and I hope that this broader study has made some impact.  It would be really encouraging if medical doctors started to use omega 3 fats as treatments for suitable patients suffering with depression.  As mentioned in a past post some psychiatrists, such as Professor Basant Puri, do use EPA supplements with their patients and have experienced fantastic results.  The press release (2) rightly states that “Additional research directly comparing Omega-3 with conventional antidepressants could more clearly confirm their usefulness for patients suffering from depression

Many people in the UK do not regularly, at least twice weekly, eat oily fish and may, therefore, have low intakes of omega 3 fats in their diets.  These fats are essential for health and cannot be made by the body.  As you can see from my past posts on omega 3 fats they are linked to a number of conditions from heart disease, to mood related issues and immune problems.  Having a good intake of these essential fats is vital for health.  If you do not regularly eat oily fish, such as salmon, trout, mackerel and sardines you may wish to seriously consider taking a daily fish oil supplement.  For vegetarians and vegans a flaxseed oil supplement could be considered. Also, there are now a couple of companies who make vegetarian and vegan EPA and DHA from algal sources, a very exciting development and well worth investigating if you wish to take an omega 3 supplement.  If you are feeling depressed, or have been diagnosed as suffering from depression please check with a medical doctor prior to taking any form of supplementation.  If you are receiving medication of any kind it is also important to check with your medical doctor prior to taking supplements.

(1) Lespérance F et al.  2010.  The Efficacy of Omega-3 Supplementation for Major Depression: A Randomized Controlled Trial. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 2010;E-Pub prior to print, June 15, DOI 10.4088/JCP.10m05966blu.

(2)Press release Centre hospitalier de l’Université de Montréal (2010, June 21). Treating depression with Omega-3: Encouraging results from largest clinical study. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 22, 2010, from­ /releases/2010/06/100621111238.htm

Written by Ani Kowal


Healthy diet, healthy mind

Nutrition and eating for the brain and mental health are topics I have written about regularly here.  Our mood can have powerful influences on many aspects of life and eating for a healthy body naturally impacts the brain.  A recently published study (1) highlights the importance of eating for mental health by demonstrating that there is an association between diet quality and the prevalence of mental disorders in women.  The study is preliminary and certainly warrants further investigative trials but the data is important to note.

Healthy Food Healthy Mind
Studies have found a link between diet and mental health.

The study authors wanted to examine the extent to which the high prevalence of mood disorders are related to diet/eating habits.  The research involved 1,046 women between the ages of 20 and 93 who were randomly selected.  A diet quality score was devised and the habitual eating patterns of the women were analysed.  The women also underwent a specialised questionnaire and clinical interview to assess their psychological health.  Current depressive and anxiety disorders were recorded.  The researchers found that a traditional western diet which includes processed/fried foods, refined grains, sugary products and beer was associated with anxiety and depression.  The results were not confounded by age, education or a variety of other behaviours, indicating that diet was having a very real impact on mood (1).

Eating a ‘traditional western diet’ was associated with more than a 50% increased likelihood for depressive disorders in the women involved in the study.  Depression and anxiety disorders were around 30% less likely among women who ate a healthier diet which consisted mainly of vegetables, fruits, fish and unrefined wholegrains (1)

The authors suggest that further investigations are needed to determine whether unhealthy eating leads to declining mental health or whether declining mental health leads to unhealthier eating.  It is probable that these events are not mutually exclusive.  Feeling good often means that a better quality diet is eaten, self-esteem is high and we tend to look after our bodies and feed them healthfull foods.  Feeling ‘low’ may lead to lowered self-esteem and poorer quality food choices at a time when high quality foods would probably make a difference to mind and body.

As my previous posts relating to mood and mental health aim to highlight, a healthy diet and lifestyle which includes some regular exercise really can go far in impacting mental health.  Diets rich in vegetables, fruit, unrefined meats, fish, and wholegrains are a good basis health.  Omega 3 fats from oily fish and/or supplements seem particularly important for the brain and mood elevation.


(1) Jacka FN et al.  2010.  Association of Western and Traditional Diets With Depression and Anxiety in Women.  Am J Psychiatry (published online January 4, 2010; doi:10.1176/appi.ajp.2009.09060881)


Written by Ani Kowal