Tag Archives: depression

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.

References
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)

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Are you SAD or just Grumpy?

In the summer can you take on the world and work all day, with buckets of energy? But in autumn and winter do you feel lethargic and eat more, especially carbs, and feel irritable or overly anxious? It could be that you are just lacking in light. These are some of the symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder or SAD. Worse still, if your office has no windows or has tinted glass then you may be suffering all year round, as you are not getting the light that your body craves.

SAD Lightbox
Using a lightbox can be useful for SAD sufferers, but also those in need of more energy during the winter months.

The answer is simple – put a lightbox on your desk and then get on with your day. As you sit doing your tasks, your eye will automatically pick up the light. Within 7-10 days you will start to feel the benefits of using a lightbox, feeling more alert and having more energy.

So how does it work? The light goes into the eye, through the retinohypothalamic tract and into the brain. That’s the detail – what you need to know is that the light has a double effect. It ‘cuts off’ the body’s production of melatonin, the hormone which makes you sleepy and triggers hibernation in animals. It also increases levels of serotonin, ‘the feel good’ hormone.

So why are we seeing this problem now? When you think about it, it is only a little over a century ago that we got electric light. Before that about 75% of the population worked the land and kept to the rhythms of the seasons, getting up with the light and going to bed when it got dark – they weren’t trying to stretch the day the way we do now. So this is a man-made problem with a man-made solution – the lightbox.

Lightboxes are even VAT exempt, in recognition that SAD is a significant, debilitating condition. So if you feel tired all the time and can’t seem to pinpoint why, try using a lightbox to bring some light into your life.

Written by Carol Barksfield at the SAD Lightbox Co.

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Omega 3 and Depression in the Elderly

Chances are you have already heard of omegas, especially if you are health conscious or have read previous posts on this blog. The mighty essential fatty acids omega 3 and 6 are power houses of energy and also have a fantastic range of health benefits which covers the whole body (from head to toe).

Awareness of these omegas (which have to be ingested as the body cannot make them – hence the term “essential” fatty acids) is fast increasing in the nutrition world and they are already celebrated for their anti-inflammatory effects. They also benefit our cardiovascular health, for example they help to reduce risks of high cholesterol, hypertension and diabetes, as well as playing a large role in the function of our central nervous system and possessing growth and development properties.

Fish and Flax Seed Oil Capsules
Fish or Flax Seed Oil Supplements may help increase your intake of essential fatty acids, specifically Omega 3.

However, our 21st century diets have created a reduced ratio of omega 3 to omega 6 (meaning we are consuming more foods such as olive oil, peanuts, sunflower seeds, bacon and margarine and less sardines, salmon, flax seeds and walnuts) which has disturbed the omega balance and leaves many of us deficient in omega 3.

A research paper published in the the Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging in 2011 (1) has highlighted this decrease in the level of omega 3 in our diets and related it to the decline of our mental health. More specifically, the paper discusses the link between this dietary change and higher levels of depression as omega 3 deficiency can cause abnormal neurotransmitter activity. The hormones serotonin and dopamine are affected by this disturbance and these play a large role in the control and stability of our mind, cognition, mood, personality and overall mental state. Hence Omega 3 deficiency could leave us at risk of cognitive health problems.

The research paper (1) focuses on the elderly, who universally have concerns over independence, social life and functional decline which can all influence the onset of depression in the individual. Conversely, depression can also cause these concerns to become substantially worse and depression is associated with a higher mortality rate in the elderly compared with those that are not depressed. This highlights how important and prevalent this issue is for this age group.

The study supplemented depressed elderly women aged between 65-95 years who were residents of a care home with 2.5g/day of omega 3 or a placebo for 8 weeks. The researchers investigated the effects of supplementation on depressive symptoms measured by Geriatric Depression Scale (GDS). After the 8 weeks of supplementation the authors reported that those who were supplemented with omega 3 had significant reductions in their GDS scores, while the placebo group did not experience such a reduction. It could be that these individuals were deficient in omega 3 and this explains why supplementing their diets caused such an improvement in their depressive states. These findings have fantastic potential for the prevention and improvement of such cognitive disturbances in all age groups including the elderly, and shows that it is never too late to try to improve health.

If you don’t eat more than 2 portions of oily fish per week (such as sardines and salmon) or include plenty of flax and pumpkin seeds in your diet then you may like to consider trying a fish oil or flax seed supplement to increase your omega 3 intake. You should always consult your Health Advisor or GP before starting any new supplement regimen.

Written by Lauren Foster

(1) RONDANELLI, M., GIACOSA, A., OPIZZI, A., PELUCCHI, C., LA VECCHIA, C., MONTORFANO, G., NEGRONI, M., BERRA, B., POLITI, P. & RIZZO, A.M. (2011). Long chain omega 3 polyunsaturated fatty acid supplementation in the treatment of elderly depression.The Journal of Nutrition, Health & Aging, 15, 1, 37-44.

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Zinc – an effective treatment for depression?

A recent review indicates that zinc may be an effective addition to treatment for depression (1).

Virdian Balanced Zinc Complex
A recent review indicates that zinc may be an effective addition to treatment for depression.

Zinc is a co-factor in many enzymes that are involved in brain function. In fact there have been a number of human clinical studies in recent years which have indicated that zinc may be useful in the management of mood disorders. People with depression are often low in this mineral, and improvements may be seen with supplementation. Furthermore, diets low in zinc can lead to impaired cognitive function and behavioural disturbances (2).

Depression is linked with alterations in chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters, in the brain. It is thought that zinc actually helps to regulate the transmission of the neurotransmitter glutamate, indicating that it may be helpful in addressing mood disorders (3).

The review found that “in studies that examined the effects of zinc supplementation as an adjunct to antidepressants drug treatment, zinc significantly lowered depressive symptom scores of depressed patients.”

Caution should be used when taking zinc supplements for long periods, as this can affect levels of other minerals such as copper. Many of the studies showed positive results using doses of just 25 mg per day for 6 weeks. Taking zinc as part of a high quality multivitamin and mineral supplement can help to strike a balance.

The researchers maintain that further well-designed research is required. It is also too early to say whether zinc is effective as a standalone treatment for depression. Zinc is an inexpensive supplement, and is considered safe when taken at low doses. For these reasons, zinc may represent a promising addition to the management of depression.

Written by Nadia Mason

References:

1. Lai J, Moxey A, Nowak G, Vashum K, Bailey K, McEvoy M. The efficacy of zinc supplementation in depression: Systematic review of randomised controlled trials. J Affect Disord. 2011 Jul 26. [Epub ahead of print].

2. Takeda A: Movement of zinc and its functional significance in the brain. Brain Res Brain Res Rev, 2000, 34,137–148.

3. Szewczy B, et al. Antidepressant activity of zinc and magnesium in view of the current hypotheses of antidepressant action. Pharmacological Reports. 2008, 60, 588–59

 

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Beat the winter blues: Supplements and SAD

In Parts 1 and 2, I wrote about the impact of light therapy and diet on managing the symptoms of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and its milder form, the ‘winter blues’. In Part 3 we’ll look at further nutritional support for this common disorder.

Doctor's Best Vitamin D3 2000iu
Evidence suggests that people with SAD who have low levels of vitamin D might benefit from supplementation.

Vitamin D

As there are fewer daylight hours in the winter months, levels of Vitamin D in the body can drop. While light boxes represent a promising treatment option for SAD, they do not provide UV light and so will not boost Vitamin D levels. Researchers have tested whether Vitamin D supplementation can improve mood during the winter months. A double-blind study found that mood improved in healthy people without SAD who received 400 or 800 IU per day of vitamin D for five days in late winter (1).

Another study tested the effects of supplementation with either 600 or 4000 IU of vitamin D every day for six months (2). Both dosages led to improved mood and general well-being in the participants, with those on the higher dose experiencing greater benefits.

Although additional research needs to be done before any conclusions can be made, the available evidence suggests that people with SAD who have low levels of vitamin D might benefit from supplementation.

Magnesium

The Western diet, high in animal produce and refined carbohydrates, leaves us vulnerable to deficiency in the mineral magnesium. This may affect mood, because conversion of tryptophan to mood-enhancing serotonin is dependent on sufficient levels of magnesium. Studies indicate that an insufficient level of magnesium can alter also levels of melatonin and upset the body’s biological clock, a pattern that is seen in SAD (3).

Supplementing with magnesium can be recommended to those with insufficient intake. I prefer the forms magnesium citrate or magnesium taurate, which are bioavailable, well-absorbed forms.

Omega-3

I wrote about the importance of omega 3 in optimising serotonin levels in Part 2. These oils appear to have a natural anti-depressant action, and their effect on mental health has been widely studied. While omega-3 can be supplied through oily fish in the diet, those who are concerned with levels of mercury in fish might want to try supplementing with a fish oil that has been screened for contaminants.

Omega 3
Omega 3 oils appear to have a natural anti-depressant action, and their effect on mental health has been widely studied.

St John’s Wort

St John’s Wort is widely recognised as an effective supplement for mood disorders, and one small randomised study has investigated its benefit for those with SAD (4). The blinded study tested the effects of a daily dose of 900mg of St John’s Wort over 4 weeks. It concluded that the supplement may be an efficient therapy for those with SAD, though further research is needed.

This herb is thought to increase serotonin levels by inhibiting serotonin reuptake, working in a similar way to conventional selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) antidepressants. If you are using a light box to relieve SAD or the ‘winter blues’, then you should check with your GP before taking St John’s Wort, as this herb can make your eyes more sensitive to light.

As winter approaches, the short days and long nights of the season can make life difficult for those with SAD. Even in its milder form, the ‘winter blues’, symptoms of low mood, fatigue and weight gain can make life miserable. The good news is that some fairly simply lifestyle adjustments can make a positive difference. Using a sunrise alarm clock in the mornings for instance can also help you get out of bed on the “right side”. The evidence for bright light therapy with an approved light box is compelling, and coupling this with nutritional support might just help you to banish those winter blues for good.

 

Written by Nadia Mason

References

1. Lansdowne AT, Provost SC. Vitamin D3 enhances mood in healthy subjects during winter. Psychopharmacology (Berl) 1998.135:319–23.

2. Vieth R, et al. Randomized comparison of the effects of the vitamin D3 adequate intake versus 100 mcg (4000 IU) per day on biochemical responses and the wellbeing of patients. Nutrition Journal 2004. 3:8

3. Wester PO. Magnesium. Am. J. Clin. Nutr. 1987. 45 (5 Suppl): 1305–12. PMID 3578120

4. Durlach J, Pagès N, Bac P; Bara M, Guiet-Bara A, Agrapart C
Chronopathological forms of magnesium depletion with hypofunction or with hyperfunction of the biological clock. Magnesium research : official organ of the International Society for the Development of Research on Magnesium 2002.15(3-4):263-8.

5. Kasper S. Treatment of seasonal affective disorder (SAD) with Hypericum extract. Pharmacopsychiatry 1997. 30:89-93.

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