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
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