Have you have ever found yourself experiencing feelings of depression, anxiety or fatigue, with no external reason to blame? This can be a little unsettling, especially if you just had a great week at work and life is good. So why do you feel so bad? Mood disorders and depression can certainly be triggered emotionally, but as it turns out, they actually start in a physical place—the brain.
Lifestyle factors and nutritional deficiencies affect the brain’s chemistry, which leaves us with some good news: Sometimes lifting your mood can be as simple as moving your body and tweaking your diet.
In my practice, I’ve had great success using these tools to guide clients to better overall health and an improved outlook on life. Here are six steps that I recommend to lighten your mood using enhanced brain function and balance in the body’s biochemistry.
Six Steps to Improve your Mood:
1. Get Moving: Physical exercise is one of the most powerful anti-depressants. Numerous studies (see Sources below) show that aerobic exercise can improve your mood by increasing levels of serotonin and stimulating the release of endorphins, those “feel-good hormones.” Exercise is an antidote for mild depression and anxiety; studies have even proven that it can be more effective for curing depression than antidepressants (consult your doctor of course).
2. Cut Out the Sweet Stuff: If you need even more motivation to say “no” to that slice of cheesecake, here it is: There is significant research showing a link between sugar intake and mental disorders. British psychiatric researcher Malcolm Peet, MB, ChB, found “a strong link between high-sugar consumption and the risk of both depression and schizophrenia,” as reported in Psychology Today. Though glucose is needed for brain function, too much sugar can have a negative effect. Hyperglycemia has been associated with slowed cognitive function, memory and attention loss, and negative changes in mood. Studies show that people with Type 2 diabetes have more sadness and anxiety during hyperglycemia. Sugar can also negatively affect adrenal gland function and decrease sensitivity to insulin, which can result in diabetes.
Studies have shown that sugar is even more addictive than cocaine. When sugar is consumed, dopamine levels don't stabilize, which makes you crave more of the sweet stuff, much like what happens in drug addiction. The more you eat, the more you crave, which is why it’s easier to give it up altogether than to just cut down on it. Even if you are healthy, consider a 30-day no sugar challenge. Try eliminating all forms of sugar (as well as foods that convert easily to sugar, such as alcohol, white bread, white pasta and white rice). And skip all the “natural” sweeteners like agave, honey, maple syrup, coconut sugar, dehydrated cane juice and brown rice syrup. (Stevia is an acceptable alternative that will not affect your blood sugar. Be sure your stevia product contains only stevia leaf, with no agave or other additives.)
Just watch what happens. Most people experience a dramatic improvement in mood, energy levels and often lose weight as well. The first month I did the no sugar challenge, I felt like I had found the holy grail of happiness.
3. Focus on Amino Acids: To keep our moods stable, we need a proper balance of neurotransmitters in our brains—the chemical messengers that transmit signals between nerve cells. An imbalance can result in depression, anxiety, ADHD, insomnia and other mood disorders. The key to getting that balance is to make sure we ingest amino acids (found in protein) to help our bodies produce healthy neurotransmitters. Eat high quality, easy-to-digest protein on a regular basis, which will stabilize blood sugar, and also significantly impact mood. Some people with compromised digestion may need to take amino acid supplements.
I have found that my clients who suffered from depression or anxiety disorders (those with more severe cases, particular) were able to regulate and improve their moods by adding a food-based, easily digestible and absorbable amino acid supplement. More than any other item on this list, this made the biggest difference. I recommend Premier Research Labs’ Medi-Aminos (Rice Source), which can be added to smoothies and are excellent for those with compromised digestion.
4. Balance your Essential Fatty Acids: Your brain is made up of 60% fat—you couldn’t think properly without it! The fats you eat affect brain function, mood, energy and hormones.
Omega-3 fats are especially important because they improve cellular response to insulin, neurotransmitter function and help with cell repair. However, over 60% of Americans are deficient in omega-3 fatty acids and 20% of Americans have levels of omega-3’s that are so low, testing cannot detect any omega-3’s in their blood. After vitamin D, this is one of the most common deficiencies for Americans.
Fatty fish (especially wild-caught salmon, herring, trout, sardines and mackerel) are the best sources of omega-3s, providing both EPA and DHA (types of omega-3 fatty acids) in a form most easily utilized by your body. In addition, 100% grass-fed beef and the yolks of eggs that come from pastured chickens also contain omega-3s. In my practice, people who are willing to consume fatty fish (2 to 3 times per week) respond the most positively in terms of improving mood and other disorders related to essential fatty acid deficiency.
If you are a vegan or vegetarian, you can get essential fatty acids from flax oil, nuts (like walnuts) or seeds, but research has shown it is difficult for the body to successfully convert the ALA (alpha linolenic acid) omega-3s found in vegetable sources effectively and in sufficient quantity to meet our body’s needs. You can, however, supplement with DHA from algae sources.
5. Get Your Vitamin D: Vitamin D does much more than just support healthy bones. It also aids in the production of feel-good neurotransmitters. But up to 85% of Americans are deficient in D, so there’s a good chance you’re not getting enough.
On his website, Joseph Mercola, DO, states: “Effective detection and treatment of inadequate vitamin D levels in persons with depression and other mental disorders may be an easy and cost-effective therapy which could improve patients’ long-term health outcomes as well as their quality of life.”
Vitamin D deficiency has major physiological and psychological consequences, including depression. Studies have shown that people with vitamin D levels below 20 nanograms per mililiter, were 11 times more prone to depression than those with normal levels (ideal vitamin D levels are between 50 to 70 ng/ml). Other research suggests that vitamin D may affect the function of dopamine, norepinephrine and serotonin—neurotransmitters that are likely involved in depression. So, optimizing your vitamin D (along with animal-based omega-3 fats, EPA and DHA) can help optimize your brain neurotransmitter concentrations and function, which can affect your mood.
6. Get Your B Vitamins: The brain needs B vitamins to repair and maintain neurotransmitter function. Multiple studies (see Sources below) show that low levels of B and folic acid are linked to depression. Premier Research Labs has an excellent, complete B vitamin complex, Max B- ND, in a liquid, probiotic delivery system that makes it super easy to absorb. Start with a small amount: a few drops per day if you’re sick and up to ½ teaspoon per day, if you’re in reasonable health.
Another great food source of B vitamins is Nutritional Yeast. Premier Research Labs has a product called, Nutritional Flakes, that is up to 55% high quality vegan protein, that is rich in B complex vitamins, as well as trace minerals.
The overall takeaway is that if you want to feel better, improve your mood and boost your energy, consider eliminating the junk from your diet, especially sugar, and increase your essential fatty acid intake. See if you notice a significant improvement after adding the key nutrients listed above. When following these six steps, I have seen people experience dramatic improvement with depression, anxiety, attention issues and other mood disorders. And in some cases they even get off anti-depressants and anxiety meds (with their doctors guidance, of course) and reclaimed a whole new quality of life.