In ‘Movember’ we are reminded about men’s mental health. However, in clinic I see patients of both sexes and different ages experiencing a range of mental and emotional health issues which impact severely on their lives. Mood disorders are becoming more and more prevalent in today’s society and we need to understand the causes.
Mood disorders range from stress through to full psychiatric disorders, and include: anxiety, irritability, depression, mood swings, poor concentration, aggression, fatigue and chronic fatigue.
How do these conditions develop?
Nutritional expert Henry Osiecki is quoted as saying that the brain is an organ in direct communication with our immune and hormonal systems. Any event that affects this communication impacts on our moods and behaviour, as well as overall health and wellbeing. Erik Bakker, ND states that any changes in energy or food intake can alter the functioning of brain nerves and levels of chemicals in the brain called neurotransmitters.
Neurotransmitters or ‘brain hormones’
Neurotransmitters have a variety of functions including regulation of the stress response known as ‘fight or flight response’ and activity associated with mood disorders such as anxiety, depression and aggression. The main neurotransmitters that affect mood regulation include:
For optimal neurotransmitter function and production, nutritional co-factors are needed. These nutrients include Vitamin B6, B5, Vitamin C, iron, magnesium, manganese, zinc and copper.
When stress occurs, mental wellbeing isn’t the only system affected. The digestive tract has great influence over mental health as it plays a significant role in neurotransmitter production, particularly serotonin. When digestive dysfunction occurs due to infections (parasites, fungi etc.), low hydrochloric acid production, reduced digestive enzyme production, bowel irregularities or poor liver and gallbladder function, this can lead to a decrease in absorption of the necessary cofactors. This lack of absorption can result in a reduced rate of neurotransmitter production and therefore affects mental health. Another issue that can occur is the gut’s inability to digest proteins. This causes an inflammatory cycle in the digestive tract, resulting in food intolerances or allergies – have you ever noticed that after eating certain foods you feel tired or irritable? With this alteration, an imbalance of neurotransmitter production occurs, which results in mood changes and potential mood disorders.
There is a balance of ‘good’ and ‘bad’ bacteria in our guts which contributes to good digestion. They also produce neurotransmitters such as GABA and amino acids (such a tyrosine and tryptophan) that convert to serotonin and dopamine. Stress and anxiety upsets this balance. In studies done on mice, this change in gut bacteria has shown to induce anxiety in mice.
Food Affecting Mood
In order to try and balance our moods we may need to look to improving or rebuilding our digestion but it is also necessary to look at the foods we are eating and the way we eat.
Using food as medicine we can eat ourselves to a happier state of mind:
- Our diets need to include fresh, natural food that is prepared and cooked with love, not bought from a shop and heated in a microwave.
- Foods should be nutritious and not artificially flavoured and coloured and full of trans fat and sugar. It is important to read labels on packaged food.
- The food should be appetising to look at (and there is the nutritionist’s adage of having colour on your plate) when presented.
- When we eat it is important to sit down at the table and not in front of the television or a work desk.
- We should look at and smell the food before eating in order to stimulate digestive juices and enzymes.
- Eat foods that support the production on healthy bacteria in the gut.
- As we eat it is important to eat in a relaxed manner and taste the food. When we eat quickly and distractedly we can often finish up feeling very unsatisfied as if we haven’t had anything to eat.
- fresh berries, any kind
- eggs, organic are best!
- flaxseeds, chia seeds and pumpkin seeds (pepitas)
- brewer’s yeast
- beef, lean
- brown rice
- capsicum, tomatoes and peas
- chicken and turkey
fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, sauerkraut, kim chi and kombucha that maintain a balance of beneficial bacteria in the gut.
Why Exercise Improves your Mood
Exercise is an important key to feeling happier within oneself. When you exercise your body and mind feel calmer and more relaxed. This is because your brain releases endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine. For people experiencing mild to moderate depression, studies have shown that 30 minutes of exercise per day can improve their mood as effectively as medication (and without the negative side effects).
The best types of exercise to improve mood are:
Cardiovascular Exercise: Intense exercise increases the release of the endorphins, adrenaline, serotonin and dopamine in the body. Cardiovascular exercise and aerobics create the intensity required for a mood-raising chemical high.
Yoga: has been shown in studies to reduce tension and stress while improving mood. The deep breathing, stretching and fluid movements create a release of negative emotions in the body. In men, yoga has shown to more effective in improving mood than other forms of exercise such as swimming.
Briefly, there are of course other factors that will impact on the way we feel, and these include:
- Poor liver and gall bladder function.
- Adrenal exhaustion.
- High homocysteine levels – homocysteine is an amino acid that is toxic when high quantities are stored in the brain.
- Heavy metal toxicity – from metals such as mercury, lead, arsenic and aluminium.
- Methylation Imbalances – Bakker states “Methylation reactions occur throughout your body and are necessary for the production of optimal amounts of neurotransmitters”.
Improving our nutrition and the way we eat is a positive step we can take towards helping the way we think and feel. However if you want to further understand where and how your mental health is being undermined, naturopathy can assist in measuring your neurotransmitters functioning, checking for inflammation or gut dysfunction, allergies and intolerances, or testing for heavy metals.
If you would like to discuss ways to improve your moods naturally and have more information regarding this topic, please contact me at the clinic (07-33783488) or send me an emai:l firstname.lastname@example.org