When it comes to mood, feelings can range from ecstatic highs all the way down to the doom and gloom lows, but if you feel that you are more generally on the low side, you may benefit from a nutritional intervention to lift your mood, helping you to stay happy. You do not have to be clinically depressed to feel in a low mood; although this state of mind is often the result of external circumstances, this is not always the case, and unexplained low mood can be extremely frustrating if there is no clear cause. If you feel this way, there is light at the end of the tunnel, as providing your brain with optimum nutrition might just be all that you need to heighten your mood…
A consistent feeling of low mood impacts a huge proportion of the population, but sadly it is common for such symptoms to be dismissed as ‘normal’ – partly due to low awareness of available treatment options. Recognising that you have low mood is the first step in being ready to make nutritional changes or to seek help. Symptoms of low mood may include feelings of hopelessness and despair, a loss of interest in previously entertaining activities, low energy levels, interrupted sleep, difficulty in concentrating and feelings of worthlessness.
There are several factors that contribute to the development of an unhappy mind and these can be both physical and psychological. In the majority of cases, feelings of low mood or depression are the result of an emotional incident (i.e. reactive cause), which usually results in a finite period of feelings of depression that, over time, pass naturally. If mood is consistently low for no apparent reason, there may be a physiological imbalance – for example, a reduced production of brain chemical messengers, (i.e. clinical cause). Depression is simply a term used to describe a severe form of low mood, and bipolar disorder is used to describe mood fluctuations ranging from elevated highs to very low mood.
Nutritional deficiencies are likely to be a contributing factor to low mood, as the brain requires correct nourishment to function properly. Several dietary associations exist between mood and specific nutritional intake, with clearest associations linking mood disorders and fish intake. Countries such as Iceland and Japan, which have very high fish intake, have low levels of depression, whereas countries including New Zealand and Germany (low fish intake) are at the other end of the scale (1, 2). Optimum nutrition, most importantly, supports the production and function of chemical messengers known as neurotransmitters (such as serotonin) in the brain and which are responsible for mood.
We must not forget the significant effect of stress on brain function and therefore also our mood. During times of stress, our bodies release numerous stress hormones including adrenalin and cortisol, which play havoc with this delicately balanced system. The resulting effects include a hyped up, over-stimulated brain in acute stress, and an overworked brain drained of energy in the long term.
Persistent cloudy winter skies can encourage low mood, and it is not simply a result of missing sunny BBQs, as there are also physiological reasons for why we feel the blues. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD), as it is described, can be a result of a lack of sunshine causing changes in hormones released in the body. Melatonin is a hormone produced in higher levels during darkness (helpful for sleeping), which can cause tiredness in sensitive individuals. (1). Tiredness can result in low productivity and low moong Reduced vitamin D production from less sun exposure during the months of September to March may also negatively affect mood. (2).
The development of depression can be significantly determined by diet. Nutrition can support the body’s stress response, repair damage, and regulate our energy levels and mood. When feeling down it is easy to reach for a fast-releasing refined carbohydrate food for an immediate burst of brain energy (though with a corresponding drain of energy soon after), but this can result in long-term reliance and cravings. Weight gain as a result of such habits can also lead to inflammatory hormones being released into the body, which can further exacerbate feeling low.
Amino acids are not only the building blocks of protein, they are also the raw material used to manufacture brain chemical messengers, therefore your mood may be significantly affected by your dietary intake of protein. (3). Proten- rich foods such as meat, fish, eggs, dairy, pulses, nuts and seeds are of great importance to include in your diet to lift your mood. The amino acid tryptophan is converted in the body to the neurotransmitters serotonin and melatonin, which allow us to feel happy and support quality sleep. Turkey is one of the highest sources of the amino acid tryptophan, and other good sources included game meat, egg, crab, pork and fish.
For healthy individuals, approximately 0.8 g of protein per kg body weight is considered adequate for general wellbeing, (4) but if you are striving for optimum protein intake to support mood health, levels ideally need to be slightly higher – around 1-1.5g per kg body weight. If you are physically very active, requirements for protein are also increased to this level. (5) This equates to a healthy goal of at least 75g of protein per day for someone weighing 75kg.
Fats are crucial for the brain, both for structure and to support proper transmission of messages throughout the brain. Following a low fat diet can lead to deflated, stiff (inflexible) cell membranes and an unhappy brain. To keep your mood in check, ensure that you are consuming plenty of healthy fats. The types of fats you consume can make a huge difference to inflammation within cells, and therefore their ability to function.
Chronic inflammation and a high omega-6 AA to omega-3 EPA ratio is associated with depression, (4) therefore try to include more foods rich in omega-3 EPA, such as oily fish (mackerel, herring and salmon) and don’t overdo it on high omega-6 AA foods such as farmed meats. Farmed animals often have higher omega-6 AA content because their feed consists largely of grains. Depressed individuals are also likely to have significantly lower red blood cell levels of omega-3 fatty acids, (3) further emphasising the benefits of eating oily fish. At least 1-2 portions of oily fish should be consumed for a healthy dose of omega-3 EPA and DHA, and smaller fish are ideal as they are lower in contaminants such as methyl-mercury.
Other omega-3 fatty acids such as linseed oil and echium seed oil are healthy to include in your diet as these plant-based fats can convert into omega-3 EPA and DHA, albeit to a lesser extent. Plant-based omega-6 oils such as corn oil and sunflower oil covert to omega-6 AA, therefore it is best to limit these.
Fluctuating blood sugar levels can result in variable mood, so a diet high in refined carbohydrates is not ideal if your mood swings between up and down. Refined carbohydrates include white bread, pasta and sugary foods. As these foods are very easy to break down in the body, this results in a fast release of glucose in the blood, resulting in production of stress hormones and inflammation. Refined carbohydrates have been shown to have a negative effect on mood, (5) so opt for slow releasing carbohydrates, i.e. low glycaemic index (low GI) carbohydrates including vegetables, whole grains and pulses.
Key nutrient-rich foods for lifting your mood
The key nutrients for maintaining balanced mood include B vitamins, antioxidants, zinc and magnesium – they support enzyme processes in the brain and offer antioxidant protection. Deficiencies of any of these nutrients may lead to mood swings or depression in the long term, so it is smart to keep supplying them in your diet.
Nutrient-dense foods should be eaten on a regular basis and include fish, beef, brightly-coloured vegetables such as peppers and spinach, eggs, nuts, seeds and brown rice.
Alcohol and drugs
Alcohol consumption in the short term may appear to lift your mood and help you forget all your troubles, but be aware that excess alcohol consumption in the long term can actually lead to depression. The feel-good chemicals released when drinking are only temporary and after drinking, levels plummet, leaving you feeling worse than before you started. Illegal drugs can also have a similar effect, though this can be much more extreme, often resulting in addiction.
Omega-3 fatty acids
Omega-3 EPA and DHA fatty acids are among the most effective and natural options for boosting mood. With a low level of omega-3 EPA in relation to omega-6 AA associated with depression, (6), and low blood levels of omega-3 fatty acids observed in depressed individual’s, (7), it is no wonder that extensive research has been conducted on omega-3 fatty acids. Higher consumption of seafood (containing omega-3 EPA and DHA) also corrlated with lower levels of bipolar disrder, and therefore less variation in mood.(8).
Omega-3 DHA is predominantly required for brain structure, whilst omega-3 EPA’s functional role supports transmission of those important brain chemical messengers, therefore allowing us to feel happy. Omega-3 EPA and DHA also play a role in regulating inflammation. If inflammation is too high due to a lack of omega-3 fatty acids, this could result in the destruction of the neurotransmitter serotonin, (9) responsible for feelings of happiness. Omega-3 EPA and DHA supplementation therefore helps to keep inflammation levels balanced.
For optimum effects on lifting your mood, it is important to have omega-3 EPA in excess of DHA, to ensure it is able to carry out functions optimally, and therefore may determine your mood outcomes. Supplementing omega-3 EPA and DHA with a ratio of approximately 2:1, or over 60% EPA, has been shown to significantly reduce depressive symptoms. (10;11). Ensuring a supplement is of a high concentration and therefore adequate dose is also paramout tfor its effects on the braiA sStandard fish oil contains only 30% EPA and DHA, whereas MindCare LIFT provides 80% EPA and DHA, ensuring that you achieve the health benefits.
If you feel that your mood is low partly because of stress, antioxidants are essential for combatting stress levels, and therefore as a result may also give you the chance to enjoy life in a better mood. During stressful times, antioxidants are there to protect the brain from oxidative damage, keeping the brain healthy and enabling it to function optimally.
Antioxidants are also required in high quantities by the adrenal glands, which support the production of hormones that help the body deal with stress, so if stress is impacting your mood, antioxidants are key. Vitamin C, vitamin E and selenium provided in MindCare LIFT, when supplemented together are able to recycle each other, thereby improving their antioxidant effects.
When we are feeling low, the brain often needs a boost of the vitamins and minerals to support serotonin production, in order to lift our mood. B vitamins, with the help of zinc and magnesium, are key nutrients that support the enzyme processes allowing this to happen. B vitamins are also required at higher doses during stressful episodes, and a deficiency can lead to low energy levels, tiredness and possibly even dizziness due to low levels of haemoglobin – required to transport oxygen to red blood cells. If your low mood is associated with low energy or stress, B vitamins are particularly important for your brain. B vitamin supplements have been shown to significantly improve dejected mood, reducing stress. (12)
Taking a B vitamin complex has benefits far beyond their ability to improve mood and energy levels, as B vitamins also protect the brain against damage from homocysteine. Homocysteine is a by-product naturally produced in the body, however a deficiency in B vitamins can lead to homocysteine building up in excess, resulting in damage to the brain that, in the long term, can disrupt mood-enhancing neurotransmitter function. There is a clear association between elevated homocysteine and major depression. (13).
Vitamin D deficiency is associated with low mood and depression, with severe depression correlating with very low levels of vitamin D (2);, it is important, therefore, to keep your levels topped up all year round if you are prone to feeling ‘down’. Vitamin D plays a direct role in modulating mood, therefore ensure you are supplementing during the months of October to March, when vitamin D cannot be obtained from sunlight (in the UK).
5-HTP is the specialist ingredient in MindCare LIFT, for its mood-boosting properties. 5-HTP is a naturally occurring amino acid, which is made in the body from the amino acid tryptophan (a rich food source is turkey). 5-HTP is then converted in the body to serotonin, the brain chemical messenger allowing us to feel happy. Supplementing with 5-HTP therefore helps us to increase our production of serotonin, which would otherwise be low when feeling down.
(1) Wilhelmsen-Langeland A, Saxvig IW, Pallesen S, Nordhus IH, Vedaa O, Lundervold AJ, et al. A randomized controlled trial with bright light and melatonin for the treatment of delayed sleep phase disorder: effects on subjective and objective sleepiness and cognitive function. J Biol Rhythms 2013 Oct; 28(5):306-21.
(2) Milaneschi Y, Hoogendijk W, Lips P, Heijboer AC, Schoevers R, van Hemert AM, et al. The association between low vitamin D and depressive disorders. Mol Psychiatry 2014 Apr; 19(4):444-51.
(3) Choi S, Disilvio B, Fernstrom MH, Fernstrom JD. Meal ingestion, amino acids and brain neurotransmitters: effects of dietary protein source on serotonin and catecholamine synthesis rates. Physiol Behav 2009 Aug 4; 98(1-2):156-62.
(4) Li M, Sun F, Piao JH, Yang XG. Protein requirements in healthy adults: a meta-analysis of nitrogen balance studies. Biomed Environ Sci 2014 Aug; 27(8):606-13.
(5) Colombani PC, Mettler S. Role of dietary proteins in sports. Int J Vitam Nutr Res 2011 Mar; 81(2-3):120-4.
(6) Conklin SM, Manuck SB, Yao JK, Flory JD, Hibbeln JR, Muldoon MF. High omega-6 and low omega-3 fatty acids are associated with depressive symptoms and neuroticism. Psychosom Med 2007 Dec; 69(9):932-4.
(7) Pottala JV, Talley JA, Churchill SW, Lynch DA, von SC, Harris WS. Red blood cell fatty acids are associated with depression in a case-control study of adolescents. Prostaglandins Leukot Essent Fatty Acids 2012 Apr; 86(4-5):161-5.
(8) Noaghiul S, Hibbeln JR. Cross-national comparisons of seafood consumption and rates of bipolar disorders. Am J Psychiatry 2003 Dec; 160(12):2222-7.
(9) Wichers MC, Maes M. The role of indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase (IDO) in the pathophysiology of interferon-alpha-induced depression. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2004 Jan; 29(1):11-7.
(10) Rondanelli M, Giacosa A, Opizzi A, Pelucchi C, La VC, Montorfano G, et al. Effect of omega-3 fatty acids supplementation on depressive symptoms and on health-related quality of life in the treatment of elderly women with depression: a double-blind, placebo-controlled, randomized clinical trial. J Am Coll Nutr 2010 Feb; 29(1):55-64.
(11) Sublette ME, Ellis SP, Geant AL, Mann JJ. Meta-analysis of the effects of eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) in clinical trials in depression. J Clin Psychiatry 2011 Dec; 72(12):1577-84.
(12) Stough C, Scholey A, Lloyd J, Spong J, Myers S, Downey LA. The effect of 90 day administration of a high dose vitamin B-complex on work stress. Hum Psychopharmacol 2011 Oct; 26(7):470-6.
(13) Nabi H, Bochud M, Glaus J, Lasserre AM, Waeber G, Vollenweider P, et al. Association of serum homocysteine with major depressive disorder: results from a large population-based study. Psychoneuroendocrinology 2013 Oct; 38(10):2309-18.
We recommend MindCare® LIFT. Targeted dual capsules combine nutrients scientifically proven to support mood balance, the brain and neurotransmitters. This specialised formulation brings together pure, ultra concentrated omega-3 EPA & DHA, magnesium glycinate, 5-HTP, vitamin D3 & essential micronutrients.
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