Contributed By IsoWhey Dietitian Belinda Reynolds
Do you ever experience periods where you find it difficult to cope with the regular stresses of life? You may struggle to find the light during tough times, or find yourself overreacting to situations that you normally manage well. This can be a sign that your body (including your brain) is not able to respond appropriately to stress. A lack of optimal health (combined with chronic, unmanaged stress) is often a key culprit here.
First of all, long-term stress, and the sleeplessness which often comes with it, has been shown to slowly “damage” your brain and reduce your stress “threshold”. So, what can you do to feel better, if you aren’t able to change the stressful/tiring factors in your life? It may not always be realistic to quit your job, stop studying or decide to sleep rather than parent, but you can take measures to help your body cope!
Activities such as exercise, meditation, mindfulness and laughter therapy are all shown to significantly improve how the body copes with stress. These practices actually result in specific, measurable and beneficial chemical changes in the body, it’s not simply mind over matter. In addition to this, what you put into your body has a profound ability to positively (or negatively) influence the health of your brain (which controls your mood), and your adrenals (which are the small glands sitting on top of your kidneys which are triggered to produce stress hormones including adrenaline and cortisol).
Nutrients are essential building blocks required to manufacture the neurotransmitters (e.g. serotonin, GABA and dopamine) which help to “switch off” the stress response, promote a healthy mood and provide protection against the negative impacts stress can exert. The below are some of the most important nutrients for mood health.
Zinc, magnesium, B vitamins (e.g. B2, B5, B6, B12, folate) and amino acids
These nutrients play a role in assisting with the healthy synthesis of our “mood lifting” chemicals, plus zinc and magnesium have been found to interact with certain areas of the brain, providing a “calming” effect, whilst also protecting, and healing this essential organ.
Moreso, magnesium is often referred to as “the great relaxer”. It not only helps to relax the mood, but also the muscles. The body is shown to lose more magnesium when we are stressed, and consequently, individuals can develop an insufficiency, which leads to muscle tension, irritability, poor mood and fatigue.
To achieve healthy levels of these nutrients in the diet, opt for lots of green leafy vegetables, other bright and deep coloured vegetables and fruit, whole grains (avoid over-processed wheat products), raw nuts and seeds (e.g. almonds, pepitas), and healthy protein sources (e.g. grass fed beef; pork; organic, free-range eggs; whey and/or brown rice protein).
The benefits provided by the essential omega-3 fats in fish oil are staggering. Not only are they anti-inflammatory and protective for the heart, but they also help to improve the health of the brain cells, assisting then in the function of the beneficial chemicals which are working there to facilitate healthy responses to stress. These fats have also been shown to reduce the levels of stress hormones in the body. Fish oil has been suggested (in the right doses) to be equal in effectiveness to some anti-depressant medications, and also to work well in conjunction with them, increasing the beneficial results people achieve. (Jazayeri, Levant)
Eat lots of oily fish (e.g. non-farmed salmon, sardines) (e.g. at few times per week), and also, add in some healthy fats and oils with avocado, virgin olive oil, small amounts of coconut oil, nuts and seeds and even eggs.
The sunshine vitamin is not just essential for your bones but has also recently been shown to play an important role in immune and also brain function. Research shows that a deficiency of vitamin D can be linked to an increased risk of depression (Brouwer-Brolsma, Mizoue), and its use as a supplement has proven useful in helping certain individuals suffering mood disorders (Shaffer) (including those that may already be on medication (Khoraminya)).
Because there is a risk associated with the unprotected sun exposure required for vitamin D synthesis in the body, many health care practitioners will recommend a supplement as the safest way of achieving healthy levels (if you have become deficient).
Please note, that when it comes to serious mood disorders, it is vital that you seek the support of a qualified healthcare practitioner. If you are on medications, it is also important to speak with someone who understands potential interactions between them and any additional supplements you are considering (especially herbs). Complementary medicine can work beautifully together with pharmaceutical drugs, however, they may also interact and result in negative effects. The right advice is therefore, essential.
This content includes extracts of the new IsoWhey Weight Management program e-book, free to download.
Brouwer-Brolsma EM, Dhonukshe-Rutten RA, van Wijngaarden JP, et al. Low vitamin D status is associated with more depressive symptoms in Dutch older adults. Eur J Nutr 2015. [Epub ahead of print]
Jazayeri S, Keshavarz SA, Tehrani-Doost M, et al. Effects of eicosapentaenoic acid and fluoxetine on plasma cortisol, serum interleukin-1beta and interleukin-6 concentrations in patients with major depressive disorder. Psychiatry Res 2010;178(1):112-115.
Khoraminya N, Tehrani-Doost M, Jazayeri S, et al. Therapeutic effects of vitamin D as adjunctive therapy to fluoxetine in patients with major depressive disorder. Aust N Z J Psychiatry 2013;47(3):271-275.
Levant B. N-3 (omega-3) polyunsaturated Fatty acids in the pathophysiology and treatment of depression: pre-clinical evidence. CNS Neurol Disord Drug Targets 2013;12(4):450-459.
Mizoue T, Kochi T, Akter S, et al. Low serum 25-hydroxyvitamin D concentrations are associated with increased likelihood of having depressive symptoms among Japanese workers. J Nutr 2015;145(3):541-546.
Shaffer JA, Edmondson D, Wasson LT, et al. Vitamin D supplementation for depressive symptoms: a systematic review and meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Psychosom Med 2014;76(3):190-196.