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Sunday, November 20, 2011

Natural Mood Boosters

Mood can be defined as a state of mind or a feeling. We will all experience low moods, or be down in the dumps from time to time and this is a normal part of the human condition. Our moods are not static; they can be affected by many factors including diet, environmental and biological influences and even our lifestyle. So is there anything we can do to boost our mood and lift our spirits naturally?

Oily fish and fish oil

Arguably the most effective mood boosting foods are oily fish such as salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, trout and anchovies or purified fish oil supplements made from these fish. Countless studies have now demonstrated the mood enhancing effect of fish oil. So what is it about oily fish that is so special?

Oily fish contains omega 3 fatty acids, including EPA or Eicosapentaenoic acid, which is essential for optimum brain function on a day to day basis and as our bodies cannot produce EPA, we have to source it from the diet. If the brain doesn't get EPA, it will use inferior fatty acids that are not cut out for the job and the result can be depression and physical illness.

These days it isn't advisable to eat too much fish due to the amount of toxins they contain but purified fish oil supplements are an excellent way to get your daily dose of EPA and improve your mood.

St John's Wort

St John's Wort is a herb that has been described by some as nature's answer to Prozac. It is an old folk remedy used to treat anxiety, sleep problems and sadness. Many research studies have highlighted the mood enhancing effect of St John's Wort supplements and it is now considered by many to be an effective remedy for mild depression. However, it shouldn't be taken without first seeking advice from your doctor as St John's Wort can interact with other medicines, both prescription and over the counter, and there are other contraindications to be considered too.

Exercise

One of the most effective and natural ways to boost mood is to increase the amount of physical activity you do as it releases 'feel good' chemicals in the brain and reduces stress. If going to the gym or taking up a sport is not for you, studies have shown that taking a short daily walk in the countryside can increase feelings of well being and lift the spirits.

B Vitamins

Increasing consumption of foods high in B vitamins or taking Vitamin B supplements can help ward off depression and improve your health in general. The body needs a steady supply of B vitamins for mental and physical health as they cannot be stored in the body and are also destroyed by alcohol, tea, coffee and nicotine. The B vitamins can be found in dark leafy green vegetables, beans and peas as well as grains like oats and wheat.

Sunlight

There is no doubt that an adequate dose of sunlight is essential for good mental health as sunlight increases serotonin levels. Indeed in the Northern Hemisphere, where the winter days are short and there is very little sunlight, many people suffer from SAD or Seasonal Affective Disorder. Symptoms include sadness, fatigue and sleep disturbances. Trying to get around 30 minutes outside in the sun each morning can make all the difference to your mood.



Caffeine

Caffeine is a drug that is used all over the world to give us a boost and wake us up, most commonly in the form of coffee or tea, but it is also in many medicines and soft drinks. It is classed as a stimulant so can help us to get going, to feel more alert and generally give us a lift. However, the down side is that too much caffeine is not good for health and can cause shaking, rapid heartbeat and increased feelings of nervousness and anxiety. Just like many other drugs, there are also nasty withdrawal symptoms when coming off caffeine so it should be taken in moderation.

Chocolate

Chocolate contains chemicals that help to improve mood including tryptophan, phenylethylamine and anandamide although the amounts of these chemicals in chocolate are believed to be too small to make any difference. The most likely explanation put forward by researchers for the boost given to us by chocolate is that the chemicals in chocolate help to sustain the levels of mood boosting chemicals in the brain for longer periods of time. However, the down side to eating chocolate is that overindulgence can lead to weight gain and therefore an increased risk of heart disease and other health problems. Again, should be taken in moderation.

A final word on depression

It is always worth remembering that getting enough sleep, eating the right foods, reducing the amount of stress in your life and taking time to relax each day can go a long way to improving mental as well as physical wellbeing. However, if you cannot shift your low moods and you find it difficult to carry out your normal daily routines, then the chances are you need some professional help from your doctor in order to get well again. Don't try to battle depression on your own, with the right help, it is treatable and the sooner it is dealt with the quicker you'll be back to your old self.


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