Nutrition and Mood: Psychonutrition
Countless numbers of people experience negative moods, ranging from frank depression through to experiences of boredom, anxiety, isolation and restlessness. A conservative estimate of the need for psychiatric or psychological treatment involves an assumption that about 40% of the entire population may need such services at one or more times in their life.
There is no doubt that adverse lifestyle precipitates mood changes and it is known that people who smoke or drink excessively are prone to episodes of depression. Sleeplessness causes a depressed mood in many people. Therefore, before anyone discusses natural approaches to mood elevation, one must reinforce the importance of exercise, good diet, restoration of body biorhythms (especially sleep) and other lifestyle issues in the promotion of healthy and stable moods.
Temporary changes in mood are common and they are not always to be identified as mental problems requiring pharmaceutical treatment. Modern society lives with a series of stressful life events which are best countered by planned resolutions and the use of relaxation responses. In this context, many forms of traditional medicine that teach ways to relax are valuable, e.g., Yoga, Tai Chi, martial arts, hypnosis, body work and meditation. Healthy sexual function and aerobic exercise elevate mood to a substantial degree.
It is wrong for people to believe that they can self-medicate for significant emotional disturbances or psychiatric disease. In fact, such severe mental problems can impair an individual’s judgment. Therefore, in cases of doubt, everyone should check with a socio-behavioral specialist. The manifestations of poor mental wellbeing are so varied that these disturbances are often overlooked as being the commonest cause of human suffering.
The body and mind are inextricably linked as the “body-mind” or “mind-body.” The mind can tell the body to do almost anything and this is the basis of much common diseases or disorders that is called functional disease e.g. irritable bowel syndrome (IBS). The gastrointestinal tract is a common site for functional disorders, where digestive symptoms occur in the absence of structural changes in the gut, such as inflammation or cancer. Mood disturbance and gastrointestinal upset often go “hand in hand.”
Dysthymia or Depression
Certain criteria are listed to help healthcare professionals diagnose negative
mood changes. The most common and significant of all mental disorders is
depression. It is accepted that anyone with five of the following eight symptoms
is most likely a victim of clinical depression:
1. Sleep disorder, insomnia or excessive sleeping.
2. Major appetite change with weight gain or weight loss.
3. Physical inactivity or too much activity.
4. Loss of pleasure or interest in day-to-day activities, e.g. sex.
5. Feelings of fatigue or energy loss.
6. Excessive guilt or sense of worthlessness.
7. Poor ability to remember, think or concentrate.
8. Thoughts about harming oneself or dying.
Anyone with five of the eight symptoms listed above is probably depressed and should seek medical help in a timely manner. The word “dysthymia” has crept into classifications of negative mood. The symptoms of dysthymia are similar to those of clinical depression. Clinical depression is considered to be present when symptoms occur for at least 24 months in an adult, or 12 months in a child or teenager. I do not like these definitions because catching depression early with the correct interventions gives excellent outcome in most people. There is a specific mood disorder which is characterized by depression in the winter months. This depression may alternate with excessive mood elevation in the summer months. This disorder is believed to be related to changes in light exposure in many people. This form of depression is sometimes referred to as “seasonal affective disorder” and it can respond to special types of light therapy.
The disorder of mania (hyperactive dispositions) must be considered to be a negative mood change, but the individual with mania often feels good. A person with mania may be elated, but they may also have inappropriate displays of anger or hostility. The manic
person generally does not sleep, is hyperactive and pays little attention to wellbeing
and health. Mania must never be self-managed because the manic person is often a danger to themselves and others, as may be the person who is seriously depressed. Alternating mania and depression is called manic-depression or bipolar disorder. These people suffer and make others suffer around them. This disorder must be managed by an expert.
The Spectrum of Negative Moods
It is clear that depression can be mild, moderate or severe. There are at least 20
million Americans who suffer from frank depression each year and about 30 to 40 million Americans take antidepressant drugs or tranquilizers. There has been an increasing tendency to overuse antidepressant drugs. For example, many women in the transition of menopause are prescribed antidepressants, which do not seem to be a logical approach to this natural life event.
Anyone with a mood disorder must consider the reversal of precipitating circumstances including: correction of adverse life events or poor diet, consideration of the depressing effect of some drugs, hormonal changes, allergic reactions and recovery from common diseases, such as flu. It is well-recognized that common infectious disease may precipitate negative mood changes which usually last only for a few weeks. The role of environmental toxins in causing
mood change is an active area of research; and there is a link between some household chemicals, food additives, agricultural chemicals or heavy metals and mood changes or disorders of the central nervous system. The 9/11 rescue and recovery workers who were poisoned by toxic chemicals at Ground Zero (World Trade Center) often complained of severe mood disturbance and detachment from their families.
The person with a negative mood must review smoking habits, levels of alcohol or caffeine intake and exercise. Negative lifestyle must be converted to positive lifestyle with the addition of optimal nutrition. Any person with a mood disorder is advised often to take a multivitamin and a multimineral on a regular basis. Fruit, vegetables, berries and greens are quite valuable. The role of food allergies in the causation of mood disorders has been underestimated.
Supplements for Nutritional Support of Mood
There are many different nutrients, herbs or botanicals that might be proposed for the nutritional support of normal body function of mood regulation. An overlooked way of nutritionally supporting mood is to use nutrients that have beneficial effects on brain structure or function. Such nutrients include: lecithin for its phospholipid content, inositol, vitamin B6, folic acid, vitamin C and selenium.
The popular herb Saint John’s Wort has a long history of use for its mood elevating benefits and L-theanine, found in green tea has calming properties. An herb that has been underestimated in terms of its ability to mimic effects of chemical messages in the brain is Mucuna pruriens. These nutrients and botanicals form the basis of the formulations for the natural, nutritional support
I stress that people with significant changes of mood or prolonged disturbances of mood should not self-medicate. Furthermore, people who are taking medications for mood disorders, e.g. antidepressant drugs are strongly advised not to mix dietary supplements with drugs, without adequate medical advice or supervision.