The brain is comprised of billions upon billions of nerve cells (neurotransmitters) that relay information from one nerve cell to the next, allowing for efficient communication to occur. When everything is working properly, we feel our best. However, neurotransmitters often get compromised from the stressors of everyday life, which then affects our overall mood.
One example is how serotonin, that feel good chemical, gets depleted from insufficient sleep. As a result, our mood, appetite and even sleep patterns become less than optimal. The reason? The building blocks of those neurotransmitters become depleted, which then affects the production of the neurotransmitters. In the case of serotonin, this often means insufficient B Vitamins, tryptophan or 5-HTP, all nutrients that aid in the production of serotonin. Of course, reduced serotonin leads to reduced melatonin, explaining the connection between depression and sleep disorders.
Researchers have found that sufficient B vitamins help to decrease the risk of depressed mood. Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine), for example, helps to promote serotonin and norepinephrine synthesis, which can have calming effects on those individuals with conditions such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD). Vitamin B6 also supports sleep cycles, which also helps to maintain healthy cortisol levels. Furthermore, the supplementation of B vitamins, specifically B6, has been used to reduce homocysteine levels, and ameliorate symptoms of depression, anxiety, brain fog and fatigue. Vitamin B6 also helps support nervous system functioning, which is vital for the communication receptors in our brain to relay messages to one another.
Vitamin B6, however, does not act alone. Vitamin B9 (folate), zinc and magnesium also play significant roles in serotonin neurotransmission, all contributing to improved mood. Research suggests that there is a relationship between inadequate levels of folate and the manifestation of symptoms of depression; supplementation with an appropriate form of folate may reduce residual symptoms in depressed patients. Also, vitamin B3 (niacin) plays a significant role in increasing tryptophan, a precursor in the production of serotonin. Research indicates there are many benefits from a synergistic effect of vitamins and minerals as cofactors to serotonin synthesis. In addition to sufficient B vitamin status, consuming a nourishing diet that is rich in antioxidants and minerals helps to regulate neuronal activity and promote a positive sense of well-being.
Research also indicates that those suffering with depressed mood have reduced tryptophan levels. Variations in specific amino acids have been indicated in those with mental health conditions. Subsequent amino acids are also imperative to building a better mood. Those individuals with schizophrenia, for example, may have alterations in neurotransmission.
Overall, strong evidence is in support of the serotonin precursors: 5-HTP, B-Vitamins & L-tryptophan in building a better mood.
In addition, dietary patterns may also affect mood. The Mediterranean diet, abundant in fruits, vegetables, lean protein and healthy fats supplies plenty of omega-3s, B- vitamins, amino acids, and antioxidants, all critical to healthy brain functioning. In addition, ensuring a balanced diet supports blood sugar stability, also a key dietary goal for those with mood issues.
Healthy digestion must also be considered as a factor affecting our mood. Digestion and malabsorption issues are often culprits for compromised health and well-being. A majority of our serotonin is actually produced and located in the gut. Optimal gastrointestinal or gut health promotes positive physical and emotional health. Consuming nutrient-rich whole foods that aid in healthy digestion and detoxification is a must for improving gut health. Good sources of fiber include flax seed, fruits and vegetables, legumes, and whole grains. These food sources are also rich in vitamins and minerals that promote many metabolic processes in the body that work together to support a positive mood.
Everyday lifestyle practices to build a better mood:
- Get your vitamin D: Get outside for some natural sunlight every day and/or supplement with Vitamin D. Research indicates that supplementation of Vitamin D may improve depressive symptoms and reduce chronic inflammation in the body.
- Practice mindfulness: A mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present moment.
- Go to bed at a reasonable hour: At least 7-8 hours of sleep is optimal.
- Exercise: Get your heart rate going each day even if it is just a brisk walk down the street. This helps to release endorphins, the naturally ‘feel good’ chemicals in the brain.
- Optimize digestive health: In addition to a healthy diet, consider digestive enzymes or probiotics.
- Hydrate sufficiently: Consume approximately half of your body weight in ounces of pure water every day.
- Eat nutrient-rich whole foods: The foods that we fuel our bodies with as well as the daily lifestyle choices we engage in have a direct influence on how we feel physically and emotionally.