After a wild and windy winter we are all looking forward to the light and brightness that spring brings. Often a time when people embark on spring cleanses and lightening up the diet, but also an opportunity to focus on ways to lighten your mood and harness the natural mood-lifting benefits of the longer days and better weather.
I read a very interesting article the other day published in The Conversation (20 July 2022) citing a new research review that suggests that there is no clear evidence that depression is caused by a chemical imbalance, or low serotonin, in the brain. This theory was first proposed in the 1960s and became widely promoted by the pharmaceutical industry in the 1990s to market a new range of anti-depressants known as selective serotonin-reuptake inhibitors or SSRIs. However, numerous studies since then have failed to support this idea.
There are various reasons why someone may be experiencing low mood or anxiety: major life stressors, altered gut microbiome, neural inflammation due to injury or infection, a learnt way of thinking that supports a negative thought pattern loop, hypothalamus-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis dysfunction, or genetic defects in certain enzymes, to name a few.
Keeping this in mind, I’d like to share some natural ways to support your mood and mental wellbeing (by no means am I suggesting you stop taking any medication unless under the guidance of your GP!).
Exercise, exercise, exercise!
The cheapest way to increase our body’s natural endorphins. And now that the days are getting longer, no excuses… Start off with 15 minutes a day and build from there.
Improve and optimise your gut health.
It has long been recognised that the brain and gut are connected. In foetal development they both develop from the same tissue and their bidirectional communication pathways continue through life, via the HPA axis, neurotransmitter metabolism and synthesis, and perhaps most significantly the vagus nerve. We’ve all experienced having a ‘gut feeling’ about something. It is in fact our intuition and emotions being transmitted from the gut to the brain, to elicit a response, not the other way around. The discovery that 80-90% of the vagus nerve’s fibres transmit information from the gut to the brain supports this relay mechanism.
Epidemiological research has also discovered connections between the nervous system and gut; IBS is commonly coexistent with depression; those with Autism frequently present with digestive issues; depression is often increased after taking antibiotics; anxiety like behaviour is associated with Campylobacter jejuni overgrowth.
For sustained improvements in gut health, it’s important to identify and treat the cause. Functional testing can identify issues such as yeast or bacterial overgrowths, parasites, lack of microbial abundance, inflammation, digestive function and food intolerances. Speak to a qualified naturopath to investigate this further.
A good quality probiotic, such as the spore-based Gutsi, can also be a great starting point for improving gut health, alongside digestive enzymes if you notice problems with reflux, bloating or indigestion after certain meals.
Support your nervous system with herbs during stressful times.
While they do not change an external stressful situation, specific herbs do have actions that tonify the nervous system and support sleep and mood to help one cope as best as possible during adverse events. Three of my favourite herbs to use are:
- Saffron: Several underlying mechanisms of saffron in mood disorders have been identified, including its antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, serotoninergic and monoaminergic, neuroprotective and HPA-axis-modulating actions. This can be found in our Uplift herbal tonic.
- Withania: Commonly known as Ashwagandha, withania is one of the most revered and widely used Ayurvedic herbs. It has been shown to moderate occasional stress by supporting the HPA axis, enhance memory and cognitive function, provide neuroprotection by scavenging free radicals and support thyroid function. This can be found as a tea, or in many of our herbal tonics such as Be Calm and Adrenal & Stress.
- Passionflower: Traditionally it has been used to gently restore debilitated nerve centres by promoting nutrition uptake at the cellular level. It supports a calming and relaxing effect on the body during times of occasional stress. This is also in our Be Calm tonic, Sereni-Tea, or on it's own as a tea.
These are just some of many herbs that can be drunk as a tea or taken as a tincture to help improve mood.
Consider other supportive supplements.
Zinc, magnesium and B vitamins all play an important role in key neurotransmitter synthesis. Anything from increased toxicity to genetic issues may increase your requirements of these nutrients. You can also reduce inflammation and oxidation with a high-quality Omega 3 supplement, with a daily dose of at least 1000mg EPA and DHA, as well as Turmeric.