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Mood Enhancers: The Roots of the Blues

Feed Your Brain, Beat The Blues
In any case, if you are depressed, don't feel stigmatized. Depression affects one in five people at one time or another in their lives, and it is on the increase worldwide. Moreover, the cause is often biochemical, which is why current treatment approaches include drug therapy as well as psychotherapy.

What is most often overlooked, however, is that mood, behavior, and mental performance all depend on a variety of nutrients that both make up and fuel the brain, nervous system, and neurotransmitters. So a low mood may have less to do with past trauma or a faulty belief system than with deficient nutrients. We've already encountered a number of these, which include vitamins B3, B6, folic acid (folate), B12, and C; the minerals zinc and magnesium; essential fatty acids; and the amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine.

Research at King's College Hospital in London, for example, found that 33 percent of those with psychiatric disorders, including depression, were deficient in the B vitamin folate. Other surveys of depressed patients found that many were deficient in iron or B vitamins, especially folate. It seems a shame that with such a simple solution, so many people are suffering needlessly. What is more worrisome is that government dietary surveys show that a large portion of the population doesn't even get the bare minimum, the recommended daily intake (RDI), of these vitamins and minerals in their daily diets. It is no wonder that depression is on the rise!

If poorly nourished, we're less able to cope with life's challenges. Once we're eating the way we should, our mood goes up, and we can handle life's events more resiliently. A good analogy can be found in Dr. Ray Sahelian's book Mind Boosters. He compares a happy, healthy mind to a pond with a high water level, representing brain chemicals. There may be many rocks of all shapes and sizes below the tranquil surface. These represent the hurts and traumas that are a part of life. If the water, or brain chemicals, become depleted, the rocks begin to show, and the previously submerged pain comes to the surface. We need to keep the levels topped off for a smooth surface, and a happy mind.

That's not the whole story, however. Taking too much of the wrong substances is just as damaging as failing to take the right ones, with sugar and stimulants topping the list of no-nos. You'll recall how blood-sugar imbalances, often related to excessive sugar, alcohol, or caffeine intake, can stimulate neurotransmitter release and a quick high. Not for long, though: the brain responds to an ongoing use of sugar, as with any drug, by downregulating, leaving you with insufficient feel-good chemicals. There's no doubt that stress, overuse of stimulants, and blood-sugar problems are a major contributor to low moods. Certain medications, including antihistamines, tranquilizers, sleeping pills, narcotics, and recreational drugs, can also interfere with your neurotransmitters, leading to depression.

How, then, do we take on the care and feeding of our brains? We need to start with the key neurotransmitters serotonin and noradrenaline – if these aren't in balance, they can cause depression and low moods. Both antidepressant drugs and supplements aim to enhance their actions. In fact, a great deal of our information comes from the extensive pharmaceutical research done in the past few decades to develop new antidepressant medications.

Serotonin, triptophan, and noradrenaline have different roles in countering depression. Depression can be felt as extreme unhappiness or as a lack of drive or motivation, and people can feel more of one or the other, or a mixture of both. Using a psychological test called the Social Adaptation Self-Evaluation Scale, a 1998 study found that a serotonin-enhancing drug had the most effect on self-image and mood, while noradrenaline was more involved in promoting motivation and drive. We will soon see that there are ways to attain these results without taking drugs.

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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.

To order this book visit www.penguin.com. Get a 15% discount with the coupon code FENPARENT.

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