If you experience depression, you will typically be prescribed an antidepressant, an SSRI or other agent, and have to endure the common side-effects such as weight gain, aggression, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, and erectile dysfunction. If you consult a psychologist or counselor, the underlying psychological underpinnings (if any) are explored, strategies devised to cope. But there will almost never be talk about your diet, nutritional deficiencies that amplify dark moods, or the microbiome.
Yet there are very powerful strategies available that have potential to substantially lift mood. Such solutions won’t, of course, erase the effects of childhood trauma or grieving from personal loss, but they can help smooth the emotional impact of such life events, elevate the hormones of mood, and make life easier naturally and inexpensively.
Among the most powerful nutritional and natural mood lifters:
- Wheat and grain elimination–By removing such foods, you are removing mind-active opioid peptides that derive from the gliadin protein of wheat and related proteins of other grains. These opiates exert a variety of effects, depending on individual susceptibility, ranging from paranoia in people with schizophrenia, to mania in people with bipolar disorder, to impulsivity in children with ADHD, to food obsessions in those prone to bulimia and bine-eating disorder, to depression in people prone to depression. The solution: remove the sources of gliadin-derived opioids, wheat and grains. For some people, the mood improvements with wheat/grain elimination are profound.
- Vitamin D restoration–Even before I implemented wheat and grain elimination in patients in my cardiology practice, I added vitamin D at doses sufficient to achieve 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood levels of 60-70 ng/ml (typically 4000 too 8000 units per day in oil-based gelcap form). I witnessed marked improvements in mood, particularly that associated with shortening daylight cycles in fall and winter, though the mood benefits are not confined to this seasonal effect.
- Fish oil–for its omega-3 fatty acid content of EPA and DHA. For serious benefits, we use serious doses. I therefore never advocate less than 3000 mg EPA + DHA per day (not of fish oil, but the EPA and DHA contained within), ideally 3600 mg per day (total), divided in two. Higher potency preparations are required to achieve this dose, e.g., 750 mg EPA + DHA or more per capsule, or high-potency liquid fish oil.
- Cultivation of bowel flora–Not just a probiotic, but a purposeful program of reseeding the bowels with preferred species with a high-potency, multi-species probiotic, enthusiastic consumption of fermented foods (e.g., kimchi, kombucha, kefir, yogurt, fermented veggies), then nourishing and cultivating them with a program of prebiotic fibers. Bowel flora influence mood hugely, as well as clarity, thought content, sleep, and dreams.
- Tryptophan supplementation–Supplementation with the amino acid tryptophan enhances both brain serotonin that enhances mood and melatonin that enhances sleep. Because of the melatonin effect, I prefer to use this at bedtime in doses of 500 mg increments, e.g., 1000, 1500, or 2000 mg at bedtime. Alternatively, it can taken in similar doses but spread throughout the day, though the sleep enhancing effect may not develop.
- Methylfolate supplementation–The common genetic variant, MTHFR C677T, that impairs folate (vitamin B9) metabolism is readily remedied by supplementing the methyl form of folate, typically at a dose of 15 mg per day. (Vitamin B12 status should also be assessed before starting methylfolate.)
- Exercise–Exercise is not easy to accomplish when depressed, so make your goals modest. For instance, just a walk or casual bike to start, even gardening or playing with kids or grandkids. Let it expand from there as the above strategies take root and you feel empowered and less held back and find that dancing, yoga, a walk interspersed with a quick sprint all make you feel even better.
- Laughing–Recall your laugh triggers–movies that made you split your sides, friends you find entertaining, thrilling activities like riding a roller coaster that make sadness almost impossible–and do them. The effect may not be durable but it can provide the impetus for doing more.
- Lactobacillus reuteri yogurt–The oxytocin boost you obtain by consuming our powerful L. reuteri yogurt does not help alleviate depression per se, but it cultivates feelings of empathy and connectedness with other people, feelings typically lacking in people who are depressed.
Not foolproof, of course, but effective for the majority in improving mood while costing next to nothing and empowering health in so many other ways with no concerns about weight gain, anxiety, suicidal thoughts, or erectile dysfunction.
Why aren’t such solutions the default answer from psychiatrists, psychologists, and primary care physicians with drugs and counseling held in reserve should such natural solutions not provide full benefit? I am generalizing, of course, recognizing that the breadth of human experience cannot be remedied with a single solution. But the reluctance to embrace natural solutions is not unique to mental and emotional health; it afflicts all areas of healthcare, an over-reliance on drugs and procedures, dismissal of the power of natural methods, and an underlying assumption of your constitutional weakness.
We don’t stand for such disempowering ideas around this neighborhood.