Eat your way to a more positive state of mind

Article taken from Psychologies Magazine (November 2019)

Leading expert in women’s wellbeing Henrietta Norton tells us how to nourish ourselves for improved mental health and emotional balance.

Three and a half million people in the UK take antidepressants and the potential side effects range from gut problems, drowsiness, insomnia and painful menstruation to hives, tremors, confusion, anxiety and impotence. An increased risk of suicidal behaviour in children and adolescents has also been documented. Nutritional medicine has made developments in exploring the link between mental and physical health and research shows depression is more common in those with compromised immune function.

Take back a level of control

Evidence indicates that our sensitivity to stress, anxiety and depression is programmed in infancy, sensitising us to a certain level of adversity. Hypersensitivity to stress and depression may occur due to changes in our stress-response network. Of great clinical interest is that the group of inflammation-sensitive depressives tend not to respond well to antidepressants.

The B vitamins are essential for functioning of the nervous system, and vitamin B5 in particular for production of hormones such as cortisol. Sources include whole grains, eggs, beans and lentils, veggies, fish and meat. A vitamin B complex can be supportive and one that includes vitamin C, magnesium and ashwagandha will help regulate cortisol. Magnesium, rapidly used up when we’re stressed, is essential for the production of neurotransmitters dopamine and serotonin. The best sources are nuts and seeds (especially pumpkin and hemp), buckwheat groats or flour (buckwheat is a seed and not related to wheat), greens such as spinach and kale and seafood. If sleep is an issue, try an extra 80mg of food-grown magnesium at night.

Foods for happiness

Following is a guide to feeding ourselves to best support our hormones, brain chemicals and, ultimately, moods.

  • Eggs. Rich in zinc and tryptophan, eggs can boost serotonin levels. Dip steamed asparagus into boiled eggs as a morning mood enhancer.
  • Wild Salmon. This fish is full of healthy fatty acids to support our hormones and libido. Mix with horseradish and plain yogurt to make a salmon pate for a quick mood-supporting snack.
  • Avocado. These are rich in healthy omega-3 fatty acids which have an array of health benefits. The acids DHA and EPA may help to improve brain function, regulate vision and contribute to normal heart function. These acids are also used as ‘taxis’ to ferry hormones around the body, including libido-charging testosterone in men and women. For a boost of healthy fats, slice chunks of avocado into your salad or onto your morning toast, drizzle over extra virgin olive oil and add flakes of wild salmon.
  • Quinoa. This whole grain is rich in protein, magnesium and B vitamins, which are needed to produce anti-anxiety brain chemicals, including GABA. Use as an alternative to rice or wheat pasta for managing anxiety and stress.
  • Lean proteins (fish, chicken and lamb). These proteins provide a complete mix of the amino acids required for the building blocks of neurotransmitters, such as serotonin and dopamine.

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