Nutritional Deficiencies & Mood Disorders: Do Supplements Work?

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Last year, during my major depressive episode, I figured that depression was such a recurring problem for me that it could not be merely psychological. I was noticing that certain foods would give me stomach aches or have me fall asleep, only to wake up super hungry after my nap! My body was often tired, even after having adopted a regular fitness routine from the age of 18. I thought that maybe my body was lacking nutrients, because, despite my exercising, I still had very poor eating habits and never saw food as my friend, but rather more like an enemy that mostly hindered my fitness goals. One day, I remembered that as a child my father would always tell me to eat fish because it made me smarter, and that would get me excited about eating it every time. So with that in mind, my excitement found me again as I went to work doing intensive research on the effects of food and nutrition on the brain. Countless–maybe some, needless–clinical appointments were booked in an attempt to find deficiencies, diseases or intolerances within my body. I had to know; my resolve was set to attaining full rehabilitation in mental, physical, and spiritual health if I was ever to get back on my feet again.

Scratching the Surface of Nutrition & Mood

The Second Brain

Let’s start with gut health. The gut is considered in science as a second brain in which 100 trillion bacteria and millions of microbial genes contribute to the health of the actual brain. (Kranjac, Psychology Today) This party of organisms is called gut microbiome. When gut health is compromised, not only does it put the body at risk of physical disease, but it also puts you at risk of neuropsychiatric/mood disorders. The gut becomes inflamed when we are chronically stressed and/or regularly eat pro-inflammatory foods (here’s a list), which worsens depression and anxiety. Dr. Emily Deans states in her column Evolutionary Psychiatry for Psychology Today:

Now the immune system works wonders and inflammation saves your life nearly every day from all the pathogens out there like the flu and strep, but chronic levels of inflammatory response also lead to all sorts of chronic disease, for example depressive disorders, high blood pressure, atherosclerosis, autoimmune diseases such as ulcerative colitis and multiple sclerosis…the gut microbiome plays a key role in regulating our immune response. Thus the make-up of our gut microbiome could make the difference as to whether we are sick or well, both mentally and physically. 

There is a lot to take in about the gut, like the fact that about 80-90% of serotonin (an important chemical in the body in charge of balancing your mood) is produced there. The gut microbiome can be improved by switching to more wholesome foods, increasing good bacteria (with the help of a probiotic or pickled food, for example), and lowering stress. This reduces chronic inflammation, which makes us feel better.

Vitamin D(efficiency)

Did you know that a lack of vitamin D can worsen or cause depression? A recent review of 14 studies done at St.Joseph’s Hospital in Hamilton, Canada, found a correlation between depression and low levels of Vitamin D. What’s more, is the case for S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder), where many people’s moods worsen during colder months, when the sun is not at it brightest and, by the afternoon, not present at all. The ray that carries vitamin D is the UVB ray,  and without enough of it, vitamin D stores can deplete. (Archer, Psychology Today) You need to go outside to get it, but a vitamin D supplement will also help to restore proper levels. Another study proved that vitamin D supplements successfully improved the moods of three depressed women after 12 weeks.

You Must Love Fat

You may or may not be aware of this by now, but Omega-3 fatty acid improves cognitive performance and decreases inflammation in the gut. Cognitive performance not only includes mood, but also memory and accuracy, among other things. In fact, some symptoms of Omega-3 deficiency include mood swings, tiredness, and poor memory–all very common symptoms of depression as well.

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My Experience so Far

I must admit, I am a little reluctant to share my experience. I don’t want anybody to start restricting their diet as I have for so many years, even after having learned this information. I’m working with a holistic nutritionist to learn how to balance out my meals and to change my rocky relationship with food. Since last year, during my “nutrition craze”, I have tested the above-mentioned research claims on myself. Paying close attention to how I feel after I eat something. Here’s my experience:

I know now why I love summer so darn much, and that’s because it makes me so happy. In the winter, it’s usually painfully hard, no matter how much sleep I get, to get up in the early mornings. I feel bitter and sad like I cannot seize the day. It’s winter right now, and the nutritionist got me to use Ddrops, which are helping my mood tremendously in the mornings. I found sugar to be an instant trigger for depression. I get terrible gas, stomach ache, and high levels of anxiety when eating a certain amount of wheat, so I keep it at a minimal. And, incorporating healthy fats into my diet has been the most beneficial thing for me thus far. It has allowed me to experience fewer mood swings over time, and now they happen very rarely. I also used to wake up highly anxious, like in a frenzy, but now that almost never happens. On top of eating foods like olive oil, coconut products, nut butter, and meat, the nutritionist has also recommended I use Genuine Health’s Omega-3+ Joy. They are big pills, and four per day is the recommended serving. To be honest, I’m never keen on taking these pills ’cause they’re so big, but they are worth it.

My relationship with food is being reconstructed. I’m going to give myself credit here and say I am halfway there. Disordered eating is an issue that has plagued my life and planted deep roots I was only recently aware of, and am now trying to pluck. It’s my hope that this information will prompt you to ask yourself some questions, and seek professional help from doctors, dietitians, and/or holistic nutritionists.

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Resources
Archer, Dale. “Vitamin D Deficiency and Depression.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 11 July 2013, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/reading-between-the-headlines/201307/vitamin-d-deficiency-and-depression.
Deans, Emily. “The Gut-Brain Connection, Mental Illness, and Disease.” Psychology Today, Sussex Publishers, 6 Apr. 2014, http://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/evolutionary-psychiatry/201404/the-gut-brain-connection-mental-illness-and-disease.
Heyes, J.D., Your depression may be due to vitamin D deficiency https://www.naturalnews.com/039643_depression_vitamin_d_deficiency.html
Kranjac, Dinko. “Mood Disorders and the Disrupted Gut Microbial Milieu.” Psychiatry Advisor, 29 Sept. 2016, http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/depressive-disorder/mood-disorders-and-the-disrupted-gut-microbial-milieu/article/525983/.
McIntosh, James. “Serotonin: Facts, What Does Serotonin Do?” Medical News Today, MediLexicon International, 29 Apr. 2016, http://www.medicalnewstoday.com/kc/serotonin-facts-232248.
Zehring, Brad, DO, The Importance of Nutrition  in Psychiatric Treatment, http://www.psychiatryadvisor.com/practice-management/the-importance-of-nutrition-in-psychiatric-treatment/article/400073/
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4 Simple Methods To Manage Anxiety Attacks

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At the moment of an anxiety attack, your reasoning goes out the window. Thoughts race, and any attempt to catch up to them is as good as none. If you’re like me, you may experience shortness of breath as you watch the world tumble before you. Negative thoughts are hard to control during anxiety/panic attacks, but over time I’ve learned to incorporate certain techniques to lessen their impact. There’s no quick fix to get rid of frequent, intense levels of anxiety, but I believe in holistic practices that help us manage them so they become less frequent. (I have high levels of anxiety less frequently now, but it is easily triggered by financial worries, huge crowds, self-consciousness, and other triggers that get me worried about my future.) These tricks work by slowing down the whole process of an attack:

Deep Abdominal Breathing

Taking deep breaths helps reduce anxiety attacks by allowing you to be more present with your thoughts. For me, it’s as if I’m giving myself time to think about why I’m feeling this way, and it just allows me to calm down a bit. Here’s how to do it: Inhale deeply from your diaphragm as soon as you realize you’re having an anxiety attack, and exhale deeply. Do it on the spot discretely, in through the nose and out the same way.

A Gentle Pep Talk

You can repeat to yourself, in your mind,“I recognize this emotion, but I am not this emotion,” until you calm down. It might take a while before that happens, so be patient. Separating yourself from the feeling of anxiousness tricks your brain into observing the experience as something that is simply happening to you, and not something that is part of your identity. In other words, you are not an anxious person, but you are experiencing anxiety at the moment.

Take One Step at a Time

Last year I went through a major depressive episode spanning the length of that entire year.  Summer was rock-bottom, but to the advice of my counselor at the time, I pushed myself to start taking walks outside. Sometimes I would get seriously nervous about going, so I started telling myself I just needed to get downstairs to the building’s main entrance. I wouldn’t walk too far, and that was key for me. This method is for when you are too anxious to move and get yourself anywhere. If the task is broken down into small steps or miniature goals, you’ll find it easier to push through the anxiety.

Don’t Feel Guilty

I used to feel guilty about my sensitivity; actually, while my self-judgement isn’t as bad as it was before, feeling guilty is still something I need to work on. But everyone’s level of sensitivity to environments and situations is different. We also carry experiences from our past that may make us feel the way we do. It’s totally okay if you can’t handle being somewhere like an overcrowded bus, or a funeral, or a call centre while your friend can!

All that is important is that we manage our emotions.