We have all felt low in mood at some point in our lives. It’s a normal part of life, unless it affects us to the point where we can’t function, then this becomes depression. When you feel low in mood, you can experience a range of emotions, from feeling sad to feeling stressed out and frustrated. When we feel low in mood, everyday stressors become difficult to cope with, and this can make us feel anxious.
- 1 What can cause low mood?
- 1.1 Personality
- 1.2 Stress
- 1.3 Loss of a job
- 1.4 Bereavement
- 1.5 Alcohol/substance abuse
- 1.6 Hormonal changes
- 1.7 How can you treat low mood?
- 1.8 The link between food and mood
- 1.9 Factors affecting your mood
- 1.10 Do you eat often enough?
- 1.11 Do you get your 5 a day?
- 1.12 Do you drink enough water?
- 1.13 Are you eating enough healthy fats?
- 1.14 Are you getting enough protein?
- 1.15 Is your gut healthy?
- 1.16 Are you taking in too many stimulants?
- 1.17 Nutrient deficiency and low mood
- 1.18 Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- 1.19 Vitamin D
- 1.20 Magnesium
- 1.21 Vitamin B Complex
- 1.22 Amino Acids
- 1.23 Iron
- 1.24 Iodine
- 1.25 Vitamins to make you happy!
- 1.26 Folate (also known as B9 or folic acid)
- 1.27 Vitamin B6
- 1.28 Vitamin B12
- 1.29 Vitamin D
- 1.30 Pantothenic Acid
- 1.31 Final thoughts
What can cause low mood?
Some people are just more prone to being affected by stress or being unable to cope with life stressors.
It could be at home or at work. Some stress is normal and stimulates us, too much stress over a prolonged period of time can have very negative effects on our mental and physical health.
Loss of a job
A lot of people are defined by their job role, and the financial security and sense of purpose that goes with it. The loss of a job can be very stressful and can negatively affect self-esteem.
The loss of a loved one is something that most people experience. It must be dealt with in the correct way as it can lead to longer term low mood and depression if grief is not dealt with.
This is a common escape from everyday life and problems for some people, but it’s a very negative coping strategy. It might make you feel more relaxed in the short term, but in the long term, dependency and other negative health problems can develop.
Hormonal fluctuations throughout the menstrual cycle, pregnancy, and the menopause can affect mood, and can cause uncharacteristic mood changes in people. This mostly affects women, though falling testosterone levels can affect men too.
How can you treat low mood?
Take some exercise regularly- it’s a known mood booster. Exercise increases production of endorphins, the body’s ‘happy’ hormones.
Talk about it- speaking to a counsellor or similar can help if there is a particular cause of your low mood. Treatment can help by looking at the way you think and react to situations in your life.
Herbal remedies- some remedies like St. John’s wort have been used traditionally to boost mood. This herb can affect the ways some medications work however, so check with your doctor before using it.
You have probably heard that ‘you are what you eat’, and that is true for your physical and mental health. What you eat, and how much you eat are strongly linked to how well you function mentally.
Factors affecting your mood
Do you eat often enough?
If you don’t eat often enough, your blood sugar level drops, and this can make you feel tired, low and irritable. Eating little and often will keep your blood sugar levels stable. Try to choose foods that will release energy slowly into your bloodstream, such as high protein foods, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and oats. Minimise sugary foods and drinks that will cause the spikes and dips in your blood sugar levels.
Do you get your 5 a day?
Fruit and vegetables are rich in vitamins, minerals, and fibre that contribute to good physical and mental health. Even a small nutrient deficiency can affect your health, and your mood. Try to eat a wide variety of foods and consider a multivitamin to make up for any possible shortfalls.
Do you drink enough water?
Even being mildly dehydrated can make you feel tired, low and unable to concentrate. Being hydrated will boost your energy levels and mood. Good choices include water, herbal teas or diluted fruit juice.
Are you eating enough healthy fats?
Your brain needs fatty acids, such as omega 3 and 6 to function properly. Healthy fats that boost your health and your mood can be found in fish, poultry, nuts, olive oil, eggs, and avocados.
Are you getting enough protein?
Protein is made up of amino acids which make the chemicals that your brain needs to regulate thoughts and feelings. It also keeps blood sugar levels stable which also affects mood. Good sources of protein include lean meat, fish, eggs, nuts, seeds, and legumes.
Is your gut healthy?
Your digestive system uses similar chemicals to your brain in terms of how it functions, so having a healthy gut can affect your state of mind. Foods that will keep your digestive system healthy and happy include fruit, vegetables and whole grains, and live yoghurt, which contains probiotics (healthy bacteria).
Are you taking in too many stimulants?
Taking in too many substances such as caffeine can impact upon your mood. You have heard of the saying ‘what goes up must come down’, right? This is exactly what happens when you drink caffeine. It can give you a temporary lift, and it’s fine in moderation, though if drank in excess, it can cause mood and sleep disturbances.
Nutrient deficiency and low mood
Many people will see their doctor if they feel low in mood, and they will be prescribed medication. Unless there is a definitive cause for the low mood, such as a bereavement, or a relationship break up, there could be a much simpler, but overlooked explanation.
A nutritional deficiency could be to blame. So instead of reaching for the antidepressants, you might need to try reaching for the fruit and vegetables first!
Nutrient deficiencies that are linked to low mood
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
The body can’t make these, so you either need to take them in via your diet or through a supplement. They reduce inflammation and play a role in the healthy function of the brain, especially memory and mood. Include oily fish like salmon and halibut, plus flaxseeds and walnuts to make sure you’re getting enough.
Low levels of vitamin D have been linked to depression, autism, and dementia. Sunlight is the best source, so in the winter, in the northern hemisphere in particular, levels can fall dramatically. Try to get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure per day, and supplement where that isn’t possible.
Many people are deficient in this essential mineral due to their lifestyle. Alcohol, salt, coffee, sugar and stress can all deplete our levels. Magnesium is sometimes called ‘the stress antidote’ as it’s a potent relaxant. So it figures that if you aren’t getting enough you can feel wired and agitated.
Vitamin B Complex
The B group of vitamins help us get energy from our food, give us healthy skin and nails, and are responsible for many other functions in our body. They are also strongly linked to mood. A study carried out on elderly women found that more than ¼ of those with severe depression were deficient in vitamin B12. If you include poultry, seafood, bananas, leafy greens, eggs, and milk in your diet, you should get enough.
Amino acids make protein, and they are also responsible for helping the brain to function properly. A deficiency will leave you feeling depressed, sluggish, and unable to concentrate. Include plenty of beef, eggs, fish, nuts and seeds in your diet to make sure you get your quota.
Iron deficiency is a common complaint in women of childbearing age. A deficiency can cause anaemia, and symptoms such as fatigue, low mood and ‘foggy’ thinking. Good sources of iron are red meat, fish, and poultry. Eating iron rich foods with a source of vitamin C like orange juice can increase absorption.
Iodine is essential for the proper function of the thyroid gland. If the thyroid is out of whack, your energy, metabolism, immune function, and mood will be too. When your brain is not able to function properly, depression and other mood disturbances can arise. Seaweed, shrimp and cod is full of iodine, and you can take a kelp supplement.
Vitamins to make you happy!
Who doesn’t want to feel great everyday? Wouldn’t it be great to wake up with a spring in your step, and have the energy and enthusiasm to take you through each day? Well you can, and the answer may be as simple as making some easy tweaks to your diet. Eat your way to happiness by including these super mood-boosting nutrients into your diet!
Food can improve mood by boosting the function of the brain. A healthy brain means healthy moods. Research has shown that that there are certain nutrients that can combat low mood:
Folate (also known as B9 or folic acid)
Folate helps the body to produce new cells and regulates the amount of serotonin produced by the brain. Serotonin is a chemical messenger which works on the brain and nerve cells, and is responsible for mood and behaviour. Folate deficiency lowers the amount of serotonin which can result in mood disturbances and fatigue.
Folate and vitamin B12 are often used as a combined treatment to treat depression. Folate has been shown in studies to boost the effectiveness of antidepressants.
Good Sources of Folate:
Spinach (1/2 cup): 131 mcg
Black eyed peas (1/2 cup): 105 mcg
Asparagus (4 spears): 89 mcg
Brussels sprouts (1/2 cup): 78 mcg
Avocado (1/2 cup): 59 mcg
Vitamin B6 helps boost the production of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, which send messages from the brain to the rest of the body. Dopamine is associated with feelings of pleasure, and the reward centre in the brain, in which dopamine plays a crucial role, contributes to emotional wellbeing. Low dopamine levels have been linked to anxiety and depression. Deficiency in B6 can also cause anaemia, poor immunity, and confusion.
Vitamin B6 can keep the brain functioning properly, which helps to regulate our moods. Vitamin B6 is also effective for treating premenstrual mood disturbances.
Good Food Sources of B6:
Chickpeas canned (1 cup): 1.1 mg
Yellow fin tuna (1/3 cup): 0.9 mg
Salmon (1 3oz fillet): 1 mg
Chicken breasts (1 piece, skinless and boneless): 0.5 mg
Fortified breakfast cereals (3/4 cup): 0.5 mg
Vitamin B12 helps with the creation of red blood cells and keeps nerves healthy. If your blood cells are healthy and plentiful, it means that there is plenty of oxygen getting to where it’s needed, including the brain. B12 also helps to promote the healthy function of the brain which regulates mood. A deficiency of B12 can cause fatigue and depression. The nutrient is found naturally in meat, eggs and animal products. This means that vegetarians and vegans are often deficient.
Good Sources of B12:
Rainbow Trout (1 fillet): 9 mcg
Sockeye Salmon (1 3oz. fillet): 17.6 mcg
Swiss Cheese (1/8 cup): 4.4 mcg
Mozzarella Cheese (1/8 cup): 3.0 mcg
Tuna (canned in water) (1 small 3.5oz. can): 2.5 mcg
As well as regulating the growth of cells, keeping the immune system healthy and protecting the bones, vitamin D regulates the mood. Many studies have shown that low levels of vitamin D is associated with depressive symptoms. You can be deficient if you don’t get enough sun exposure, or you don’t take in enough via your diet. The body can’t make enough vitamin D on its own. To make sure you get enough, include plenty of dairy products in your diet and get at least 15 minutes of sun exposure daily, without sunscreen, where possible.
Good Sources of Vitamin D:
Egg (1 large, with yolk): 41 IU
Salmon (1 3oz. fillet): 646 IU
Swordfish (1/3 cup): 566 IU
Chanterelle Mushrooms (1 cup) :114 IU
Milk (1 cup): 115-124 IU
This makes you feel full of energy and boosts alertness. It helps to regulate the amount of melatonin produced in your body, which is the hormone that regulates your natural wake/sleep cycle. This means that your body winds down naturally when it’s dark and is alert when it’s light. Pantothenic acid aids in the production of the brain chemical acetylcholine, which is needed for restful sleep. Avocados, milk, and broccoli are all good sources of pantothenic acid.
We all want to feel happy, and energetic, and like we are enjoying life. But life is not great all of the time, we know that. Feeling happy is just as much a part of life as feeling sad, and there are any number of reasons why we might feel either emotion.
Feeling low can make us feel sad, irritable, or agitated. We might understand exactly why we feel love. We might have experienced the death of a loved one, the end of a relationship, or the loss of a job. Or we might have no idea at all why we feel low. Sometimes there’s another explanation.
We might just be more prone to feeling low, or allowing things to overwhelm us. But before we go to the doctor and go down the medication route, we need to consider whether there might be a simpler explanation for how we feel.
Often, the answer is in how we live our life. Are you exercising enough? Are you sleeping enough? Are you taking time out to just enjoy life? Then there’s the question of your diet.
You are what you eat rings very true, for the state of your mental and physical health. If you don’t eat well, it will show in poor skin, unhealthy hair, frequent illness, and fatigue. But a lack of proper nutrition can also show itself in low mood, the inability to concentrate, irritability, and depression.
Research has shown that there are certain nutrients that regulate our mood, and if we are deficient in any or most of them, that we are more likely to suffer from mood disturbances.
Healthy fats are essential for healthy brain function, but they can’t be made by the body, so you need to either include them in your diet, or take a supplement.
The body can’t produce vitamin D either, and sunlight is the best source. Getting enough vitamin D can be a problem in the winter, especially in the northern hemisphere. The nutrient is a mood regulator, and if you don’t get enough, you can experience low mood and depression. This accounts for the comparably high levels of suicide in Scandinavian countries which only get a few hours per day of sunlight in the winter.
The B group of vitamins regulate metabolism, energy, and healthy brain function. They are known as the happy vitamins because they boost mood, energy, and alertness.
The bottom line is that these nutrients promote healthy brain function. If the brain is not functioning well, of course mood and performance is going to be disturbed, and this is where problems like depression can occur.
Rather than opting for anti-depressants right away, we should consider the impact that our lifestyle is having on our emotional wellbeing. Step away from the stimulants and the sugar, and give your body and brain what it really needs. Delicious, nutritious, healthy, and wholesome food to boost your mood and your overall health.