We all have bad days, some worse than others, yet some we just love to continue to revisit in our heads because they were just so darn wonderful. And then again, some days it’s hard to get out of bed. It seems easier when we know the reason why we’re feeling the way you do – low iron, a hangover, your pre-menstrual and feel like being alone, after a breakup – but It’s when you don’t know and that black cloud appears over your head, again, and it won’t go away, again, that we start to wonder what’s going on, and look for ways to get out of the hole, or away from the ‘black dog’ barking.
The problem is when we can’t get out of the hole, and we want to. When the darkness continues for too long without even a hint of a light. This is when the balance has been tipped by something either internal or external. It’s time when we had a good look at what may be the cause.
The ending of a romantic relationship is certainly one of these times that most of us can relate to. Hell right? An argument with one of your best friends that hasn’t been resolved can trigger a deep grief that continues, feeling betrayed is another, getting the sack, being bullied, let down, abandoned, grieved, broke, fat, infertile, homeless, lonely, sick…or the fear of any of these things potentially happening – which may present as anxiety, rather than depression.
Any of these things can be the catalyst to enter the ‘dark wood’, but why is it we sometimes can’t get out; even when we know it’s time to let it go and move on? Why can’t we? Well, here I’m not talking about serious medical conditions such as severe depression or anxiety, schizophrenia, manic depression, OCD, agoraphobia or other serious mental health issues. But more of the every day kind of blues and anxiety that we have some control over.
Firstly it is essential that you are physically healthy. Expecting to have a balanced mental state after having too many late nights that include too much alcohol, not enough sleep and perhaps bad food, then adding drugs to the mix – either pharmaceutical or recreational – is just plain nuts. It is essential we get enough sleep, the right nutrition, stay physically active and drink enough clean water for us to even begin thinking about why we might feel sad or anxious. If you are suffering with anxiety or depression (same coin, different sides) get these things right – most of the time – before you start thinking you may be suffering with something more serious. Of course you’re going to feel anxious if you got to bed at 3am after working a 18 hour day with huge stress, then winding down with a couple of glasses of wine, then up again at 7am for a black coffee and sugary breakfast. Then starting all over again. Get your soil fertile, and then watch what grows. If you’re still in the hole after the physical things have been addressed, and you can’t find an emotional reason why you feel sad, then yes it’s time to see someone about your mental health.
These are the nutrients that will most aid the functioning of your mental body –
Omega 3 fatty acids
How does omega-3 affect mood? There are several lines of evidence that suggest that omega-3 consumption may be associated with mood disorders. Research suggests that omega-3 is related to a number of biological processes that have been found to be associated with brain functioning.’ Black Dog Institute.
However, not all omega-3 fatty acids yield the same benefit. They are further classified into 2 groups – “long chain” such as DHA and EPA, and “short chain” such as ALA (alpha linolenic acid). The long chain fatty acids are the ones that are considered most beneficial. They are readily available from the oils of cold -water fish such as sustainably caught salmon, sardines, and mackerel. The short chain ALA is found in flax seeds, chia seeds, hemp and algae for example. The human body does know to turn ALA into the more useful EPA and DHA, but only at 10-15% efficiency.
It appears that eating foods high in omega-3 is not enough. The proportion of omega-3 to omega-6 fatty acids in our bodies also plays a role in improving health outcomes. The modern diet has raised our consumption of omega-6 –mainly through soybean and corn oils, and also refined grains – to levels that are very unhealthy and way too high compared to our omega-3 levels. This imbalance needs to be addressed by either consuming less omega-6 (especially from these awful sources), or more foods high omega-3 fatty acids.
Foods To Include – walnuts; hemp, chia and flax seeds; seaweed; algae; sustainably- caught fish’ or an ethically sourced supplement.
An important group of vitamins, especially when it comes to emotional stress.
Vitamin B1 (Thiamin) is beneficial during anxiety and panic because it facilitates Neurotransmitter Synthesis, promotes healthy nerve function, and converts carbohydrates in foods into energy. Foods like Asparagus, Soy milk, Barley, Oats, Wheat, Sunflower Seeds, Brazil Nuts, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Rice, Avocados, Mussels. Or a supplement. Lifestream’s ‘Natural B Complex Powder’ made from sustainable sourced sprouted quinoa.
Vitamin B2 (Riboflavin) is beneficial for anxiety and panic because it converts other B vitamins to useful forms so that they can do their work. In addition, since it aids in the production of infection-fighting immune cells, riboflavin helps bolster the immune system. Include Avocados, Clams, Yogurt and Mushrooms.
Vitamin B6 helps the body to manufacture brain chemicals (neurotransmitters), such as serotonin, essential for the body to cope with anxiety and panic. Vitamin B6 may also help boost the immune system during times of anxiety. Include sweet potatoes, Avocados, Bananas, Mangoes, Sunflower Seeds, Chickpeas, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Potatoes, Bok Choy, Rice, and Barley.
Vitamin B7 (Biotin) assists the body in metabolizing protein, fats, and carbohydrates from food. It is important during times of anxiety and panic because it plays a special role in helping the body to use glucose and promotes overall equilibrium along with the other B vitamins. Include Cauliflower, Organic Peanuts, Eggs, and Organic Cheese.
Vitamin B12 (Cobalamin) helps the body to cope with anxiety and panic because it works in concert with other B vitamins. B12 supports the nervous system and assists the body in converting food into energy. Miso, sourdough, tempeh, eggs, algae, shitake mushrooms, Yogurt, Oysters, Sustainable Trout, Crab, Clams. Below Lifestream’s ‘V-Omega 3′, made from algae.
Vitamin B9 (Folic Acid) is an important member of the B Vitamin family and is required along with the others when the body is dealing with anxiety and panic. Research suggests that folic acid may help relieve depression, which is often associated with anxiety and panic. Asparagus, Beets, Brussels Sprouts, Bok Choy, Peas, Beans, Chick-peas, Organic Soybeans, Lentils, Oranges, Turkey, Cabbage, Savoy, Spinach, Broccoli, Avocados.
Vitamin B3 (Niacin) as a member of the B vitamin family is required along with the other B vitamins when the body is coping with anxiety and panic. Niacin helps the body to release energy from carbohydrates, control blood sugar, and maintain proper nervous system function. Rice, Pomegranates, Whole Wheat.
Vitamin B5 (Pantothenic Acid). The body relies on B5 to support the response to anxiety and panic. Pantothenic acid helps produce stress hormones during times of psychological difficulty (emotional upset, depression, anxiety), as well as during other types of strain, such as chronic fatigue and quitting smoking. Avocados, Wild Alaskan Salmon, Mushrooms, Sunflower Seeds, Yogurt.
Magnesium is a calming mineral that nourishes the nervous system and helps prevent anxiety, fear, nervousness, restlessness and irritability. Take before bed with calcium to help promote a restful sleep. With B6 to reduce pre-menstrual symptoms.
Food to include – pumpkin seeds, raw spinach, mackerel, avocado, legumes, quinoa, nuts, brown rice and other whole grains, bananas, organic dried fruit, dark chocolate.
‘Even with the wide availability of magnesium in foods, at least 60% and possibly as much as 80% of adults do not consume the Recommended Dietary Intake (RDI) for magnesium (310-420mg/day). In addition, absorption of magnesium from the small intestine decreases and excretion by the kidneys increases as we age.’ From the Lifestream website.
‘Lifestream Natural Magnesium is a naturally derived marine source extracted from the clean waters off the Irish coast. Seawater naturally contains magnesium salts. It is manufactured by filtration, blending and heat drying without the need for adding preservatives or chemical products to form a highly bio-available and concentrated dose of elemental magnesium.’
I’d like to again stress that I am not suggesting anyone quit his or her med’s, especially without supervision. Here I am posting on how to deal with mild anxiety and depression using food as medicine, and lifestyle changes. My hope is that more of us will be better equipped to know how best to care for ourselves and not let that Black Dog in when he or she comes a knockin’.
Many recent studies are showing a strong relationship between depression and inflammation, or even that depression is an inflammatory disorder. Depression is a state of immune activation, so there is a low-grade increase in the inflammation that occurs not only in depression but also in most major psychiatric disorders.
People who have the best quality diet have the lowest risk of development of depression and anxiety. We also know that diet affects immunity. Similarly we know that people who are the most physically active seem to have the lowest risks of developing depression/anxiety. Again this ties to immunity. We know that exercise reduces levels of inflammation in people’s bodies. And let’s not forget getting enough quality sleep, regularly. 8 hours a night and an hours daytime nap. I hear you laugh at this – but it’s ideal. Any less than the 8 hours a day is likely to be adding to your toxic load, leading to oxidative stress (not good) and inflammation. Sleep! A lot! Image – orphaned orangutans in a safe place to sleep.
According to ‘Traditional Chinese Medicine’ (TCM) the kidney and bladder are associated with fear and anxiety, and these ying/yang organs are the most sensitive in winter. Salty is the flavour attached to these organs, so you may find you are attracted to salty foods if you are anxious.
Helpful foods for strengthening the kidneys: hearty soups, wholegrains, roasted nuts, dried foods, small dark beans such as adzuki, seaweeds, oysters and parsley, millet, barley, tofu, black beans and other beans, kudzu, wheat germ, potato, sea vegetables, black sesame seeds, almond milk, sardines, crab and clams. Bitter foods such as lettuce, watercress, endive, turnip, celery, asparagus, alfalfa, rye, oats, quinoa and amaranth—bitter foods are said to put joy in our hearts
– lychees nourish the heart and ground the spirit
– mulberries benefit the kidneys
– pungent herbs, such as dill, fennel, caraway, anise, cumin and coriander, relax the nervous system
– whole wheat, brown rice and oats calm the mind
– mushrooms soothe the spirit and calm the mind
If your liver is burdened/sluggish then chances are you’ll be feeling pretty terrible. It could present as irritability, frustration, depression, a short fuse or anger. Keep your liver clean by giving it a regular clean out. See my Blogs on liver cleanses.
Around 90% of our serotonin – a happy hormone – is made in our digestive tract, so if it’s not working so well then less serotonin gets made. For a strong and peaceful mind you really do need to have a healthy digestive system. See my Bogs on the gut.
’2 handfuls of cashews is the therapeutic equivalent of a prescription dose of Prozac’. (‘Food Matters’) Cashews contain the amino acid L-tryptophan that is broken down into calming niacin (B3). Tryptophan is also made into serotonin, one of your body’s most important neurotransmitters. Serotonin gives a feeling of well-being and ‘ahhhhh happy’. Prozac and similar antidepressants usually either mimic serotonin or artificially keep the body’s own serotonin levels high.
You can do the same thing using food as medicine. Eat your cashews mindfully – as you’ll see in the images below, a lot of work goes into getting just one cashew into your mouth. Ideally buy them organic, eat them raw, or for increased nutrients and easier digestion – soak them (activate) for about 5 hours then drain.
In my clinic I use Magnolia, St Johns Wort, Chamomile, Skullcap, Passionflower, Damiana, Schisandra, Oats, Hops, Siberian Ginseng, liver herbs like Dandelion Root and Schisandra and Chaste Tree.
Foods To Avoid
White flour and products • Chemicals in your food, animal products (raw meat is more alkaline than cooked) and packaged food. Go organic! • Too much alcohol • Aspartame and other artificial sweeteners • Sugar and other refined and highly processed foods. All junk food. Excessive sugar consumption increases blood lactate levels, which is acid forming. This also includes refined grins. • Too much caffeine, especially instant coffee – organic (and fair trade) is much less acidic • Processed and refined salt. In order to have a better chance at being free from mood disorders – keep your body, mind and spirit as healthy as you can, as much as you can.
Jaffa Cashew Cream
Yields about 2 cups
1 cup raw cashews
½ cup organic soy, almond, coconut or oat milk
1 tsp raw cacao powder
½ orange rind, zested
1 tbsp sweetener of you choice – maple or maple syrup, coconut or raw agave nectar. Or to taste.
Method – soak the cashews in clean water for a few hours, or overnight. Drain, and then put in a blender or processor with the other ingredients. Process until smooth. Serve with bbq’d bananas, on pancakes, as a spread on toast or with fresh or stewed fruit.
Janella Purcell 2014[/private]