Six Ways to Maximize Brain & Mood Health

Depression and anxiety are an epidemic in America. In fact, depression is a leading cause of disability worldwide! The World Health Organization has estimated that by the year 2020, depression will be the second largest cause of suffering--next only to heart disease.

What is equally disturbing are research reports that reveal taking antidepressants are in many cases no more effective than a placebo, and in some cases exceedingly dangerous and even lead to suicides. Researchers in Boston, for example, looked at more than 136,000 women between the ages of fifty and seventy-nine, and discovered a clear link between those who were using antidepressants and their risk for strokes and death in general. (To view the study click here.)

The good news is that increasingly alternative medical research is uncovering dietary measures, supplements and lifestyle habits that can either manage or reverse depression and associated mood states such as anxiety, obsessive-compulsive disorder, attention deficit, and bipolar disorder. Neurologist Dr. David Perlmutter is at the forefront of this research and has authored two critically important books: Grain Brain and Brainmaker.

We get a number of patients at DCA hoping to either wean themselves off of antidepressants and other mood-regulating medications, or use acupuncture as a tool for managing symptoms. Acupuncture works well to help people get off of medication and manage symptoms if patients can commit to coming in on a regular basis. However, if you’d like to eventually reverse your symptoms for good, here are a few of our top suggestions:

1) Avoid Gluten & Grains. People with depression and other mood disorders often suffer from digestive symptoms. Many stu​dies for example have shown a direct correlation between sufferers of celiac disease--an autoimmune illness that attacks the intestinal lining--and neurological disorders, including an 80% higher risk of depression and a 55% increase in risk of suicide. An astonishing 80% of serotonin, our "feel-good" neurotransmitter, is actually located in the gut, and only 20% in the brain. So it makes sense that digestive issues would directly affect mood.

You don’t have to be diagnosed with celiac to suffer from gluten sensitivity and leaky gut syndrome. An estimated one in four Americans suffer from gluten sensitivity, which may or may not manifest with gastrointestinal symptoms at all. There are a number of neurological symptoms associated with gluten sensitivity and these include: ADHD, alcoholism, autism, brain fog, depression, anxiety, and migraines to name a few. All grains--including non-gluten--however are disruptive to gut function (and therefore mood). Have a read through Grain Brain to learn more.

2) Eat a Diet Rich in Saturated Fat & Cholesterol. Yes. You heard me right. High levels of dietary fat (the good kind, no trans fats) have been proven to be key to health and peak brain function. Get this: the brain holds only 2% of the body’s mass but contains 25% of the total cholesterol. One-fifth of the brain by weight IS cholesterol! Cholesterol and saturated fat are crucial components of the myelin coating around the neuron cell (brain cell), allowing quick transmission of information. Cholesterol is essential for a myriad of functions in the body, from cell membrane integrity to sex hormone production, and its removal from the modern diet has been probably the single greatest crime in the history of the modern Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and conventional medical establishment.

But don’t take my word for it. Innumerable studies have demonstrated that depression runs much higher in people who have low cholesterol, and diets low in saturated fats. Read Dr. Perlmutter’s books and enlighten yourself; if you can find a copy of Swedish medical researcher Uffe Ravnskov’s The Cholesterol Myths it will also help explain the greatest medical fallacy of our time. Our low fat and high carb diets have made us sick, mentally ill, and paved the way for early deaths. So eat your butter, eggs, and pork lard, and feel better for it!

3) Take DHA/EPA (fish oil). For the past several decades scientists have been aggressively studying this critical brain fat for good reason. More than two-thirds of the dry weight of the human brain is fat, and of that fat, one-quarter is DHA! This is because DHA is an important building block for the membranes surrounding brain cells, particularly at the synapses, which is where efficient brain function occurs. In addition, DHA is an important regulator of inflammation; it reduces the activity of an enzyme which turns on the production of damaging inflammatory chemicals. Take 1000mg daily for optimal brain health.

4) Try taking supplements containing GABA & L-Theanine. GABA is an amino acid used abundantly as an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain. GABA helps induce relaxation and sleep, and assists the brain to maintain balance while in a state of over-excitation. For this reason, it is used extensively in supplements aimed at treating both depression and anxiety. Individuals suffering from GABA deficiency tend toward states of anxiety, stress, depression and nervousness.

L-Theanine is often combined with GABA. Also an amino acid, it is found naturally in green tea. Similar to L-Tryptophan, L-Theanine stimulates alpha brain waves--electric pulses that accompany states of deep relaxation and mental focus. It is used in the formation of GABA; whereas GABA taken orally has difficulty crossing the blood-brain barrier, L-Theanine easily crosses over. The two compounds together are said to work synergistically.

Here at DCA we sell several quality supplements containing GABA and L-Theanine that can be tried in place of antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication.

5) Supplement with Zinc and Vitamin D. In addition to aiding the immune system and keeping the memory sharp, zinc is critical for the production and use of mood-friendly neurotransmitters. And vitamin D--more a hormone than a vitamin--has long been shown to contribute to depression in medical literature. Adequate vitamin D is needed by the adrenal glands to help regulate an enzyme necessary for the production of critical brain hormones that play a role in mood, stress management, and energy. Take 5000 IU of vitamin D daily for a few months and then have your doctor test you. Ideally you want to hover around 80ng/mL. Once you have achieved that zone, you should take about 2000 IU per day.

6) Get good sleep! Both laboratory and clinical studies have shown that virtually every system in the body is affected by the quality and amount of sleep we get, especially the brain. Sleep can dictate: how much we eat, how fast our metabolism runs, how fat or thin we get, whether we can fight off infection, how creative and insightful we can be, how we cope with stress, how quickly we process information and learn, and how well we organize and store memories. Getting the right quality and amount of sleep has a powerful effect on our mood due to its vitally important effect on the regulation of hormones, and studies have additionally shown a relationship between disrupted sleep and cognitive decline.