What vitamins help with mood?
This time of the year brings many changes. You have all the kids going back to school. Young adults are leaving home, running off to college. Parents may be left with an empty nest, or extra free time. These can be major life changes that can take some getting used to.
At the same time, the weather is dampening, getting chilly. FYI, I am writing this from the South of Ireland - my window viewpoint may be less relevant for those of you in other sunnier parts. You will have noticed the shorter days and darker evenings. The falling leaves and that distinctive autumn smell. All of us, I'm sure, are bracing ourselves for the possibility of a Winter Lockdown. Trying to muster up a bit of mental and physical stamina.
My strategy is going to involve eating. I feel that it's an achievable goal, providing both comfort and pleasure. We can all manage it. By eating well, we can help boost the immune system and stay in good health. It will ensure that we have enough energy and, very importantly, it will keep the spirits up.
There are a few vitamins worth paying particular attention to this winter, such as:
Vitamin C has been shown to improve mood and even academic performance . It's also a powerful antioxidant, making it an effective anti-aging ingredient that helps with cell renewal and repair. Vitamin C is important for connective tissue, so a lack of it causes gum issues, easy bruising, and joint pain. This deficiency is called scurvy and it makes you very tired. Vitamin C is also thought to work as a mood regulator. You need it for the production of brain chemicals like dopamine, noradrenaline and possibly serotonin.
Another key role for vitamin C is making sure that we can absorb and use the mineral iron. Iron is vital for red blood cells that carry oxygen around the body. Low iron levels cause anaemia, which can lead to fatigue and depression. Iron is found in things like red meat (haem iron) but also in pulses and green leafy vegetables (non-haem iron). We need vitamin C to unlock the non-haem iron that is found in plants. Vegans and vegetarians who don't like vegetables - pay attention!
It's super-easy to get enough vitamin C in the diet. It's found in many fruit and vegetables so eating the recommended 5-7 of these a day will do the trick, especially if you seek out the freshest produce that you can get your paws on. Nutrients like vitamin C can be sensitive to heat and age (like the rest of us). Long distribution food chains can mean that much of the food on the supermarket shelves has been in cold storage for ages. They look ok but are, in fact, a bit elderly. Think of that pear or plum that goes from rock hard to mouldy without ever being edible.
Try to support local food growers who have very fresh vegetables and fruit that won't have come from the other end of the planet. Frozen, fresh food like berries and peas are great too. Freezing's a good preservation method, along with freeze-drying. Berries, citrus fruits, and green leafy vegetables are all great vitamin C sources.
My Self-Care Tip: Be your own detective - find out why you are tired
Many of us feel tired and we may not know why. In this video I give my suggestion on how you might find the answers that will help you fight fatigue. There can be some very obvious reasons and some very simple solutions.
Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is well known as a mood regulator. Like many nutrients, it is necessary for metabolism. Metabolism is the complex conversion of the food we eat into the energy that we need. You may be noticing a link here. All the things that are good for energy are also helping with mood.
Vitamin B6's mood-regulating role is to do with the production of serotonin, our happy hormone. The funny thing about this is that it's a sex thing. Most of the clinical trials showing B6's positive effect are on hormonal women. Sorry guys, you will have to make do with football or competitive baking. For women with PMS, or for depressed women on the Pill , vitamin B6 can have a therapeutic benefit.
Food sources are plentiful, there are lots of options. Chickpeas, turkey breast, avocados, bananas, prunes, tahini and eggs are all rich in vitamin B6. The good thing about food sources of B6 is that they also contain the other B vitamins. The B vits work in a team so taking them together is far more effective than taking one on its own – and if you're low in one you are likely to need the others too.
Here are the serving suggestions that are full of vitamin B6:
• Hummus with a jalapeno twist
• French toast/eggy bread
• Banana bread. I think bananas deserve a prize for being a healthy thing you can buy anywhere, even garages have them. Cheap, filling and sweet.
Vitamin D, the 'sunshine vitamin', is considered more of a hormone than a true vitamin. Low vitamin D levels are associated with depression and low mood . It influences – yep – energy levels and serotonin pathways .
The body manufactures vitamin D from sunlight. There are a few food sources but many of these are fortified. Fortified means the manufacturers have added nutrients to what are usually quite refined foods. Things like cornflakes aren't terribly nutritious, but fortifying them means the manufacturers can claim they are good for you.
Most of you are probably aware of vitamin D's relevance to a healthy immune system and skeleton, as well as the evidence that shows that we are quite bad at getting any. In order to absorb it from sunlight we need regular exposure to sun without any sunblock on. That is not happening for many of us.
Oily fish, like salmon and mackerel, are natural vitamin D food sources. Eggs are too. Caged chickens may be fed with supplemented meals to achieve a good nutrient profile for their eggs so its probably better to look for happy, free-range, outdoor eggs to get the real deal.
A good vitamin D supplement is probably more achievable than any sunlight. I speak here, from a grey land. The UK and Irish governments recommend that we supplement during the dark months (that's October through to April) to avoid deficiency. The recommended dose is 10 micrograms or 400iu a day. Vitamin D3 or cholecalciferol is the best form to take.
My Top Tip:
"I love this item because it is pleasant to taste, it is mild on the stomach."
Folic acid and vitamin B12 are best buddies and tend to work together in many of their roles. Deficiencies in either of these will cause anaemia. That is going to affect energy, mood, brain function and the immune system. Folic acid and vitamin B12 deficiencies are associated with depression . Both are needed for a healthy nervous system, which is like the electrics of the body.
Content: Folic acid is found in green leafy vegetables, broccoli, peas and brussels sprouts.
Vitamin B12 is found in meat, fish, eggs and dairy products. There are vegan sources like sauerkraut, nutritional yeast and tamari, but they don't provide consistent amounts unless they are fortified. Vegans should supplement to ensure a daily intake in their diet. The Vegan Society recommends a minimum daily intake of 3-10 mcg (micrograms) a day, or at least 2,000 mcg a week. It's best to take smaller doses regularly, as the body doesn't store it that effectively.
Here are a few non-vegan food suggestions that are rich in vitamin B12:
How can you tell if you need extra vitamins?
These are only a few of the nutrients that are important for mood regulation. The body will store up to six weeks of vitamin D. With the B vitamins and vitamin C, the body needs a daily supply as they are not stored very efficiently. Any small change to your diet that you can keep up for the winter will benefit you. Eating your five to seven portions of vegetables a day really does make a difference. A food diary is a really good way of seeing what the weaknesses in your diet are. You can use the information to see where small improvements can be made.
There is an at-risk group of people that are vulnerable to vitamin deficiencies:
- Those with alcohol abuse issues
- Those with impaired digestive function: coeliac disease, Crohn's disease, ulcerative colitis
- The elderly
- Those with poor appetites
- The obese
- Those with diabetes
- Those on a restricted diet
If you are worried about your mental health and feel it is truly impacting the quality of your life, it is important that you talk to your doctor. Likewise, if you are an 'at risk' person and think you may have the signs or symptoms of vitamin deficiency or anaemia, check in with your doctor.