I was taking care of myself. Twenty minutes of meditation most mornings; 90 minutes in the gym, six days a week; hormones recently balanced; my circle of friends and family healthy and supportive. Twice-monthly therapy sessions were guiding me through life when the waters got choppy. So, why was I not feeling good?
In my early twenties, I’d hit a patch of post-natal/what-is-my-purpose depression. My doctor gave me antidepressants, which worked. For six months, I was in a cotton-wool ball of neither highs nor lows – the medication allowed me the time to process the situation and still get out of bed in the morning. I’m now in my forties, and recently, although I wasn’t in that same dark place, I didn’t feel myself.
I started to look for natural ways to get rid of the pesky black cloud and honed in on my diet. A recent nutritional psychiatry study has isolated the “big 12”, the all-important nutrients that are especially good for endorphin boosting, for that feel-good factor, for our mental health: folate, iron, omega-3 fatty acids, magnesium, potassium, selenium, thiamine, vitamins A, B6, B12, C and zinc.
So should we race to the nearest pharmacy and start shovelling down handfuls of happy vitamins? Some supplements are not as efficient as we might think in giving us what we need. Some need to be taken with something else to be absorbed well, others need to be taken at certain times of the day. With all these ingestion intricacies in mind, I felt that it would be better – and easier – to get the nutrients directly from food. In the study, some of the top-scoring foods were oysters, clams, mussels and octopus. If seafood isn’t your thing, don’t worry. Watercress, spinach and beet greens came in even higher – ideal for the veggie brigade.
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In a small trial, Professor Felice Jacka, director of the Food and Mood Centre in Australia, gave a group of people with varying degrees of depression either social support – known as “befriending” – or nutritional support from a dietician. All participants had unhealthy diets. The group with the dietary support showed a greater reduction in depressive symptoms than those who received social support. If you are feeling down, you should always reach out, but a few tweaks to the diet can most certainly help.
For me, I didn’t think something so simple could work. I filled my diet with as much of the big 12 as possible. A month in, my mood was lighter and brighter. I had a spring in my step and more peace in my head.
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