How it works
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If you aren't already taking a probiotic, I truly believe this is the most important supplement that you could possibly take. A probiotic will not only help to support your immunity and digestion; probiotics also play a role in how well you absorb and assimilate nutrients (you aren't just what you eat, you are what you digest!).
Your gut is known as your 'second brain', although it's not the seat of any conscious thoughts or decision-making, your gut contains more than 100 million neurons which enables us to "feel" the inner universe of our GI tract. Your gut is equipped with its own reflexes and senses which break down food, absorb nutrients, and expel waste; all which require chemical processing, mechanical mixing and rhythmic muscle contractions to move everything on 'down the line'. Your second brain controls all of this gut behavior, independently (is that not so cool!?). Back to the topic - 90% of your serotonin is actually produced in the GUT, not the brain. Making healthy gut flora a key player in your mood, your ability to cope with stress and your overall well-being. More and more studies are now showing the impact of probiotics for depression.
Since we have thousands of different strains of bacteria in our gut, and each of us has a unique makeup - finding the perfect probiotic for your may take some trial and error. Some worth trying first are Garden of Life Mood+ formulated by Dr. Perlmutter, a medical doctor, neurologist and expert in the human microbiome. Two other brands which come highly recommended are Natren Healthy Start System or Dr. Ohhiras Fermented Probiotics.
#2 OMEGA-3 FISH OIL
Rich in essential fatty acids, and our ideal source of omega-3. Fish oil supports the body in numerous ways, a natural anti-inflammatory and supporter of cognitive health and optimal brain chemistry. Typically we are getting in too many omega-6 fats, which are found in vegetable oil, canola oil, corn oil, soybean oil, safflower oil and sunflower oil in concentrated amounts. Omega-6 is also naturally present in almost every nut, seed and grain, making it very easy (unless you are very aware) to over consume omega-6.
Sufficient intake of omega-3 is essential, or your body many not be transmitting nerve signals properly, which may leave you feeling depressed or anxious. It is ideal to consume whole-food omega-3 sources such as wild salmon, arctic cod, atlantic haddock, freshwater trout, pollock and atlantic mackeral (which are the lowest in mercury levels). Hemp, flax, pumpkin seeds, walnuts and seaweeds are some examples of plant based sources; however these 'ALA' sources of omega-3 have been researched and clearly indicate that the conversion of ALA to EPA and DHA is extremely limited. Less than 5% of ALA gets converted to EPA, and less than 0.5% of ALA is converted to DHA.
Since your body cannot produce omega fatty acids, supplementation in most cases is essential for optimal health. A Fermented Cod Liver Oil with Butter Oil combo is one of my personal favourite, whole-food options, another is New Chapter Wholemega Wild Alaskan Salmon Oil. Vegetarian and vegan options include the Nordic Naturals Algae Omega.
This unique amino acid is primarily found in green tea. Studies show that theanine promotes a calm and relaxed alertness, without drowsiness. Beneficial for those who suffer from stress and anxiety and find it difficult to focus, relax, or fall asleep. Theanine is absorbed within 30-40 minutes and works to create the feeling of “zen” while still promoting concentration. Theanine influences the levels of the neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and GABA in the brain, beneficial for balancing the mood, sleep and learning capacity. Theanine reduces the feelings of stress by inhibiting some of the actions of norepinephrine (a stress hormone) in the central nervous system.
Check out Zen Theanine by AOR, they suggest taking just one daily for results. For a complete guide to stress release and stress management, check out this Recharge program, designed to detox stress - so you can thrive & be vibrant.
#4 VITAMIN B-12
Your body may already have sufficient vitamin B12 stores, the best way to check is through a blood test from your practitioner. In the words of my own MD, we should aim to be around 400-500 pg/mL. However many of us fall far below that level, and for those who are outside of the optimal range; this may contribute to a low mood, foggy thinking and low energy, among other symptoms.
Vitamin B12 is found primarily in animal products and is produced in small amounts during fermentation. Plants however, do not contain vitamin B12 unless fortified.
It is best to work with your practitioner to determine which supplementation would be most beneficial for you, however with vitamin B12 look for a sublingual methylcobalamin, available in 1,000 mcg or 5,000 mcg such as this brand by Genestra or this brand by AOR. You may also speak to your naturopathic doctor about B12 injections which are a quick solution for boosting depleted levels, B12 as a daily supplement is often most beneficial to maintain healthy levels, it takes quite a while to see a significant increase in your levels with sublingual tablets in comparison to injections (especially if you are prone to lower levels).
#5 VITAMIN D
This hormone-vitamin plays many roles in the body, it's well known for it's responsibility in immunity, bone and teeth health - but vitamin D may also improve neurotransmitter function, and is already known for it's role in a healthy mood.
On a 25-hydroxy vitamin D blood test, your levels for should be above 50 ng/ml and no higher than 100 ng/ml. Being at the low end of this range may leave you feeling sub-optimal. Studies have shown that taking 4,000 IU of a vitamin D3 daily, to be a safe level for maintaining healthy levels. When the season permits, getting in 10-20 minutes of unprotected sunshine per day is ideal for natural vitamin D production (anyone up for a sunny vacation?). For supplementation my brand of choice is Biotics Research Bio-D-Mulsion 1000 IU.
#6 TRYPTOPHAN & 5-HTP
Your body makes 5-hydroxy tryptophan (5-HTP) from the amino acid tryptophan; found naturally in nuts, seeds, poultry, fish and eggs, to name a few. While tryptophan is widely available in the foods we eat and is the available in supplement form. The conversion of tryptophan to serotonin is a two-step process in which 5-HTP is must first be synthesized, as an intermediate step.
Trytophan is considered to be more of a gentle supplement and is generally well tolerated, however 5-HTP is better absorbed and crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it then gets converted into serotonin. 5-HTP may offer a stronger serotonin support than L-tryptophan, and clinical trials have confirmed the efficacy of 5-HTP supplements for depression, sleep disorders, binge eating and panic disorders.
Going back to probiotics, since 90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, there are multiple cases of 5-HTP supplementation providing little to no improvement, so I again stress the importance of gut health. AOR makes a well researched 5-HTP by the name of Tryfonia Max.
Please never stop any medications without consulting your practitioner. This article was designed for informational purposes and is not meant to diagnose or treat any disease, or substitute as a form of medical advice. Please consult with your advising physician before making changes to your lifestyle.
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Just because we are capable of feeling anxiety and depression, does not mean that we should have define our life by these disorders.
If you are looking to get down to the root cause of your anxiety and depression, and get on track to thrive & be vibrant, the following are some promising solutions which have been shown to positively improve both disorders in both research, in my own personal experience and practice.
Even as a Holistic Nutritionist, to this day I still go through bouts of anxiety and depression - however, my whole food diet and and utilization of the supplementation which follows, has made a HUGE impact on my life. Improving my gut health, eating a clean diet, getting in regular exercise and using supplementation has both decreased the intensity and duration of my anxiety and depression and I no longer define my life by these disorders.
"Happiness can be found, even in the darkest of times, if only one remembers to turn on the light." - Albus Dumbledore