Natural Ways to Boost Your Mood

The winter season is notorious for causing Seasonal Affective Disorder, Winter Bluesseasonal depression. But with a little care and the right resources, Clinical Nutritionist Shari Black said it doesn't have to be that way.

Black is a clinical nutritionist with the Natural Health Improvement Center located in Glens Falls, and specializes in natural remedies for myriad issues including fatigue, anxiety, depression, and even allergies.

"What you have to remember is that the body has a natural balance. If it gets off balance anything from depression, to weight gain, to skin problems can result. Getting and keeping your body in balance makes all the difference," Black said.

Black said the winter season offers challenges that can impact the body's balance, including limited local fresh produce and decreased hours of sunlight, but there are still things people can do offset these obstacles.

"Diet is definitely very important. I recommend avoiding refined and processed foods like white rice, sugar, and some bread. These actually zap you of your energy because the nutrients have been taken out of the food. Instead of these, incorporate complex carbohydrates, whole grains and wheat, fresh vegetables, and fruit," Black said.

The George Mateljan Foundation, a not-for-profit dedicated to dietary change for a healthier world, reports that some of the many additives included in processed foods are thought to have the ability to compromise the body's structure and function and are suggested to be related to the development of skin, pulmonary and psycho-behavioral conditions. Artificial sweetener, coloring agents, and preservatives are at the top of a long list of behavior modifying agents in many processed foods.

Black suggests eating as many whole foods as possible, admitting that fresh local fruit has its limitations in the present season.

"There are great protein shakes out there that can really supplement a person's diet nicely while omitting the processed foods. And adding some fresh fruit for flavor and a simple sugar boost can really help overall energy level," Black said.

"What you're looking for are natural whole foods, high vitamin content, and minimal processing. These will improve overall health and energy levels," Black said.

Black also reminds people to drink plenty of water to avoid the ever-common mid-day slump, when many coffee drinkers feel the crash from morning caffeine.

"Lack of water is often to blame for fatigue and poor mood, and it's an easy fix," Black said.

Black also said packing healthy snacks is important for stabilizing blood sugar and energy throughout the day. Ensuring protein levels are met can also help curb over-snacking and unnecessary weight gain.

"One should also be sure all vitamin levels are being maintained. Especially the B vitamins which are directly linked to mood and energy," Black said.

B vitamins are known to support and increase the rate of metabolism, help maintain healthy skin, hair and muscle tone, enhance immune and nervous system function, and even promote cell growth.

According to an article published in Psychology Today, appropriate levels of the B vitamins are integral to mental health.

"Fatigue, irritability, poor concentration, anxiety and depression--all can be signs of a B vitamin deficiency. That's because compounds in the B complex are needed for everything from the healthy maintenance of brain cells to the metabolism of carbohydrates, the brain's source of fuel. Bs are also necessary for production of neurotransmitters, which regulate mood and conduct messages through the brain," reported the article.

Because of the importance of B vitamins, Black said avoiding too much alcohol is very important to mental health.

"Alcohol robs your body of B vitamins, which are important for mood. It's a double-edged sword, because often people will drink out of depression or to relieve stress, when actually it just makes things worse," Black said.

The fewer hours of sunlight also come into play for the winter blahs, as lack of exposure of the eyes to UV rays causes seasonal affective disorder, and lack of vitamin D can inhibit body function.

Black said finding outdoor sport, or even talking a walk for outdoors daily can make a big difference.

According to Mayoclinic, vitamin D is found in many dietary sources, such as fish, eggs, fortified milk, and cod liver oil. The sun also contributes significantly to the daily production of vitamin D, and as little as 10 minutes of exposure is thought to be enough to prevent deficiencies. The term "vitamin D" refers to several different forms of this vitamin. Two forms are important in humans: ergocalciferol (vitamin D2) and cholecalciferol (vitamin D3). Vitamin D2 is synthesized by plants. Vitamin D3 is synthesized by humans in the skin when it is exposed to ultraviolet B (UVB) rays from sunlight. Foods may be fortified with vitamin D2 or D3.

"The major biologic function of vitamin D is to maintain normal blood levels of calcium and phosphorus. Vitamin D aids in the absorption of calcium, helping to form and maintain strong bones. It is used, alone or in combination with calcium, to increase bone mineral density and decrease fractures. Recently, research also suggests that vitamin D may provide protection from osteoporosis, hypertension (high blood pressure), cancer, and several autoimmune diseases," reported the clinic.

Black added that the exercise outdoors could kill two birds with one stone, as even 15 minutes a day of exercise can tremendously boost mood and energy.

"Exercise is so important. It increases heart circulation, so you feel more energy. It releases endorphins and serotonin, and also provides enjoyment if you can find an activity that you love to do," she said.

"If you are trying these things and still not getting rid of your depression or fatigue, it may be time to get checked out to see if you are requiring something more," Black continued.

Black said that her office offers Nutrition Response Testing, which is a non-invasive manual testing that gauges whether the appropriate levels of vitamins are in the body.

"We are able to gauge amounts of vitamins through examining the response of manual pressure on specific points on the body. Then we can see where the problem lies and get the person back on track with diet or supplement changes - sometimes in as little as four to six weeks," Black said.

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