Occasionally, a patient will complain of having mood swings, sometimes feeling depressed, then feeling relatively okay one minute to dark and gloomy the next. Though undiagnosed bipolar disorder can manifest in a similar manner – it is characterized by a more pronounced pattern of ups and downs and mood swings lasting for much longer periods of time.
When a patient complains of feeling depressed one minute and okay the next, the first thing I ask them about is their nutrition – what are they eating? They’re often surprised to know that blood sugar levels, or simple nutritional and perhaps hormonal deficiencies may be throwing their brain and moods a curve ball. Here’s why.
Optimal Nutrition for Your Brain
Did you know that over 10 million Americans take some type of psychoactive medication? These can range from antidepressants to mood elevators; to treat depression and dark moods, to medications used to treat other conditions (diabetes, high blood pressure, etc) that can have side effects that may cause depression and/or mood swings.
However, many health care professionals, like myself, believe that some of these mood-disorder symptoms being treated by drugs can be brought on either by eating the wrong foods or by deficiencies in crucial brain-function vitamins like C, B12, folic acid and essential fatty acids.
Interestingly, in a study of people hospitalized for depression and mood swings, 25% were found to be deficient in folic acid and 32% deficient in Vitamin C (10% actually had scurvy!) The brain uses a large amount of Vitamin C requiring 15 times more than that in blood plasma.
Additionally, low levels of B12 were found to be 30% more prevalent in these people than the general population. In another study out of Great Britain, 80% of people with mood disorders were found to be badly affected by sugar and alcohol. Other B vitamin deficiencies that can cause mood swings and depression are B6, riboflavin and niacin.
Things that supported a brighter mood were water, fruits, vegetables and fish. No doubt as dehydration alone can cause severe mental impairment. Fruits and vegetables on the other hand provide vitamin C and other vitamins and minerals that support brain health, while fish provides EPA and DHA, two Omega-3 fatty acids that greatly benefit cognitive functioning by decreasing inflammation processes. Even bipolar disorder benefits from Omega-3 fatty acid treatment.
Here are some other nutritional things that are known to fight depression and mood swings:
- Zinc and chromium. In the study mentioned above, these 2 minerals were also found to be low in about 25% of those suffering with depression. If you are under stress, zinc levels can become low and copper high which contributes to agitation. Foods that contain these are meat, eggs, whole grains, and pecans. Chromium also regulates blood sugar which helps stabilize moods. Good food sources are wheat, oysters, eggs, meat, and potatoes.
- Magnesium. Low magnesium can lead to depression and insomnia. Research has shown that countries that had high suicide rates had magnesium deficiencies. Foods that contain magnesium are whole wheat, beans, nuts, dark leafy green vegetables.
- Balance Omega-6 to Omega-3 fatty acids. Most American diets are way out of balance where Omega-6 fatty acids (from vegetable oils like corn, safflower, etc) are too high in comparison to Omega-3 fatty acids (from olive oil, fish or krill oil, flaxseed oil). This can set up inflammation throughout the entire body. The brain is particularly sensitive to inflammation which can result in depression.
- Low serotonin levels. Some of my patients who do low carb dieting sometimes experience depression from low serotonin levels. Serotonin is made from carbs and can drop during this type of dieting. Try not to let your carbohydrate intake drop below 40 grams for any longer than 3 days at a time to prevent serotonin depletion. Eating some low carb walnuts can help keep levels stable.
Hormones, Sleep, Drugs, Depression and Your Moods
A number of my patients, both male and female, are over the age of 40, and may experience mood swings and depression when change of life hormone shifts begin. Decreasing estrogen levels in women during menopause may cause mood changes as well as impair memory and learning.
Falling testosterone levels in men during andropause – the male equivalent to menopause – can result in what’s commonly called “irritable male syndrome”, or IMS. High stress levels can worsen these symptoms as well. It’s important to discuss these signs with your doctor to decide if, perhaps, hormone replacement therapy may be helpful for you.
Poor sleep quality, which can result from hormone imbalances in both men and women, can bring about depression and mood disturbances – particularly irritability. Life stressors and frequent job shift changes can also cause sleeplessness and lead to depression as well.
As I mentioned earlier, many different medications can affect moods and depression. Drugs like insulin and blood pressure drugs may result in depression and mood changes by lowering blood sugar and blood pressure levels. Discuss these side effects with your doctor as your medications may need adjusting.
I assure my patients that most mood swings and depression often have nutritional, hormonal, sleep or drug related causes. It’s not uncommon for patients to have all of these factors contributing to their symptoms at the same time. Eating the right kinds of foods, exercising and getting enough sleep will help symptoms. Discuss any worsening, or prolonged, symptoms with your doctor.
Mark Rosenberg, M.D.
Irritability in Men and Mood Swings in Men: http://www.bodylogicmd.com/for-men/irritable-men-syndrome
Mood Swings and Depression: http://orthomolecular.org/library/articles/mood.shtml