Here’s our nutrition tips to help you beat Blue Monday.
Blue Monday is “suggested” to be the most depressing day of the year – but there’s no science in it. Yes the summer holidays may be a few months away, but what if you’re shortly off on skiing holidays or planning on chasing some Winter sun, that’s a great motivator to get you going. How about that beautiful sunrise this morning?
Probably the most significant thing to help boost mood in the Winter months is the amount of daylight you’re getting. If you commute in the dark and you work in an environment with no natural light then lack of daylight is probably going to affect you more than anything. We need to see daylight to synchronise our body clock and also to improve quality of sleep. So our first top tip is go outside – lunchtime or any time of the day when it’s still light. Stretch your legs, take a colleague and make it a social occasion – chat about what your weekend.
If you struggle to get going in the Winter months how about trying a wake-up light clock?
Daylight is a quick fix to boost mood, and some things taking a little longer to see benefit – good fat in our diet for example. The human brain is nearly 60% fat (dry weight)[i], therefore it could be suggested that fat is crucial for brain function.
Our bodies cannot make Essential Fatty Acids (EFAs), yet they are essential for brain function – we therefore need to get them from food. There are two main types of essential fatty acids; omega-6 and omega-3.
- Sources of omega-6; sunflower, sesame, primrose, corn oil
- Sources of omega-3; fish, flaxseed/linseed, pumpkin, soybean, walnut, algae
Historically, the ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 in our diet was 1:1, but now it’s more like 15:1-17:1[ii]. It can be argued that our typical Western diet is too high in omega-6 and not high enough omega-3. Including more omega 3 sources 3 x week will help to boost mood as well as improve skin, joints and lower cholesterol.
Omega 3 and mental health
An Australian study found people with severe depression had too low omega-3. Further clinical trials found benefit after just eight weeks[iii]. In a separate trial a group of people with mild/moderate depression were given either 300mg (small capsule) fish oil or placebo. Treatment with fish oil was clinically effective.
The problem is omega-6 may prevent the release of serotonin (the feel-good hormone), however omega-3 reduces the effect of the omega-6 on serotonin[iv]. So for many of us to improve mental health, maybe we need to readdress the EFA balance in our diets towards more anti-inflammatory omega-3 food sources.
Fish are one of our best nutritious sources of EFA – they’re also a great source of protein (keeping you fuller for longer), benefits also on joints, skin, cholesterol as well as mental health. Importantly, fish (specifically deep sea oily fish e.g. sardines, kipper, mackerel) are also good sources of vitamin D. Tuna has very little omega-3, it is a source of protein and if you like no other fish then keep going with tuna, but if you like salmon or any of the oily fish these are the better ones to include in meals due to their higher omega-3 content.
Could you be vitamin D deficient
Serotonin (the feel good hormone) is made from tryptophan which needs vitamin D to make it active. Low vitamin D levels have been linked to poor mental health[v]. We’re only just beginning to discover the benefits of vitamin D – certainly we know about bone health and osteoporosis prevention, but now we also think there are links to immunity and diabetes.
The best source of vitamin D is the sun. In the Southern part of the UK our bodies are only able to make vitamin D from the UVB rays from April to October – but you won’t be able to absorb vitamin D through sun screen, clothing, make-up/moisturisers (with an SPF factor). It is suggested 20 minutes per day of sun exposure, and longer for darker skin during April to October. However October to April although you should still get out stretch your legs and get some daylight you won’t be able to create any vitamin D from the sun in the UK. The Government advice is to take vitamin D as a supplement from October to April. Other sources of vitamin D are; oily fish, and egg yolk.
Nutritional Therapists would suggest eating oily fish 2-3 times per week, but if this is too much or you prefer not to eat fish you could take a fish oil capsule, or trying vegetarian sources perhaps 1tbsp flaxseed per day. However an estimated 30% people are genetically unable to make EPA and DHA from flaxseed/linseed, and statistically men are less likely to be able to create DHA compared to women. Nutritionists recommend taking a fish oil capsule (not cod liver oil if you’re female and of reproductive age due to the vitamin A but a general fish oil is OK), of there is now a vegetarian omega-3 source (algae) available from health food stores if you are vegetarian or vegan.
If you are on Warfarin or blood thinning medication you should seek the advice of your GP before taking fish oils. When choosing a fish oil do not be tempted to buy the cheapest – they should all be filtered for heavy metals, but some are more than others. Keep the bottle/capsules in a dark cupboard and cool and check the best before date. Dose as directed on the label, and try to stick with the omega-3 for at least a month – it’s got a lot of work to do so it may be a few weeks before you start to see the benefit!
The Government guidelines for adults taking vitamin D is 10mcg per day[vi]
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