This article originally appeared on Live in the Now.
Happiness has a unique biochemistry in the brain. Nutrition plays a vital role in regulating it.
According to the research, your mood can be effectively balanced and enhanced naturally, and certain mood boosting supplements may be the answer. Mood improvement occurs if the building blocks are available to make four key happiness neurotransmitters. These are serotonin, dopamine, noreinephrine and gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA).
A major cause of mood problems is stress. Generally speaking it can be hard to feel happy when you’re stressed out, but there’s a reason for that: Stress is known to deplete our brains of the feel-good neurotransmitters we need to be happy. It’s no wonder so-called wonder drugs for happiness are big sellers these days, despite their known risks.
So should you entertain the possibility of discussing a more natural route with your doctor?
Here are 9 supplements to consider.
Sceletium tortuosum is considered one of the most effective all-natural stress busters available. This fast-acting supplement can calm and lift your spirits in a matter of 30 minutes, without having to allow time for it to build up in your system. You may have seen this South African succulent herb offered under the name of its most popular patent ingredient called Zembrin. This herb is the most researched and most respected extract of Sceletium tortuosum in the world. The San Bushmen of South Africa have used sceletium for centuries to enhance mood. It is also used to relieve stress. It is commonly used to combat anxiety and fatigue, too. If you frequently find yourself stressed, irritable or moody, this is one of the mood-boosting supplements you want to have on hand.
According to a wealth of research, supplemental fish oil can lift mood. People with high blood levels of omega-3s are less likely to report feeling depressed than people with low levels, and fish oil has been shown to actually help users calm down in the face of stress. The latest research also suggests that fish oil promotes structural improvement. In particular, in areas of the brain related to emotional arousal and regulation.
“You won’t see as immediate a result as you will with some other supplements,” says Live in the Now Medical Editor Kevin Passero, N.D., of Bethesda, Maryland. “It can take 8 to 12 months to be really effective. But that doesn’t discount how valuable it really is.”
Take at least 1,000 mg a day of a high-quality fish oil formula that has a good amount of DHA in it compared to other fish oils. (A ratio of 2:1 of EPA to DHA is acceptable.)
Phosphatidyl Serine is thought to increase communication between brain cells. It can also restore a primary neurotransmitter that is important to memory and cognitive function. Investigators in one study determined that PS could add up to 12 years to the life and health of your brain. This result was especially present in specific aspects of memory performance. In another study, those who took 100 mg of PS three times a day with meals for 12 weeks scored 30% higher on memory and learning tests. Many other studies have corroborated these types of findings. In another study it worked just as well for people with mild to severe cognitive impairment. We recommend 100 mg of PS, 2-3 times a day.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that is a precursor to two important neurotransmitters, epinephrine and norepinephrine. It also supports normal thyroid function. “As a general rule it is helpful for people with low, slow, down depression,” says, Dr. Passero. It goes well taken with SAMe. Some scientists believe that the brain may not be able to synthesize enough tyrosine under stressful conditions and that increasing the availability of tyrosine to the brain helps avoid the negative effects of stress. Tyrosine can also improve alertness after sleep deprivation. We recommend 500-1,000 mg a day for energy.
5-HTP is the abbreviated version of 5-hydroxytryptophan. It is used by our bodies to make serotonin. By supplementing with 5-HTP, you increase the building blocks available for the production of this vital neurotransmitter. This helps regulate mood. It even regulates sleep and appetite. Reduced levels of serotonin are associated with mood imbalances and compulsive fixations. They can also result in aggressive behaviors and migraine headaches. Taking 5-HTP seems to significantly improve lift feelings of sadness. It is a good first choice for people with stress-induced mood imbalances, Dr. Passero says.
Dosages of 5-HTP range from 50-400 mg, but it’s best taken at bedtime or in divided doses throughout the day.
Best known for its ability to break up brain plaques and curb inflammation, curcumin may also be a spice to tap for those looking to boost mood. Believe it or not, studies have found that curcumin may improve depressive states even better than some depression medications. One study published in Phytotherapy Research was particularly compelling, as it compared the efficacy of curcumin with that of fluoxetine (also known by the trade name Prozac).
GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) is a natural substance used for relieving anxiety and elevating mood. In the central nervous system, GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter. It decreases nerve activity, preventing nerves from overfiring. In addition to reducing anxiety, GABA improves sleep cycles, leading to more restful sleeping. It has powerful stabilizing effects on blood pressure and helps reduce pain from chronic conditions such as arthritis and lower back pain. GABA supplements can help to relieve the intensity of pain.
Some doctors recommend GABA in the amount of 2 grams four times daily, but a safer, more realistic dose is 500-2,000 mg taken on an empty stomach at bedtime.
Taurine is an amino acid precursor to GABA, and may actually work better than GABA for relieving anxiety because it crosses the blood-brain barrier and gets into your brain better than GABA, where it works to increase GABA production and produce calmness, Dr. Passero says. A typical dose is 500-1,000 mg a day, taken in divided doses.
Rhodiola rosea, or roseroot, is an herb that has been used in traditional medicine for centuries. Today, it is used for increasing energy, stamina, strength and mental capacity; and as a so-called “adaptogen” to help the body adapt to and resist physical and mental stress. It is also used for improving athletic performance, improving sexual function. Research does show it has significant central nervous system activity, reducing feelings of sadness and boosting overall mood. It is especially good for low-slow depression, says Dr. Passero. However, people with stress-induced sadness should avoid it. “Those people would do better taking a gentler herb, such as ashwagandha or holy basil,” he says. These are both Indian (Ayurvedic) herbs known for their ability to relieve stress and reduce anxiety.
An effective dose of rhodiola is 170 mg twice a day of standardized extract. For ashwagandha or holy basil, about 500 mg daily of a standardized extract.