Are you living a mood-friendly lifestyle?

PMS_headerFebruary can be a great time to focus on love, for more than the obvious reasons (ahem, Valentine's day). Despite the rosy-hearted holiday that occurs this month, it's also prime winter time - which often means prime time for seasonal depression to pop up.

Depression and other mood disorders are a serious deal: in British Columbia alone (where I practice) there's a prevalence rate of almost 20%. This means that roughly 20% of the population of this province will (or has) suffer a major depressive episode.

Research shows that things like genetics and gender have an impact on our likelihood to experience depression, but just as significant (and in some cases, more so) are lifestyle factors. Have a look at the list below as a way to gauge whether you're living a mood-friendly lifestyle.



Alcohol is a brain depressant that increases adrenal hormone output, and interferes with many brain cell processes and disrupts normal sleep cycles. Chronic alcohol ingestion will deplete a number of nutrients, all of which will disrupt mood.


Several studies have looked at caffeine intake and depression.  For example, one study found that among healthy college students, those who drank moderate or high amounts of coffee scored higher on a depression scale than did low users.


Regular exercise may be the most powerful natural antidepressant available.  Various clinical studies have indicated that exercise has profound antidepressant effects (Sports Medicine 1994). Much of the mood elevating effect of exercise is that regular exercise has been shown to increase the levels of endorphins, which are directly correlated with mood.

Blood Sugars

Many individuals who suffer from hypoglycemia will also have depressed moods and therefore one of the key dietary goals is to ensure blood sugar stability. Reducing refined carbohydrates is beneficial as well as adequate lean and healthy protein such as free-range chicken and turkey, fish, eggs, nuts and seeds and grass-fed beef.

The “Leaky Gut” Factor

Emerging information suggests that leaky gut syndrome is a strong contributor to diseases such as diabetes, obesity, gastrointestinal disorders and mood disorders like depression.

Over a long period of time, gut-induced inflammatory responses in the stomach wall will significantly compromise both the structure and repair mechanisms of the digestive tract. When these structures break down, the intestinal wall becomes more permeable to toxins or microbes that would otherwise not cross into the bloodstream.

Evidence shows that bowel disorders are often correlated with poor mood.  In fact, almost one-third of patients with IBS have been found to have anxiety or depression. While a healthy microbiome appears to promote a positive mood, an unhealthy one does the opposite.


Depression is often a first or early manifestation of thyroid disease, and even subtle decreases of thyroid hormone are suspected of producing symptoms that impact your mood.

Adrenal Health

The primary area of the brain that deals with stress is the limbic system.  Because of its enormous influence on emotions and memory, the limbic system is often called the “emotional brain”.

Disturbances in the serotonin system and the limbic hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal axis (say that three times fast!) are most consistently associated with mood-altering illness.

Supporting the stress adaptive system – the adrenal glands - may hold the key to preventing and treating many chronic conditions such as mood disorders.

This is Your Brain on Sugar

A recent cross-cultural study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry linked refined sugar consumption to mental illness.

Sugar suppresses the activity of a key growth hormone in the brain called brain derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF).  This hormone promotes the health and maintenance of neurons in the brain, and it plays a vital role in memory and learning.

BDNF levels are critically low in people with depression and schizophrenia, which explains why both syndromes often lead to shrinkage of key brain regions over time.