Many people notice that their mood and energy levels begin to dip as the days get colder and shorter. Our bodies naturally prepare to hunker down through the winter months as we are innately programmed to conserve our energy to survive this more challenging time of year. I’m sure most people would agree that jumping out of bed is hardly the most inspiring thing to do on a cold, dark winter’s morning!

Although a small shift in mood is common, some people may notice that their mood seems lower than normal, and they can be particularly affected by the change in season. While there can be a wide variety of emotional and environmental issues that can affect an individual’s mood there are some key contributing factors that may be worth considering.

Hormonal imbalances can cause mood disturbances including anxiety, anger and depression. In particular, high levels of oestrogen can be linked to physical discomfort such as weight gain, fluid retention and headaches which can also adversely impact our mood. Premenstrual, peri-menopausal and post-menopausal women can be particularly affected by hormone fluctuations, but everyone, including men, can experience hormonal imbalances. Nutrients that support digestion and detoxification pathways can help our bodies to breakdown excess hormones and restore balance. Zinc and B vitamins are key nutrients for this. Phytoestrogenic foods such as flaxseeds, legumes and properly prepared non-GMO soy, can also help to reduce the impact of excess body oestrogens by blocking the docking sites of this hormone in body cells.

Fluctuations in blood sugar levels can cause dramatic mood and energy swings. If you find yourself constantly turning to sweet foods or caffeinated drinks for energy then this is a sign that you are experiencing some degree of blood sugar imbalance. The best way to avoid this is to limit your consumption of caffeine and sugary or refined carbohydrate foods, breads, muffins, biscuits and lollies, and try to have a maximum of one coffee daily.

The thyroid gland plays a major role in our energy production as well as being intricately involved with the regulation of our mood, hormones, weight, body temperature, and cholesterol levels. Signs of a sluggish thyroid include depressed mood, poor concentration, weight gain, dry skin and cold hands and feet. Often low thyroid function is not considered a problem until medication is required. However, many people with suboptimal thyroid function can find great relief from their symptoms by taking nutrients that specifically support their thyroid health. Iodine is one of these key nutrients as it is the main ingredient of thyroid hormones. Zinc and selenium are also intricately involved in thyroid hormone production and activation. Seafood such as mussels, oysters, and edible seaweeds are rich sources of these minerals. However, if you aren’t regularly eating seafood, it may pay to take a good quality supplement to boost your levels. Deficiencies are very common in New Zealand due to low levels in our soils. It is best to check with a qualified health care provided to ensure safe dosing. The amount of iodine required varies among individuals, so getting this right is important as excessive iodine intake can cause dangerous hyperthyroid symptoms

Serotonin is an important hormone for balancing our mood. It helps us to feel happy and content. Up to 80% of this is thought to be made in our bowels. A happy digestive system is a happy mind! If you experience excessive bloating, gas, heartburn or abdominal discomfort, this is an indicator your bowels aren’t as cheery as they could be. Fermented foods such as yogurt and sauerkraut contain probiotic bacteria that improve digestive health. For those with severe digestive discomfort, the beneficial yeast Saccharomyces boulardii can help soothe digestive inflammation and help probiotic bacteria to recolonise.

Good nutrition plays a key role in maintaining our mood. Any deficiencies in our vital nutrients can have a knock-on effect on the way that we feel. Magnesium is often depleted in depression and anxiety and it plays an important role in the cellular uptake of serotonin. Zinc is important for serotonin production too and like magnesium it is commonly depleted with stress and depression. Low levels of folate, iron, omega 3 essential fatty acids, and vitamin D have also been linked to low mood and depression and are common deficiencies in New Zealand. Some people lack the enzyme that is required to convert folate into its active form L-5-methy tetrahydrofolate and may require an activated form of this vitamin to assist optimal health and mood.

Protein supplies us with essential amino acids to synthesize our mood-boosting hormones serotonin and dopamine. Tryptophan is an important amino acid for the production of serotonin. Some fabulous dietary sources include free-range chicken, eggs, sardines, cod, halibut, and wild salmon. Tyrosine helps synthesize dopamine in the brain. Ripe bananas, eggs, almonds and meats are good sources of this essential amino acid.

Mood boosting foods

  • Leafy greens such as spinach, kale and silverbeet are excellent sources of the mood boosting nutrients folate and magnesium. Include a good serving of these daily.
  • Seafood supplies a rich supply of omega 3 oils for healthy mood as well as zinc and iodine for thyroid health. Choose oily fish such as sardines, anchovies or wild caught salmon for their superior omega 3 supply. Mussels and oysters provide high levels of zinc, while sea veggies such as New Zealand karengo are rich in iodine.
  • Fermented foods supply beneficial probiotic bacteria to support bowel health and the production of the mood-boosting hormone serotonin,
  • Cinnamon is a spice that is traditionally used to help support blood sugar regulation. Use this liberally in cooking, mixed into natural muesli, or add to soups and smoothies to help with maintain your blood sugar levels and rebalance your mood.