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By Lisa Cossey, LCSW, February 26, 2019 –

Most of us have heard the phrase, “You are what you eat.” Recent research into food and the effects it has on the body and mind now have us saying, “Change your food, change your mood.”

Our brains are made of many neural pathways, transmitters, and chemicals that make up and regulate our thoughts and moods. Serotonin, the ‘feel good neurotransmitter’, makes us feel happy. When serotonin levels drop, it can make us feel sad or depressed.

Serotonin is directly linked with tryptophan, an amino acid found in many foods. Diets consisting of foods with low tryptophan levels lead to depleting serotonin in the brain, which in turn then leads to irritability, aggression, lowered mood, and impaired memory.

Diets including foods with high levels of tryptophan can provide the opposite effect and raise serotonin levels naturally. Turkey is high in tryptophan, so don’t relegate it only to Thanksgiving. Ground turkey can easily be used as a substitute for ground beef in most recipes.

Cottage cheese is also high in tryptophan and could easily be included in daily meals. Skip the chips at lunch and have some cottage cheese instead.

Another way to lower risk for depression, especially in women, is to drink coffee regularly. A National Institute of Health study tracked women over a ten year period (1996-2006) and found that women who drank coffee regularly throughout the week had lower reported depressive episodes than non-coffee drinking women.

How about a sweet treat to go with that coffee? Dark chocolate has been found to increase serotonin levels naturally as well, leading to improved mood. Bananas can also be included on a list of foods that will decrease negative mood-related symptoms.

Other amino acids, such as L-theanine and Omega-3, a fatty acid, as well antioxidants and minerals such as magnesium and zinc can all help reduce anxiety symptoms. Salmon is a great source of Omega-3 and can also alter dopamine and serotonin levels, packing a double advantage to reduce anxiety and improve mood.

Dark leafy greens, such as spinach and kale, contain magnesium. Other foods found to reduce anxiety symptoms include, Oysters, green tea, and blueberries. Flavonoids, an antioxidant found in blueberries, assist in regulating mood, in addition to many other health benefits eating fresh fruit provides.

The foods listed above are not a complete list. If you are considering a major change to your diet, or if you have food allergies or other monitored health issues, please consult a physician and/or nutritionist. Changing what you eat, even small changes, such as eating a banana for a snack or swapping out the iceberg lettuce in a salad with dark, leafy greens, can impact overall health and mood for the better.

By Donna Wolter, LCSW, May 29, 2018 –

Warmer weather is here again, so that means we will be enjoying the great outdoors! What a long winter it has been!

Research continuously shows that being outside can improve our mental, physical and spiritual well-being.  Several research studies I’ve read recently validate that being outdoors or even looking at pictures of nature positively changes the neural activity in the prefrontal cortex of the brain.

Stanford researchers concluded in a study that walking in nature could lower the risk of depression. The study, published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, reported that people who spent ninety minutes in a natural environment showed less activity in the area of the brain that is associated with depression compared to people who walked in an urban setting.

An article published in Business Insider by Lauren Friedman and Kevin Loria listed 11 scientific reasons you should spend more time outside:

  1. Improved short-term memory. A study with University of Michigan students found that the group that took a walk around an arboretum scored 20 percent better the second time they took a test compared to the other group that retook the test after walking around in a city.
  2. Restored mental energy. One study found that people who looked at pictures of nature vs. city scenes experienced a boost in mental energy.
  3. Stress relief. One study found that students who spent two nights in the forest had lower levels of cortisol (a hormone often used as a marker for stress) than those who spent time in the city.
  4. Reduced inflammation. Inflammation in the body can be associated with autoimmune disorders, inflammatory bowel disease, depression and cancer. A study showed that students who spent time in the woods had lower levels of inflammation than those in the city.
  5. Better vision. In children, research found that outdoor activity may reduce the risk of developing nearsightedness.
  6. Improved concentration. In one study, researchers discovered that the participants who took a walk in nature vs. those who took a walk in the city or those that just relaxed, the nature walkers scored the best on a proofreading task.
  7. Sharper thinking and creativity. College students who took a walk in nature were much more accurate repeating a sequence of numbers back to the researchers after their walk.
  8. Possible anti-cancer effects. Early studies have suggested that spending time in forests may encourage the production of anti-cancer proteins.
  9. Immune system boost. The cellular activity that is connected with a forest’s possible anti-cancer effects is also an indication of a general boost to the immune system, which we need to fight off less serious illnesses like colds and flu.
  10. Improved mental health. When you spend time outdoors and combine it with exercise, studies show that anxiety, depression and other mental health issues can be reduced. Water made the benefits even better.
  11. Reduced risk of early death. Many studies have shown a strong correlation between a person’s access to nature and living longer, healthier lives.

Let’s get off the couch, get outside and reap all the wonderful benefits of the great outdoors!