Have you joked about “mom brain” since having kids? Are you experiencing fatigue, memory loss, or depression? You might be missing key vitamins and minerals that can help you manage stress, calm anxiety, and beat fatigue.
Micronutrients, like vitamins, minerals, and plant compounds support gut health, hormone balance, and help manage stress to improve mood, energy, and memory. And research shows that moms especially may not be getting enough of these crucial nutrients in their diet.
What simple nutrients could you add to boost your mood? Keep reading to find out.
The Mood-Gut Connection
You’ve probably experienced when your mind impacts your gut–like when you get butterflies in your stomach–but did you know this connection operates in the other direction as well?
Your body, including things like your gut health and hormone balance, can change your mood.
Gut bacteria produce hundreds of neurochemicals that the brain uses to regulate feelings of calm, wellbeing, focus, and happiness. These bacteria, in addition to other metabolic processes in your gut, rely on vitamins and minerals to do their job.
For example, serotonin, your brain’s main neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of wellbeing, is produced in the gut, and without enough of it, you can struggle with increased anxiety, trouble sleeping, and more.
The right micronutrients will support the three main culprits of anxiety, depression, and fatigue in mothers, which are:
- Gut health – The health of your digestive system controls inflammation, metabolism, and the production of important neurotransmitters. Systemic inflammation is at the root of many chronic conditions, including depression. It negatively impacts the production and function of neurotransmitters, like serotonin which harms mood, memory, and energy levels.
- Hormone imbalance – Women’s health is unique in that there is a constantly fluctuating symphony of signals, impulses, and chemical messengers that dictate mood, cognition, stress response, and anxiety. When mom is struggling with any change in mood, there’s a good chance hormone imbalance is playing a part.
- Stress – When the demands of daily life exceed your ability to cope, your body produces signals that keep you in constant fight-or-flight mode. This exhausts your adrenal glands and makes you more prone to anxiety and fatigue.
Since there are so many factors that can impact your mood, it’s important to fuel your brain properly so it can regulate your mental health. So let’s find out what you need to relax, focus, and boost your mood.
Nutrients to Help You Relax
If you’re like most moms, your days are busy (and your nights may be too), but when it comes time to finally relax–you have trouble turning your mind off. This can negatively impact sleep quality, and make you more susceptible to feelings of anxiety.
Anxiety disorders affect more than 40 million people in the U.S. and women are nearly twice as likely as men to struggle with anxiety (1).
To calm your mind and body, try:
- L-theanine – An amino acid that has a calming effect on the mind and body without making you feel drowsy. It supports sleep and is often used to reduce anxiety. It acts upon your brain to release calming neurotransmitters, including GABA (2).
- Magnesium – Anything that feels tense, tight, cramped, or anxious can benefit from magnesium–and that includes your mind! Data from around the world consistently show that women (and men) aren’t getting enough magnesium (3).
- Magnolia bark – Magnolia bark supports serotonin production, which then goes on to make melatonin, your body’s main sleep-inducing hormone. Magnolol, one of the bioactive compounds in magnolia bark, has also been shown to increase the activity of specialized receptors for GABA, a neurotransmitter that calms and relaxes the mind and body (4).
Learn more about how magnolia bark has been used for centuries to improve sleep and calm the mind.
Nutrients to Boost Happiness and Wellbeing
Feeling down? Or just not quite as motivated as you used to? While overall happiness is impacted by dozens of lifestyle factors, it’s important to make sure your brain has the fuel to produce the chemical messengers responsible for improving your mood, like serotonin or dopamine.
To boost your mood naturally, try:
- Vitamin D – In one study, vitamin D supplementation supported mood and an improvement in depressive symptoms similar to treatment with light therapy, which is standard for treatment of SAD symptoms (5).
- Omega-3 fats – Studies show that low intake of omega-3 fats can predispose some people to feelings of anxiety and depression (6). Omega-3s also have anti-inflammatory actions that may help improve depressive symptoms.
One study involving medical students in 2011 was one of the first to show that omega-3s may help reduce anxiety as well (7).
- Vitamin C – Boost your mood by increasing your antioxidant capacity with vitamin C. Not only does vitamin C scavenge free radicals that can harm your brain, but it’s also neuroprotective (meaning it protects your brain). Additionally, some types of anxiety is thought to be linked with a decrease in antioxidant function (8).
- GABA – Think of GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid) sort of like the brake pedal of your brain. It tells things to slow down and relax (4). It’s no coincidence that heavy-hitting relaxants such as Xanax also target GABA receptors.
Nutrients to Help You Focus
As much as you may want it, your good intentions don’t always translate into staying focused at the task at hand. This often loads mothers with guilt and makes you feel like your lack of concentration or productivity is your fault. This is especially true if you have ADHD, as women’s symptoms are typically internalized and present more as inattentiveness or disorganization.
For better focus and attention naturally, try:
- Bacopa – Bacopa monnieri, also known in Ayurvedic medicine as brahmi, has been shown to improve attention, cognitive processing, and working memory in elderly adults (9) Bacopa also inhibits the release of inflammatory proteins, and can protect brain cells from stress-induced damage (10).
- Choline – An important nutrient in the same family as B vitamins, choline is involved in many of the same metabolic pathways as folate, including methylation, boosting memory, motivation, focus, and overall cognitive function.
Choline is a necessity to help neurotransmitters relay their messages, so it’s essential for communication between brain cells.
- Rhodiola – Feeling stressed but still need to pay attention and get stuff done? Adaptogenic rhodiola may become your new go-to. Studies show that rhodiola can help enhance mental function and improve energy, particularly in people who are experiencing stress (11).
Vitamins and Minerals for More Energy
Folate and B Vitamins – Folate, and other B vitamins help your metabolism convert food into energy, and are active in cells all over your body. B vitamins support the function of tiny systems inside your cells called mitochondria, which are responsible for producing your body’s energy currency, ATP.
B vitamins also support methylation, which is crucial for cellular health and detox.
Acetyl l carnitine – Although many people take acetyl-l-carnitine, or L-carnitine to boost fat burning or weight loss, other benefits include enhancing endurance and brain function (12)
Since acetyl-l-carnitine is found only in small amounts in foods like beef, fish and chicken, it’s many of us may not be getting enough L-carnitine in our diets.
Magnesium – Magnesium is responsible for activating your body’s energy currency, called ATP or adenosine triphosphate. These tiny energy molecules must bind to magnesium in order to become biologically active. So, no magnesium equals reduced ATP function, and that means less energy available for your busy brain.
Foods to Lift Your Mood
When you’re feeling stressed or down, it’s easy to turn to comfort foods that are usually high in sugar, and processed ingredients for a quick mood boost. But unfortunately, that quick boost is followed by an abrupt crash that often leaves you feeling lower than before.
Get off the emotional rollercoaster and try these 6 foods you can eat to improve your mood for the long term.
1. Fatty fish like salmon, mackerel, or tuna.
Fish is a great source of omega-3 fats to support cognition, as well as acetyl-l-carnitine for focus.
2. Eggs (and their yolks)
Egg yolks are a good dietary source of vitamin D, which supports overall mood and mental health. Two eggs also provides nearly 30% of your daily choline needs, which promotes learning, attention, and memory.
Eggs are also a good source of vitamin B12, lutein, and folate, depending on the chicken’s diet.
3. Leafy greens
Boost your vitamin and mineral content by eating nutrient-dense greens like spinach, red leaf lettuce, chard, or other greens. These are a great source of fiber to cleanse your gut, plant compounds, and vitamins B and C to support antioxidant status and energy production.
Avocados aren’t just delicious on toast and tacos–they pack a major boost for brain health, too! They’re a great source of two nutrients crucial for brain health: magnesium and vitamin B6.
If guacamole or avo toast aren’t your favorite foods, you might consider adding a fully-methylated B vitamin to your routine, with added magnesium and selenium for energy and immune support.
5. Nuts and seeds
Pumpkin seeds, hemp seeds, cashews, almonds, and others are good sources of fiber to cleanse your gut, magnesium and nutrients your brain needs to produce energy.
Blueberries in particular have been shown to upregulate brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), which supports the healthy growth and survival of neurons in the brain. Blueberries also promote neuroplasticity, which is the brain’s ability to adapt and change over our lifetime (13).
How Mom Can Boost Mood Naturally
Busy days, demanding jobs, and stressful schedules make it less than easy to remain focused, happy, and energized, but with the right nutrients you can provide your brain with the fuel it needs to keep going.
While supporting your mental health and lifting your mood is a complex journey, having the right vitamins and minerals in place to help you improve mental wellness is always an important piece of the puzzle.
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Dr. Taz is board certified in Integrative Medicine and Pediatrics. She is a Founder and CEO of CentreSpringMD in Atlanta and a Previous Adjunct Professor in Integrative Medicine at Emory University.
Faced with personal health challenges as a medical resident in her twenties and a health care system that didn’t make her feel better, Dr. Taz turned to adding Eastern medical wisdom to her medical quiver. What she found was a wealth of information not yet taught in conventional medical schools. These systems of medicine including Chinese Medicine, Acupuncture, Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine with Dr. Andrew Weil ultimately helped her heal herself.
Passionate to share this new knowledge, she opened CentreSpring MD, a nationally recognized medical and wellness practice focused on health transformation. Dr. Taz and her team prescribe personalized lifestyle, diet, exercise, self-care and relationship strategies to help women uncover their own “superpowers” using integrative, functional, Chinese and holistic medicine. “Healthy and empowered women create strong children and whole families.” – Dr. Taz