Improving the quality of life with educational and recreational opportunities for individuals with spinal cord injuries.

Because many spinal cord injuries happen from a traumatic event (dramatic life change that happens suddenly), individuals living with SCI are five times more likely to experience depression than our able-bodied peers.  It is estimated that 1 in 5 people living with SCI have been diagnosed with some form of depression.

When treating depression or depression-like symptoms, many don’t think of nutrition.  However, when focusing on consuming specific nutrients, especially those that help your brain, can improve your mood and provide energy needed to perform all the daily necessities of life.  Your gut health can also play a role in helping depressive symptoms because of the communication it has with your brain through the neurotransmitters that help you think, stay focused, and feel motivated as well as help you feel happy or calm (dopamine and serotonin). 

Before talking about the specific nutrients to combat depression, one, non-nutrition, way to help boost your mood is to exercise regularly.  Exercise releases endorphins and serotonin, which are the feel-good neurotransmitters.  It also has other benefits that help to boost your mood.  Exercise helps to increase lean muscle mass, facilitate weight loss (if that’s your goal), help regulate blood sugar and insulin levels, reduce pain, increase energy, and increase confidence.  

5 Nutritious Ways to Boost Your Mood

Keep your blood sugar/insulin levels balanced.

When there is an inadequate amount of glucose in your brain (i.e. when your blood sugar levels drop), you can experience fatigue, irritability, dizziness, insomnia, poor concentration, and forgetfulness.  When this happens often, if can lead to depression.  Fueling your body with refined carbohydrates and processed foods, and those that are high in sugar will lead to blood sugar crashes (there goes the glucose), as well as insulin insensitivity, carbohydrate cravings, and possibly weight gain.  All of this can lower your mood even further, increasing your risk of depression.

Minerals such as chromium, magnesium, and zinc can help balance your blood sugar levels by sensitizing your cells to insulin, which keeps your blood sugar levels more balanced.  Eating proteins such as fish, chicken, or eggs combined with complex carbohydrates (the good kind) such as sweet potatoes, lentils, and brown or wild rice can also help keep your blood sugar levels balanced.  However, you will want to avoid refined sugars, processed foods, or simple carbohydrates such as white bread, cookies, pastries, and sugar.  These foods can spike blood sugar levels which will lead to crashes later.  

Eat foods high in B Vitamins, Vitamin C, folic acid & magnesium

Folic acid, Vitamins B6 and B12, Vitamin C, and magnesium all work together to increase the production of serotonin in your body.  But, they also help to convert some of the amino acids into dopamine, noradrenaline, and adrenaline, which help to boost your motivation, ability to focus, and excitement.  Vitamin C has numerous roles in balancing your brain chemistry such as increasing motivation and mental alertness as well as protecting the brain against toxicity.  Magnesium is a big player in the game as it is included in making serotonin, reducing stress, anxiety and pain, and improving sleep.  These essential nutrients come from consuming a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, legumes, fresh fish and grass-fed beef.

Eat Good Fats

Essential fats can help boost your brain’s ability to make neurotransmitters such as serotonin.  However, most people do not consume enough foods high in essential fatty acids, or the good fats.  This can alter the fluidity and function of nerve structures which can negatively affect your mood.  Good sources of essential fatty acids include walnuts, flax seeds, hemp seeds, and pumpkin seeds.  Other sources include salmon, mackerel, sardines, tuna, marine algae, and eggs.  Decreasing the consumption of bad fats, such as hydrogenated oils and processed/fried foods can also help boost your mood because eating them can actually interfere with your brain’s ability to use the good fats.

Drink 8 cups of fluids/water per day 

We all are aware of how important it is for maintaining your hydration by drinking plain water. One of the benefits is increased mood because when your brain and body has enough water, they can better use the electrical energy it receives from the water to boost your energy.  Medications, poor diet, and limited intake of fluids can cause dehydration.  When a body is dehydrated, amino acids that are usually used to boost your mood are used to move waste out of your body instead. 

If you find it difficult to drink enough plain water, you can also get it from herbal teas, smoothies with water instead of milk, or broths.  Or, you can eat your water through lots of fresh fruits and vegetables. Because everyone is different, and every body handles increased fluid intake differently, we always recommend consulting with your physician before making changes to your routine.

Identify and avoid food intolerances

We have seen a rise of food intolerances over the past few years and that is because there are thousands of chemicals added to our foods, in the form of preservatives and artificial colors and flavors.  However, there are also some foods that are considered healthy but are known for causing food intolerances.  Some examples of these are nuts, strawberries, citrus fruits, milk, corn, and whole wheat.  These intolerances cause chemical reactions, which can lead to depression.

Symptoms of food allergies can appear anywhere from 1 to 3 hours after ingesting.  This can make it difficult to determine which food is causing the sensitivity and why some people choose to do the food elimination diet to figure out the cause.  You can google search ‘food elimination diet’ to find out more.  You will want to get to the bottom of your food intolerance as they can cause fatigue, slowed thinking, irritability, agitation, nervousness, anxiety, depression, and learning disabilities.  As always, consult with your physician before making changes to your routine/diet.

Of course, not all depression can be cured with nutrition.  If you are experiencing symptoms of depression for longer than 2 weeks, please talk with your doctor/physician about options or find a licensed therapist/professional that can help.

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