The recent suicide of Aaron Swartz, the 26-year old activist and computer hacker extraordinaire, reminds me of the heavy preponderance of depression in our culture. A proponent of free access to information, his uncompromising beliefs in a brighter society could not counter the bleak future he potentially faced. I certainly do not know him personally, but I'd bank heavily on the fact that him considering 35 years in prison was a pretty depressing thought.At no time of the year is depression more prevalent than in winter, when short days and cold nights cause even less mood-boosting Vitamin D to be produced by our skin, contributing to strong depressive tendencies and suicide attempts by the most prone in our society. While circumstantial depression is common, chronic depression runs rampant in a culture of drug Band-aids and weak foundations of health - a fast food nation intent on the next fad, feeling and fix.So I doubt I'm going to shock any of you (and if I do, does that fast-fading-into-history Twinkie really taste that good?) by saying that what you eat has a tremendous effect on how you feel. It's not that you have to eat picture-perfect all of the time, for that's practically an eating disorder in itself, but rather how you take care of yourself 80-90% of the time, that leads to your general state of health. On that note, I'll give you some tips on mood-mending nutrition, that can keep you healthier during this tough time of year.
Diet greatly influences the brain's behavior. The levels of brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters, which regulate our behavior and are closely linked to mood, are controlled by what we eat. The neurotransmitters most commonly associated with mood are dopamine, serotonin and norepinephrine. Deficiencies, excesses or imbalances of these cause mental and emotional disturbances and affect our perception of pain and pleasure. Neurotransmitters carry electrochemical impulses between cells. Serotonin plays a role in mood, sleep, relaxation and appetite. Dopamine and norepinephrine play a role in hunger, thirst, digestion, blood pressure regulation, heart rate, respiration, thermoregulation, aggression and sexuality. Adequate protein consumption and absorption (requiring proper digestion) is essential in order to have enough precursor amino acid building blocks in order to synthesize any neurotransmitters. Their production also requires nutrients such as fatty acids, Vitamin B3, iron, folate, Vitamin B6, copper, calcium, magnesium and lecithin, among others. The absorption of precursor amino acids depends on the consumption of adequate complex carbohydrates. Note: The dietary recommendations and guidelines below include foods to which some individuals may have allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. In those cases, those foods should be avoided. Persons taking medications should not consume any of the herbal teas described without first consulting your physician/clinician regarding potential interactions. Dietary choices should be modified to meet your personal dietary needs. Consult your doctor for further information regarding nutrition and your individual medical condition.
• Minimize sugar and both artificial and natural sweeteners of all types, even honey, molasses and fruit juice. Stevia or agave are better "sweeteners".• Minimize alcohol, caffeine and soft drinks.• Avoid junk food, processed and refined foods and foods high in hydrogenated (trans) fats. Healthy fat choices include polyunsaturated and monounsaturated fats and oils that are organic and cold-pressed such as olive, coconut, sunflower, almond, flax, etc. Organic butter is fine.• Identify and eliminate food allergies, intolerances and sensitivities. Gluten found in some grains has been linked to depressive disorders. Gluten-containing grains include wheat, spelt, rye, triticale, oats (lesser), barley and kamut.• Eat adequate lean sources of protein (0.8 g/kg body weight daily). Emphasize wild, cold-water fish (salmon, mackerel, sardines, etc.), legumes, nuts and seeds. Organically raised poultry and eggs are also good protein sources. Fermented dairy products are also acceptable (yogurt, kefir, cheeses, etc.)• Every meal and snack should be balanced, containing some protein, fat and complex carbohydrates. • Food choices should be whole foods (unprocessed and unrefined), organic whenever possible, including at least five servings daily of vegetables and fruits. Grains should be whole and unrefined, especially rice, corn, quinoa, millet and amaranth. Fresh food is always preferable to frozen and frozen is always preferable to canned.Lastly, I have a few nice recipes for mood-mending tea. If you like these recipes but don't want to go to the trouble of making them yourself, visit Debora Beck at Orr's Trading and peruse her lovely selections of teas and medicinal herbs. You'll feel better for it.Dr. Christopher Lepisto graduated as a naturopathic doctor (ND) from Bastyr University in Seattle, Wash. He is a native of Grand Junction and opened his practice here in 2004. Previously, Lepisto lived and worked in New Zealand, where he developed a special interest in indigenous herbal medicines. For more information, visit www.grandjunctionnaturopath.com or call 970-250-4104.
1 part borage leaves1 part calendula blossoms1 part nettle leaves1 part oatstraw1 part basil leavesBlend all herbs in a pot, 1 Tablespoon per cup boiling water. Cover and steep 15-20 minutes. Drink as desired.
2-1/2 cups cold water4 black peppercorns4 green cardamom pods1 cinnamon stick4 clovesFew slices of fresh ginger rootPlace the water and spices in a pan and heat to nearly boiling (never boil). Cover and simmer for one hour over low heat. Strain and serve with soy milk, rice milk or nut milk and sweeten with stevia.