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What’s really causing your mood swings?

Anna Magee

Mood swings turning your day into a rollercoaster ride? There’s lack of sunshine and depression, but some reasons you’re sadder than usual aren’t as obvious

Your fizzy drink habit

They’re a low or no calorie hit so what’s not to love? One study found people who drank four cans of soft drink a day were 30 per cent more likely to suffer with depression. The higher risk was among people who preferred diet drinks.

Just because it is labelled as diet does not make it healthy

‘The link is not yet conclusive but it’s believed artificial sweeteners such as aspartame upset the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain and could cause mood swings,’ says Dr Marylyn Glenville, a nutritionist and women’s health expert.

What to do:

They’re not only in diet drinks but also in low-fat yoghurts and gums, so check labels.

‘The only way to know for sure is to remove the source of artificial sweeteners from your diet for about a week,’ says Dr Glenville.  ‘If you tend to go for caffeinated soft drinks, expect to feel awful for the first couple of days as you detox, but if you feel better after about a week you may have found something that could be to blame for your mood swings.’

Appletise or mixing mineral water and fresh lime will give you a chemical free fizzy hit.  But if it’s the caffeine you want, keep your Pret habit instead – the same study found that people who drank up to four cups of coffee a day were ten per cent less likely to be depressed.

Your cleaning stash

That hard-core cleaning spray under the sink, your dry-cleaning and even that plastic water bottle on your desk could add to your ‘chemical load’ – that’s the sum of the chemical parts you’re exposed to in daily life – and affect the way you feel.

‘Some chemicals pass the brain-blood barrier so when you inhale chemical fumes, they are absorbed through the lungs and sinuses and will get into the blood and this has the potential to trigger a reaction in the brain in the form of irritability or other mood swings,’ says London naturopath Sarah Bowles-Flannery.

‘Some chemicals are solvents which means they dissolve fats in the body. As the brain and the neurons that fire feel good chemicals in the brain need fat to function, an over exposure to chemicals could upset this balance’.

Some people have a condition called Multiple Chemical Sensitivity or MCS, she explains, which can make you more susceptible to mood changes.

Other symptoms include allergic symptoms or headaches when you’re exposed to perfumes or rashes and skin issues.

What to do:

if you’re still using a plastic water water, switch to stainless steel or glass to store your desk water and food at home as plastics leech chemicals called ‘phthalates’ into food or water that can disrupt your hormone balance, says Bowles-Flannery.

If you love hard cleaners, opt for rinse off versions rather than those left on surfaces or go organic.  We love Bio-D’s anti-bacterial cleaners without nasty chemicals from £4.50 (biodegradable.biz).

Other sources of inhaled chemicals include dry-cleaning, new car interiors and flame retardants on new furniture and carpets so if you have these in your life, open lots of windows as circulating air ensures you inhale less.

 

The cold you had three months ago

Have cold, feel like s*&t.  Cold gone, mood improved, right?  Not always.

When you’re fighting a cold, the immune system releases defensive molecules called cytokines that cross the brain-blood barrier and cling to neurons that govern emotions, making you sad, introverted and generally woe-is-me until the cold passes.

But sometimes the low mood effect continues long after you’ve stopped feeling sick, keeping you in low spirits for weeks or months. Really.

If symptoms of a cold either do not clear up or get worse after 10 days, it is best to see a doctor

‘In particular, viral infections such as glandular fever or Epstein-Barr virus, but even a nasty case of flu can leave you with a post-viral syndrome where people can feel quite low for weeks or even months following,’ says GP Dr Catherine Hood.

What to do:

The good news is that your low mood will eventually lift, says Dr Hood.  ‘Help your immune your system during and after the infection by drinking more water, increasing your intake of fruit and vegetables to ten a day if you can, going for a daily walk outside and increasing your intake of fish and lean meat,’ she advises.

For a low mood that won’t shift, a course of Kira Low Mood Relief (£7.99 from pharmacies) might help as it contains Mood-enhancing St-John’s Wort along with immune benefits from B vitamins and folate (but talk to you doctor first as it can interfere with medications like the Pill).

The vitamin you keep meaning to take

Better skin, weight loss, heart benefits, walking on water. You’ve no doubt heard about the benefits of omega-3 fatty acids, found primarily in oily fish. They’re essential to mood too.  ‘

Plenty of research links omega-3 deficiency to mild depression, panic attacks and anxiety along with post-natal depression and even bipolar disorder,’ says Dr Ross Lorimer, a psychology lecturer at the University of Abertay.

It’s believed that low omega-3 affects the production of neurotransmitters in the brain such as GABA that makes us feel calm and dopamine, that makes us feel good. ‘Plus, the Western diet is heavy in omega-6 oils from soy and vegetable oils which can impede the body’s absorption of omega-3 from food.’

What to do:

We must get our omega-3s from somewhere as the body doesn’t make them so opt for salmon, herring, mackerel or sardines a few times a week and snack on omega-3 rich walnuts or almonds – or make this the one supplement you take.

‘Omega-3 fats all contain two essential fatty acids, EPA and DHA and those that contain more EPA are proven to help mood,’ says Dr Lorimer.

Try Healthspan Super Strength Omega 3 Gold £19.95.

The water you forgot to drink

Can’t think? The offender could be that (still full) water jug on your desk.

‘Dehydration can slow blood flow which changes the oxygen supply to the brain,’ says Dr Glenville. ‘This could not only affect mood but also concentration, focus and memory.’ Picture this: starved of water your brain tissue literally shrivels and becomes less efficient at processing information giving you that ‘all over the place’ feeling.

Drinking small regular cups throughout the day is ideal

What to do:

Studies show that dehydration leading to only two per cent loss of body fluid could affect memory and problem-solving. ‘Drinking a single large glass of water before you have to do something complex could help focus and concentration,’ says Dr Glenville.

‘Drink your water at regular intervals throughout the day until your urine is a pale yellow. Too orange is lacking in water and clear is an indication that there’s too much water in the cells which could strain the kidneys.’

Watch out for hidden salts in surprising places such as breakfast cereals and packet soups which could increase the rate at which you get dehydrated, she suggests. ‘You can also get hydration from high water foods such as berries, citrus, watermelon, spinach and lettuce,’ she says.

Your thyroid, no really

The thyroid is like a gas pedal for the body, says Dr Ratajczak.  ‘If it’s underactive your metabolism starts slowing down and you may lack energy and show depressive symptoms such as lack of motivation and drive along with weight gain and sensitivity to cold,’ he says.

‘About seven per cent of the female population will have an underactive thyroid and much of that will go undiagnosed and unchecked, with women thinking they’re simply depressed.’

On the other hand, an overactive thyroid can lead to symptoms of panic and anxiety, he says. ‘Being over-enthusiastic about everything or anxious and irritable can be signs of an overactive thyroid as it increases blood pressure,’ explains Dr Ratajczak.

‘It also increases thirst and body temperature so you might find yourself throwing off the covers at night and feeling hot most of the time. Either way, it needs to be checked as over time it wears the body out and can make you ill and exhausted.

What to do:

Your doctor can do a routine test to measure your body’s thyroid function but sometimes you may have a normal thyroid test but still have symptoms. Because GP tests don’t measure how your body is converting and storing thyroid hormones.

‘You may have ‘sub-optimal’ thyroid function but have a normal test with your GP,’ says Jackie Lynch, a nutritional therapist. ‘If you continue to have high or low thyroid symptoms your GP can do further investigations,’ she says.

‘If you suspect you have borderline low thyroid function, eating foods high in an amino acid called tyrosine such as fish, chicken, pumpkin seeds and avocado can help as can avoiding raw ‘goitrogenic’ foods such as raw spinach, broccoli or cabbage  – they’re fine cooked – pine nuts and soya beans as they might further slow the thyroid.’

Your breakfast

Bagel? Cereal? There are two ways your morning fuel up could be affecting your mood. First, a food sensitivity to anything from wheat to dairy or soy could be affecting your body’s digestion and have a knock-on effect on your mood.

‘Some 90 per cent of the body’s serotonin, the brain’s happy hormone, is produced in the gut which is often referred to as the second brain,’ says Dr Gill Hart, a nutritional scientist.

‘Plus, research has shown that depression is often associated with gastrointestinal inflammation, a common symptom of food intolerance.’ Intolerance to foods such as wheat, dairy and the gluten in common foods like bread, cereal and pasta has been associated with mood symptoms, says Sarah Bowles-Flannery.

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Breakfast is the most improtant meal of the day, do it right

Secondly, if you find yourself losing it like clockwork mid-morning each day, you can directly blame your breakfast.  ‘Breakfast bars, most breakfast cereals and any refined carbohydrates eaten around 8am will lead to a crash 30 minutes to two hours later,’ says Dr Glenville.

What to do:

A igG test with a nutritional therapist can uncover food intolerance. Or try a home-testing kit such as York Test Food and Drink Scan (£299 from yorktest.com) which measures your tolerance of 158 foods.

Opt for protein-based breakfasts such as eggs or add some protein foods such as nuts to porridge or a low sugar cereal such as Shredded Wheat.

‘You can also slow the rate at which your body absorbs any food by adding fat to a meal such as butter to whole-wheat toast, cooking an omelette in olive oil or adding a teaspoon of coconut oil to a smoothie.’

Check yoghurts and cereal for sugar content as anything over four grams – about a teaspoon – of sugar could raise the blood sugar and lead to a crash later, says Jackie Lynch.

But, do see your doctor if:

If you have any two of these symptoms much of the day, most days for at least two weeks talk to your GP as your mood issues may need extra help in the form of therapy, medication or both, says Beth Murphy, head of information at mental health charity Mind

  • Poor concentration
  • Loss of interest in things that used to make you happy
  • Reduced self-esteem and confidence
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Change in appetite or weight
  • Feelings of guilt or worthlessness
  • Increased agitation
  • Pessimism/hopelessness
  • Suicidal thoughts

For more information log on to mind.org.uk or call the Mind Infoline on 0300 123 3393

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