It’s that time of year (at least in the North) where it seems like spring will never come. At least here in NYC, everyone is cranky and the edginess is palpable: One ride on a rush-hour subway is all it takes to prove that. If you’re having a hard time shaking the winter blues after the extended chill we’ve had in most areas of the country, I’ve got some good news. New research backs two of my go-to recommendations for improving mood (and much more).
You know I’m a huge proponent of both vitamin D and omega-3s. Both are fixtures on my Desert Island supplement list. And for good reason. They both have an enormous variety of health benefits. In fact, each of them has been shown independently to have a positive impact on mood.
But now, researchers have found that vitamin D and the two omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) actually work in combination to achieve that mood benefit.
How do they do it? Well, they work together in a precise collaboration to maximize your body’s serotonin function. And adequate serotonin levels in the brain are critical to mental health and cognitive function. Vitamin D kicks off the process by regulating serotonin production. Then EPA steps in to influence the release of that serotonin. And finally, DHA helps usher the serotonin into the brain’s receptors efficiently.
The result is improved mood. Which makes this is a simple, healthy way for anyone battling seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or mild depression to ease their symptoms.
But the researchers found the effects of this natural combo may be so powerful they could even have benefits for more serious mental conditions, as well. In fact, they noted vitamin D and fish oil may be particularly good at battling ADHD, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.
Low serotonin levels are also linked with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), antisocial behavior, aggressive behavior and self-injury. And studies have shown that supplementation with D and fish oil is effective for treating symptoms of all of these.
It’s certainly a much safer approach than the alternative—SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), which many doctors are far too eager to prescribe their patients battling even the mildest cases of depression. I’ve talked about some of the serious hazards associated with these drugs before. But even their “common” side effects are no picnic. We’re talking nausea, blurred vision, and anxiety—just to name a few. (Imagine taking a pill for depression and then getting anxiety in its place. Not exactly the relief you were hoping for.)
One other great point I was happy to see the study authors make: Vitamin D and omega-3 deficiency are staggeringly common. According to their estimates, 70% of adults and 67% of children (ages 1-11) in the US don’t have adequate levels of vitamin D (let alone optimal levels). Add that to the fact that many people don’t bother to eat fish or take fish oil—which are the best sources of EPA and DHA. When you look at it that way, it’s truly no wonder we’re such a SAD nation.
I’ve been recommending 10,000 IU of vitamin D per day for years now, along twice-daily fish oil containing 1,500 mg of combined EPA and DHA. And this approach works very well to combat a low mood. But given the myriad benefits of both of these wonder supplements, I recommend them across the board, even if you don’t need an additional mood boost.
P.S. You can check out the other standout nutrients on my new-and-improved Desert Island Supplement list in the January 2015 issue of my Logical Health Alternatives newsletter. Subscribers can download this issue for free from the Archives by visiting www.drpescatore.com and logging on with your username and password. And if you’re not already a subscriber, now is the perfect time to get started. The website has all the details you need to sign up today.
“Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2: relevance for ADHD, bipolar, schizophrenia, and impulsive behavior.” The FASEB Journal, epub ahead of print 2/24/15