Mental Health Week 9-15th October 2016

Author: Lia Pellizzeri   Date Posted:9 October 2016 

Did you know that 1 in 4 adults will experience mental health difficulties at some point in their lives? That’s a whopping ¼ of the adult population without yet taking into account our younger Australians living with mental health disorders. As such, it has become absolutely essential to increase awareness about mental health to rid the stigma attached to not only a widely experienced health problem, but one of the most truly misunderstood.

Bringing this topic to the forefront of public health is a great first step in creating a society that acknowledges mental illness like they would any other health condition – with understanding and acceptance. Luckily, with the growing awareness of the medical and research community, we are learning more about how diet, supplements, exercise, and amazingly how our gut health can play a huge role in keeping us mentally well!

Mood Boosting Foods

The fuel we put into our body is the building block of every cell, this means every hormone and neurotransmitter is affected. So, it’s not hard to see that a diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates can lead to inflammatory states affecting the neurotransmitter metabolism of the gut – where the vast majority of our serotonin lives.

Up the Serotonin and Endorphins with these mood-boosting foods:

Apple Cider Vinegar

Not so much a ‘food’ per se, it does however increase gastric secretions when taken 15 minutes before a meal – leading to better digestion and therefore increased absorption of nutrients. Breaking down what you eat properly is vital for both physical and mental health.

Salmon / Oily Fish

You have no doubt heard about the benefits of eating fish on a regular basis (about 2-3 times a week), but the mounting evidence showing the ability of EPA/DHA omega 3 fatty acids in counteracting depression and other mental difficulties, together with the essential amino acid profile of oily fish, make it a SUPER-food for keeping the grey matter happy.


Packed full of amino acids tryptophan and tyrosine - precursors to serotonin and dopamine, eggs are an ultimate nutritional bomb with healthy fats to nourish and support both thyroid and neurotransmitter synthesis.

Dark Chocolate

The mood-enhancing capabilities of chocolate’s antioxidant compounds such as resveratrol and polyphenols increase circulating endorphins and serotonin levels. The key is how much and 28g is considered the ideal amount, any more can negate its benefits.

Fermented Foods

Looking after the gastro-intestinal system often gets over-looked in the treatment of mood disorders, but it actually so important! Over 70% of Serotonin is found in the gut, so it goes without saying you want healthy bacteria living there as they are so actively involved in the gut-brain axis.

Fermented foods such as yoghurt, kefir, kombucha and sauerkraut - just to list a few - are an ideal addition to your diet in keeping your gut bacteria in a healthy balance.

Supplements and Herbs to support Mental Health:

  • EPA/DHA - Once again, the importance of Omega-3 levels in the body are so important as brain cells require these fatty acids to transmit signals involved in thinking, moods and emotion. Clinical studies have shown that Omega-3 fatty acids play a positive role in the treatment of depression, and that a daily consumption of 1.5-2g of EPA may stimulate mood elevation.
  • SAMe - A naturally occurring molecule in the human body combining methionine and ATP, it is an important precursor to neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. These mechanisms, along with its role in methylation reactions are why SAMe may significantly exert antidepressant activity and mood stabilization.
  • B Vitamins - Vital for maintaining emotional and mental health, as they ensure proper nervous system function and neurotransmitter synthesis.
  • Rhodiola - A herb long used by the Native Americans, Rhodiola influences levels of neurotransmitters, improving symptoms of mood disorders and aiding mental function by inhibiting mono-amine oxidase - an enzyme which otherwise removes mood-enhancing neurotransmitters from the brain.
  • Withania - Withania is a popular herb used in the Ayurvedic tradition of medicine to improve stress resistance and strengthen the immune system. Western Herbalists use it widely these days to support adrenal and thyroid health, and for calming the nervous system.

Move to get happy!

Regular aerobic exercise is one of the single, best things you can do for your brain – but if the term ‘aerobic exercise’ conjures up images of lycra, loud music and sporadic jumping moves, don’t be discouraged, it literally means using an increased oxygen intake to burn energy.

Good old fashioned regular walking, even gardening, can increase serotonin and noradrenalin in the brain, helping you feel happier and spritely. The effects include regulating mood and emotional responses via the endogenous opioid system, or in other words, increasing the happy chemicals known as endorphins.

The Gut is your Second Brain!

One of the more exciting avenues of research occurring in the realm of mental health is the relationship between the gastrointestinal system and the central nervous system – basically exploring the relationship between our gut bacteria and how they both affect, and are affected by the neurotransmitters involved in mood and behaviour.

Over the past few years, research has demonstrated that stress increases intestinal permeability, allowing bacteria to migrate across intestinal mucosa and access the immune and neuronal cells of the nervous system. Alterations in the location and types of gut bacteria can have significant effects on neurotransmitter signalling, meaning mood-enhancing Serotonin and calming GABA are negatively influenced as a result.

The understanding of how dysbiosis of gut bacteria affects the central nervous system opens up a huge area of investigation into the pathogenesis and progression of mental health disorders, as well as potential treatment with specific probiotics and nutrition.

My Personal Experience…

Growing up with a family history of mental illness, I have always been aware of the toll these conditions can take on both a person’s life and the lives of the people that love them. Seeing this as a normal fact of life, it was with sadness and frustration that I learnt of these issues being swept under the carpet due to having occurred in a time where mental illness was looked on as something to be ashamed of.

Awareness has indeed come a long way, and the further we open ourselves up to the fact that mental and emotional difficulties are simply part of life and can affect any one of us, our friends or family members – the better our chances at providing the support and treatment needed for effective management and even recovery.

Remember it’s OK to say you’re not OK… If you, or someone you know could use a bit of a helping hand, please do not hesitate to contact one of these amazing services:

Lifeline - 13 11 14

Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636

Kids HelpLine - 1800 55 1800

MensLine Australia - 1300 789 978

Domestic Violence Line - 1800 656 463

Written by Lia Pellizzeri
Emily Seddon

Lia is a qualified Naturopath who believes in the power of nature to heal many of today’s acute and chronic conditions. She’s not only passionate about living a healthy lifestyle, but about educating people on nutrition and the amazing benefits of herbs and supplements in addressing symptoms and their underlying issues.

Lia loves to cook, bake and read… when she isn’t busy telling people to enjoy their egg yolks and other healthy fats, she can most likely be found on the lounge with a latte and a tattered copy of Lord of the Rings.

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