Feel Good Factor – The natural alternative

Feel good factor

Recent reports from the US have suggested a large increase in prescribing antidepressants in the US. Between 1996 and 2005, the rate of antidepressant treatment increased from 5.84 percent to 10.12 percent or from an estimated 13.3 million to 27 million individuals.

This situation is likely to have got even worse since 2005. Antidepressants are now the most commonly prescribed class of medications in the United States.

Unfortunately, the UK seems to be following the same trend with a suggested 12 million prescriptions written for antidepressant drugs each year. According to research at London University and Warwick University, the incidence of depression among young people has doubled in the past 12 years.

A recent article suggests doctors in the UK will soon be prescribing exercise as a way of combating mood and fitness challenges. How does this effect the role of medication and can we do more to maintain and sustain our own mood and feeling good without relying on medication which brings a list of side effects?

How often do you sit in the surgery and think “goodness me it’s getting busier in here” or, “how does my poor GP cope with all these people he must be exhausted”. I have to say in my opinion they rise to the challenge well. Obesity levels are rising particularly within the younger community, stress and mood disorders are increasing.

People who are suffering from these challenges often seek comfort in food and alcohol to help avoid or mask the original cause of the problem. In the long term this can just exasperate their symptoms and make them feel worse. The use of antidepressants in society today causes a mixed reaction. They can help millions of people every year but what else could we do to help ourselves before they become necessary?

A natural prescription

Doctors are now looking at prescribing exercise regimes by prescription as this form of action is without doubt beneficial to our health and wellbeing. Many people that would benefit from this prescription have not done so up until now through a lack finance, time and motivation. However exercise and healthy eating need not be expensive.

In addition to this, nutrition can offer further improvement in one’s condition. However, it is not a quick fix or a one off time in your life for temporary change. This regime needs to be a permanent life change and a change of opinion on how one wants to continue to live a better and more fulfilling existence.

Evidence from studies show us that regular exercise, reducing our caffeine intake, and taking supplements such as 5 HTP and omega 3 fish oil can help. Also psychotherapy and a low GL diet (to maintain correct blood sugar level balance) play an important role in helping balance our mood.

Over the last few years we have seen a decline in our vegetable intake (rich in folic acid), and fish intake (rich in essential fats) coupled with a dramatic increase in the amount of sugar consumption (from 2lbs a year in the 1940’s to 150lbs a year in many of today’s teenagers). This has had a dramatic impact on our mood and how we feel every day.

Take the case with today’s youth. No wonder there are more “Kevin and Perry” types about these days. Television advertising promoting unhealthy food options, social trends like binge drinking and computer games and peer group pressure all influence the teenagers of today more so than ever before.

So how does food effect mood

Each of the nutrients lacking in modern society’s diet which are found in vegetables and fish are strongly linked to depression and could, theoretically, contribute to increasing rates of depression. If depression is an imbalance in biochemistry in the brain, it makes sense to explore how the brain normalises this, using nutrients as the precursors for key neurotransmitters such as serotonin.

The brain is structurally and functionally completely dependent on nutrients and as stress depletes nutrients by increasing this intake we should counterbalance this situation.

Another important factor that underpins how we feel is poor control of blood sugar levels. The symptoms associated with low blood sugar are tiredness, agitation, irritability, poor concentration and insomnia. This is because the brain depends on a constant balance of blood sugar and the food we eat directly affects this balance.

A diet high in sugar and refined carbohydrates such as white bread causes sharp fluctuations in blood sugar leading to mood disorders. It also impacts on the important enzyme functions required to take place in the body in order for energy production known as ATP. ATP is essential for the body to live and function, without it cells would die and systems would shut down.

Sugar depletes B vitamins which are key in the production and balance of the brain’s neurotransmitters and serotonin.

Natural antidepressants without the side effects

Serotonin is produced from 5HTP by the addition of carboxylase. This process relies heavily on the production of vitamins B12 and B6. People suffering from depression or mood related disorders tend to be deficient in B vitamins. Vitamin B complex and 5HTP can be found in most health shops.

Another famous natural supplement that is said to increase and sustain serotonin levels in the brain is St Johns Wort. Again this is commonly found in health food stores. It is important to note at this stage you should always seek advice from your GP if you are taking any prescription medication before embarking on any alternatives.

Adrenalin and Exercise

Stress hormones such as adrenaline and noradrenalin play a big part in how we handle and manage day to day stress and anxiety.

When we become stressed and anxious the body releases adrenalin to combat the stressful situation in which we find ourselves. In extreme cases we resort to the “fight or flight” syndrome whereby adrenaline levels rise dramatically and our senses become heightened to help us deal with the problem we are faced with.

If one is constantly under a situation of stress this would mean the body is in a constant state of red alert and high anxiety. One would suffer an inability to relax, butterflies in the tummy, a feeling of impending doom, excessive sweating and insomnia and eventually become exhausted.

Furthermore, people suffering with anxiety use stimulants such coffee and cigarettes to counteract the symptoms, however the caffeine in coffee and nicotine in cigarettes only aggravates the situation by increasing the adrenaline.

Exercise is vital in keeping adrenaline levels under control. Exercise produces endorphins which directly combat adrenalin. Think of endorphins as the water that directly dampens the flame of adrenaline. Twenty minutes of cardio vascular exercise is what I recommend every day to combat stress and anxiety. So we can see why the orthodox community of doctors are now looking into prescribing exercise as a remedy to all sorts of mood disorders.

Talking Therapies

In my experience adrenalin and stress levels are increased and maintained by how we approach our problems mentally. The more we think about what we are worrying about, the greater the problem seems to become and the worse we seem to feel. I call this “The Cognitive Thinking Dilemma”.

How we think directly impacts how we feel and subsequently how we behave. This is where talking psychotherapy can be of enormous benefit. Talking therapies such as cognitive behavioural therapy helps us challenge our thought processes on a regular basis and subsequently as our thoughts change so do our feelings and subsequent behaviours.


So there we have it. All of the above play an enormous role in maintaining and sustaining a healthy mood. We are all different psychologically but our body’s requirements for nutrients follow the same pattern in order to function.

If you think of your body as a car that functions on unleaded petrol and you put in diesel you know this will affect its function. Your body works in the same way and by putting in the correct balance of nutrients you will achieve a positive outcome mentally and physically.

I am convinced if you take personal responsibility for your own state of mind and use some of the above methods, the pressure on our doctor’s surgeries may ease and hopefully you will not need to visit it so often. Obviously, if in any doubt your GP is always your first port of call.

About The Author

Mark Shields is the Founder and Managing Director of The Life Practice Group. With an interest in NLP and Hypnotherapy, Mark qualified as a Master Practitioner and Trainer and has extensive experience as a Behavioural Change Coach.

Mark’s website contains more information about training as a life coach. Visit www.lifepractice.co.uk

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