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The last few years have been bleak, to say the least, so it’s not surprising we’re all in need of a little mood boost. Exercising, getting out into nature, and eating more nutritious foods are all known to help keep our moods uplifted – and now many people are also adding mood-boosting supplements to their list of buoyant enhancements.
This makes sense. Supplements are known to fill in the gaps of what someone might lack in their diet or environment. For example, many plant-based eaters take B12 to make up for the lack of B12 in their diet. But can supplements replace serotonin and dopamine, neurotransmitters known to boost moods?
Dr. Sophie Vergnaud, Senior Director Clinical Content, GoodRx, says not really. “Many people turn to supplements to support a healthy lifestyle and increase the amount of vitamins or nutrients they consume. But the truth is, no supplements have yet been proven to specifically boost levels of either serotonin or dopamine,” she tells SheKnows. “It is important to note that supplements aren’t as highly regulated as medications. So even if a supplement promises to be mood boosting, there isn’t a guarantee that it’s effective.”
That being said, there are a couple of supplements that are known to assist with your mood. Below, we list what they are and how to best use them — and a few alternatives that are totally free.
What are some common “mood boosting” supplements
According to Vergnaud, anyone who feels low in mood can try to boost their mood through supplements or nutrition. She says there are a few supplements that may be linked to fighting depression and improving mood, like omega-3 fatty acids, ashwagandha and St John’s wort. However, she does say the research is inconclusive “and not strong enough for these supplements to be recommended as treatment for depression.”
She adds that scientists are also studying supplements that may affect serotonin levels, including 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) “but it’s too early to say if it works — or if it’s safe.”
Who can take these supplements?
Omega-3 fatty acids are safe for most people to take, says Vergnaud, however people with clotting problems, or those who take blood thinners, should take care and check with their healthcare provider, since omega-3s can have a mild effect on bleeding.
“St John’s wort on the other hand can interfere with several medications, including medications commonly used to treat depression,” she says. “You should always check with your healthcare provider before starting St John’s wort.”
Beyond that, she recommends that if you have symptoms of depression, like a low mood that makes you feel sad, hopeless, or empty most of the time, or you’ve lost interest in your day to day activities, “skip the supplements and get some professional help. Talk therapy and/or antidepressants are the gold standard treatment for depression.”
What are some common side effects?
It’s important to know that supplements may cause common side effects such as nausea, vomiting, headaches or dehydration. Specifically, according to Vergnaud, omega-3s can cause an aftertaste, or some mild digestive issues. “And St John’s wort — beyond the serious drug interactions — can cause mild side effects related to digestion and sleep,” she says. “It can also worsen anxiety in some people.”
Additionally, Vergnaud cautions that it’s also possible for a supplement to cause an allergic reaction, which is why it’s best to consult with your doctor and be aware of the appropriate dosage for you to take.
How else to boost your mood
Better than any supplements though is paying attention to your overall nutrition, says Vergnaud. “Eating a well-balanced diet, rich in essential vitamins and minerals, is linked to better physical and mental health,” she explains. “You can supplement with a multivitamin if you like, but for most healthy people, it’s better to try to get the nutrients your body needs from a full and varied diet, rather than reaching for supplements.”
To do that, she recommends eating plenty of fresh or frozen veggies, whole grains, nuts, seeds, and lean sources of protein, including a few servings of oily fish every week. “And, choose unprocessed or minimally processed foods whenever possible, avoiding foods with added sugars and salt,” she says. “Following this advice can go a long way to helping you nourish your gut microbiome, feel better, and sleep better.”
Other habits that can help boost mood according to Vergnaud include:
- Practicing mindfulness and meditation.
- Taking care of yourself, through positive and relaxing activities, like getting a massage or talking to a loved one.
- Maintain a positive mindset, by reflecting on your strengths and practicing gratitude.
- Leaning on your friends, family, or a support group
- Connecting with nature
- Volunteering to help others
Before you go, check out our favorite quotes to inspire healthy attitudes about food and bodies:
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