Originally published March 6 2008
Finding Happiness the Natural Way
by Charmaine D. Mercado
(NaturalNews) In a blue funk. Apathetic. High-strung. Premenstrual woman from hell. Enervated. Grouchy. Spacey. Turning on the waterworks for no real reason. Swinging from repressed fear to rage like an angst-ridden green monster. Do any of these describe you? Before you pop that Prozac into your mouth, ask yourself: could there be any other reason for my unhappiness aside from a bleak past, the economy, the loss of a loved one, constant negative thoughts, my inability to forgive, the ubiquitous presence of negative people in my life, or the weather? Have I done something to my body that could have led me to feel miserable right now? Or more specifically, did I put something in my mouth that could have caused me to feel so messed up right now?
Aside from fulfilling relationships, a successful career, deep spirituality, and personal or financial abundance, following a healthy lifestyle is one of the biggest keys to achieving happiness. The most influential lifestyle change that you can adopt right now is eating clean, healthy food. Superior nutrition will incredibly affect your emotional, mental, physical, and even spiritual states. Optimum physical health is so far-reaching it will inevitably lead to mental and emotional well-being.
Believe it or not, changing your diet could facilitate and enhance your mental and emotional spring-cleaning. You miraculously find yourself letting go of the old negative thought patterns. You find yourself healing emotionally, feeling more enthusiastic and vibrant, just happy to be yourself and be alive. As your body releases all the toxins that have accumulated through years of faulty eating and lack of exercise, you will feel that your mind and heart are also unburdening themselves. Toxic thoughts and emotions simultaneously disappear as the body rids itself of toxins. This is the magic of taking great care of your body through the amazing and powerful synergy of proper nutrition, exercise, supplementation, detoxification, and energy/vibrational medicine.
1. Up your raw food intake
Depression is usually caused by more than one factor, but the usual culprit is malnutrition. A person may be regular-sized (even obese) and still be malnourished. Being malnourished means your body does not have the right amount of nutrients due to regular consumption of nutrient-deficient foods, leading to poor digestion and assimilation, which further compounds the problem of malnutrition. The food-mood connection is more profound than a lot of people actually think. Eating the right food can truly put a smile on your face because being physically healthy will make you feel great.
Including and increasing raw food in your daily menu could be the most powerful move you'll ever do to improve your mood. Raw food contains all the nutrients intact: enzymes, vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, protein, fat and carbohydrates, all in their unaltered form. Cooking kills off all the enzymes, diminishes vitamins, makes the minerals less bioavailable, oxidizes the fat present in the food, and changes the food molecularly. For example - a cup of raw green peas contains about 25 grams of protein; a cup of boiled peas only has 8 grams of protein. From being a high-protein food, raw peas turn into high-carb food once subjected to heating.
Enzymes play an important role in improving your mood. They help your body digest the nutrients present in the food you eat. They first and foremost improve your digestion without using up your body's own enzyme supply, thereby allowing your body to delegate its own enzymes for other vital tasks, mainly, assimilation, detoxification, repair, and regeneration. The body's innate tendency is to heal itself. Remove the burden of digestion and the body rids itself of the bad and the ugly. With enzymes your body's assimilative power increases. It more efficiently absorbs the nutrients needed by every cell in your body. Enzymes and other nutrients found in raw food will literally wash your cells clean. You'll feel supercharged with energy, and experience an inexplicable sense of peace you never thought could come from eating the right food.
Clean, healthy cells that are bursting with life and energy have a higher and faster vibrational frequency than sick, dirty cells. Dirty cells are not charged with energy, and they're so full of toxins they're heavy, hence the low and slow vibration. Having high vibrations at the cellular level is sure to bounce off negative moods and shift them into brighter and positive ones. So grab that grocery cart, head to the fresh produce section, and load it up with your favorite fruits and vegetables. Buy fruits and vegetables of every color. It would be like doing color therapy on the inside to improve your mood.
Bear in mind that the body is ideally 80% alkaline and 20% acidic. Try to gravitate more towards raw fruits and veggies that increase alkalinity, as acidosis is often the cause of irritability, dullness, fatigue and depression. At the same time don't overdo the alkaline stuff. Excessive alkalinity causes spaciness, overexcitability, and anxiety.
Dr. Gabriel Cousens, one of America's premier raw food experts, said that the body can easily acidify itself, but cannot make itself alkaline.
The following is a list of alkalinizing fruits and vegetables: citrus fruits (lemon, orange, and grapefruit), watermelon, apple, bananas, strawberries, blackberries, grapes, melon, cherries, apricot, figs, tomatoes, pineapple, raspberries, dates, kiwi, pear, papaya, cantaloupe, and mangoes; cabbage, alfalfa, lettuce, bok choi, chards, collards, watercress, cucumber, kale, spinach, beets, parsley, broccoli, carrots, onions, sweet potatoes, kelp, buckwheat, bean sprouts, peppers, eggplant, leeks, soy, celery, asparagus, and pumpkin. Alkalizing superfoods include wheat grass, chlorella, barley grass, spirulina, wild greens, and raw honey. Unpasteurized miso is also very alkalizing. One thing you can do to measure your body's alkalinity or acidity is by buying pH strips to use with a 24-hour urine test at home. According to Dr. Cousens, the normal range for non-vegetarians is between 6.3-6.9, while the normal value for vegetarians is a pH between 6.3-7.2.
If you must eat cooked food, be sure to supplement with enzymes. Lightly steamed vegetables for a maximum of three minutes would also be a good choice if you prefer not to eat some of your veggies raw. Eating raw, organic cheeses, yogurt, and egg yolks would also be a good move if you're an omnivore or a lacto-ovo vegetarian.
2. Increase your neurotransmitter reserves
Neurotransmitters are biochemical messengers or brain chemicals that pass information from a neuron to another cell. Low levels of neurotransmitters among adults cause various mood disorders. Lack of neurotransmitters among children can cause ADHD and autism.
Serotonin is the predominant hormone that influences mood. It makes us feel relaxed and optimistic. It gives us the general sense of well-being. It also improves our ability to concentrate. Low levels of serotonin cause depression, irritability, insomnia, feelings of negativity, and poor focus. Too much serotonin on the other hand can cause an individual to feel sleepy or drowsy. Turkey, milk, fish and cheese are non-vegetarian sources that contain nutrients which provide building blocks for this vital mood-regulating neurotransmitter. Bananas, beets, blue-green algae, brown rice, fennel, figs, legumes, nuts, pineapple, potatoes, radishes, spinach, tomatoes, and whole grains would be your best vegetarian choices.
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter responsible for alertness, excitement, feelings of pleasure, and mental sharpness. Individuals suffering from dopamine deficiency experience apathy, seem unable to "love," and feel no remorse with regard to their behavior. Food sources are shellfish, fowl, and soy products.
Norepinephrine, also known as noradrenaline, is responsible for appetite control, energy, motivation, and drive. A person low on norepinephrine suffers from depression and lacks ambition and drive. Animal flesh and products that contain building blocks for norepinephrine are lean beef, fish, fowl, shellfish, and cheese. Vegetarian sources include most green vegetables, soy products, avocado, blue-green algae, grains, apples, pineapple, bananas, almonds and other nuts.
Endorphins are probably the most popular and familiar neurotransmitter to most people, being the buzzword among fitness buffs and exercise gurus. Endorphins not only induce feelings of euphoria and well-being; they're natural painkillers and antidepressants as well. Women who suffer from PMS usually lack this neurotransmitter. Regular exercise (such as running and brisk-walking), dancing, playing sports, acupuncture, traditional acupressure, reflexology, and emotional freedom technique (or EFT) all boost the level of this feel-good hormone in the body.
Enkephalins are a type of endorphins that give psychological pain relief. A person lacking this neurotransmitter feels incomplete, unfulfilled, inferior, inadequate, insecure, and fearful. Food sources include seafood, fowl, and lima beans.
Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid that makes the brain produce neurotransmitters which cause you to feel happy and motivated. Amino Acids are the main precursors to neurotransmitters because they are the building blocks to brain chemicals. Phenylalanine is found in fish, turkey, chicken, milk, cheese, eggs. Good vegetarian sources are cacao, beans, nuts, seeds, millet, potatoes, sweet potatoes, green peas, avocado, corn, spinach, and swiss chard.
GABA or gamma amino butyric acid is both an amino acid and neurotransmitter. It is responsible for generating feelings of calmness and relaxation. Lack of this nutrient results in restlessness and anxiety. Fish and wheat bran are good sources of GABA.
Tryptophan helps produce serotonin and is commonly found in chicken, turkey, fish, cheese and eggs. Vegetarian sources include beans, carrots, beetroots, fennel, tofu, and oats.
5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan is an amino-acid that is converted into serotonin. It is only available in supplement form. Choose a 5-HTP supplement that is derived from its natural source, the African plant griffonia simplicifolia.
Tyrosine is an amino acid that manufactures dopamine, epinephrine, and norepinephrine. It can be found in cucumbers, green peppers, almonds, strawberries, and apricots.
Nutritional imbalances can affect the production of these neurotransmitters and greatly impact mood and motivation. Build your neurotransmitter reserves by eating foods rich in amino acids that help improve your mood. You can also try taking a natural supplement containing an amino-acid complex to help you increase your neurotransmitter levels faster.
3. Eat foods rich in mood-enhancing nutrients
The following are specific nutrients and foods that will greatly enhance your mood:
Vitamin B3 assists in nerve function. Fruit sources include bananas, cantaloupe, peaches, tomatoes, kiwi, and watermelon. Squash, artichoke, lima beans, carrots, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, avocado, potatoes, kale, broccoli, peanuts, and peas are the vegetables and legumes that contain high amounts of this vitamin. Pine nuts, almonds and chestnuts are also great sources of vitamin B3.
Vitamin B6 is very important in maintaining normal nerve function. Deficiency in this vitamin causes irritability, dizziness, and confusion. Bananas and watermelon, peas, avocado, carrots and potatoes are your good bets in getting significant amounts of B6.
Vitamin B12 is essential for central nervous system function. Nutritional yeast, sea vegetables, animal flesh, and animal by-products are the food sources of this important vitamin.
Folate is a naturally-occurring form of vitamin B9 found in fresh food. Folate helps build the nervous system and maintains normal brain function. Deficiency in this mineral causes serotonin levels to go down. Folate can be found in kiwi, orange, strawberries, blackberries, cantaloupe, bananas, tomatoes, carrots, onions, green pepper, asparagus, peas, avocado, kale, spinach, peas, peanuts and all tree nuts.
Calcium enables the nerves to communicate properly and is needed to maintain proper serotonin levels. Fruits that are rich in calcium are oranges, blackberries, kiwi, lemon, cantaloupe, strawberries, bananas. Spinach, broccoli kale, peas, artichoke, asparagus, bok choi, collard greens, cabbage, mustard greens, kelp, soy, dulse, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, and all kinds of nuts such as almonds, pistachios, pine nuts, walnuts, macadamia and cashews also contain a considerable amount of calcium.
Zinc deficiency causes poor memory, mental lethargy, and fatigue. Pumpkin seeds, pecans, brewer's yeast, dulse, kelp, chickpeas, oats, cashews, legumes, mushrooms, lentils, sunflower seeds, whole grains , soybeans, and wheat germ are great vegetarian sources of zinc. Animal flesh and by-product sources of this mineral are fish, sardines, seafood, chicken, turkey, eggs, and cheese.
Chromium regulates blood sugar levels, improves metabolism of amino acids, and prevents anxiety, depression, manic rages, attention deficit disorder, irritability, bi-polar disorder, and fatigue. Non-vegetarian sources include fish, seafood, eggs, chicken, cheese, and other dairy products. Corn, brown rice, blackstrap molasses, whole grains, dulse, potatoes with skin, and mushroom are good vegetarian sources of chromium.
Magnesium activates the energy-boosting B vitamins, regulates energy production and relaxes nerves and muscles. It also brings PMS relief. A high dose (1,000 mg) of this mineral can alleviate anxiety, depression, and insomnia. Kiwi, tomatoes, apples, cacao, figs, grapefruit, bananas, blackberries, dates, strawberries, avocado, winter and summer squash, artichokes, corn, potatoes, sweet potatoes, black-eyed peas, broccoli, kale, legumes, whole grains, alfalfa sprouts, garlic, lentils, beets, dulse, kelp, most nuts, and eggs all contain magnesium.
Selenium deficiency results in anxiety, hostility, irritability, and depression. Foods rich in this mineral are Brazil nuts and sunflower seeds, cashews, pistachios, walnuts, peanuts, pecan, chestnuts, bananas, kiwi, apples, grapes, peach, strawberries, orange, onions, spinach, lima beans, peas, corn, mushrooms, kale, sweet potatoes and potatoes.
Omega 3 increases serotonin levels and enhances serotonin activity. They also help build receptor sites and improve reception as well. Flaxseed, salmon, mackerel, and sardines are rich in omega-3.
Last but not the least, don't forget to drink lots of clean and pure H2O. Chronic, mild dehydration can have a huge effect on mental and physical performance. Dehydration can cause headaches, lightheadedness, and poor concentration; it can weaken short-term memory, decrease arithmetic skills, and affect vision. Severe dehydration can even lead to delirium. Water also provides lubrication to your nerve cells.
4. Junk the junk and stabilize your blood sugar level
Glucose is the most important nutrient for proper brain function and it is therefore important to maintain a steady level of glucose in the blood. Running low on glucose can cause depression, crying spells, irritability, fatigue, poor concentration, forgetfulness, fatigue, dizziness, blurred vision, digestive upsets, and excessive thirst. Hypoglycemia or having low blood sugar should be avoided if you want to have a stable mood and lasting energy. Keep hypoglycemia at bay by eating smaller, healthy, and balanced meals more frequently.
Establish an optimum blood sugar level and avoid all the food that cause blood sugar to spike and plummet dramatically such as refined sugar and heavily-processed carbs such as white rice, white bread, and sugar-loaded breakfast cereals, which behave like pure sugar upon entering the body. Eating such foods will result in a post-meal crash, even if you combine them with protein and fat. Other feel-bad foods include alcohol, fatty meats and snacks, coffee, and fried foods. In short don't eat the staples in the standard American diet (SAD). Eat SAD and be sad. Don't expect to feel great if you subsist on nutrient-stripped, denatured and devitalized food.
Nix the tobacco habit. Don't pollute your body further with smoking. Cigarettes may initially produce a calming effect but are actually a depressant. Nicotine also inhibits the action of feel-good neurotransmitters.
5. Correct other health problems that affect your mood
Some people have mood disorders due to certain health conditions. An underactive thyroid can also be the culprit. Symptoms of hypothyroidism are depression, poor memory, indigestion, constipation, and weight gain. Have yourself tested for hypothyroidism if you suspect that you have it. Enzyme supplementation, cold-pressed extra-virgin coconut oil, and large amounts of raw food can help correct a poor metabolism. Ask a competent holistic health practitioner for specific advice on how to treat hypothyroidism naturally.
Allergies can also greatly limit the production of neurotransmitters. Having a leaky gut due to allergies greatly diminishes the body's capacity to digest and assimilate nutrients, leading to malnutrition and a horde of uncomfortable and annoying symptoms. Cow's milk and gluten have been known to cause brain fog, lethargy and irritability. Consider having yourself tested for possible delayed-onset food allergies.
6. Take out the garbage
Pesticides, toxic environmental gases, chemical fertilizers in conventionally grown vegetables, hormones, antibiotics, genetically-modified organisms, parasites, unfriendly bacteria, mercury in seafood, nitrates, nitrites, artificial color and flavors, emulsifiers, bleaching agents, and other food additives and preservatives all affect every cell, organ, and tissue in our body. Add to that the carcinogens present in barbecued, grilled, deep-fried, over-baked, nuked, and roasted food. Carrying a lot of trash in the body doesn't feel good. You'd have to improve the efficiency of your disposal unit (mainly the digestive system) by doing a detox not just to improve your mood, but to avoid serious diseases in the future as well. This is mainly done by avoiding toxic food and by consuming large amounts of organic raw food.
Eliminating red meat would help you a lot in detoxifying. Studies show that carcinogens are produced in the stomach as a by-product of its digestion, apart from the toxins already present in the meat. Also, animals feel intense fear and pain during slaughter, which triggers the release of toxic chemicals in their bodies (same thing happens to humans when they're having negative emotions - see below). These are the additional toxins in dead animal flesh (beef, pork, lamb, fish, chicken, turkey, shrimp, crab, lobster etc) that are most of the time not mentioned. It is for this reason that the vegetarian and vegan claim that eating animal pain causes human pain is not so mystical or unfounded after all. Animal sources have only been included above for those who don't think they can remove meat from their diet. If you insist on eating animal flesh, just make sure that it's lean, organic, and fresh. You would also have to offset the negative effects of eating meat with lots of raw food.
Aside from eating high amounts of raw food, you can also take an herbal digestive cleanse supplement to give your digestive tract a clean sweep. Relief from chronic pain and a significant mood improvement are often the reported benefits of undergoing a digestive cleanse.
It is also helpful to undergo a parasite cleansing program to rid yourself of unfriendly organisms that could be causing your problems of malnutrition and listlessness. Moreover you wouldn't want competition when you start saturating your body with nutrients. Look for parasite formulas containing black walnut hull and wormwood. Munching on sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds will also assist your body in expelling certain types of parasites.
One big favor that you can do to your body is fasting. During a fast the body concentrates more on healing and cleaning itself because it gets to rest from digestion. Supervised fasts reversing psychiatric illnesses have been well-documented. A person however can do a fast at home provided he is well-informed and is under the guidance of a fasting expert, as some people have had to be rushed to the ER (some even end up dying) for not breaking their fast properly. One can do a water fast, lemonade fast, juice fast, or even a juice feast. Whichever mode you choose make sure you consult someone well-trained in fasting before you start your own fast.
While detox symptoms can be rough and unpleasant, you can be sure that you'll end up feeling lighter, more energized and vibrant. Having a truly clean and healthy body can work wonders on the psyche. You will realize that peace and joy are more naturally drawn to you.
7. Learn to de-stress and relax
Stress will break your neurotransmitter bank. Lack of sleep, everyday emotional trials and mental challenges will deplete your body's supply of "feel-good" neurotransmitters.
The problem is that the body responds to emotional stress exactly the same way as it does to physical danger. Our body continuously reacts to anxiety, irritation, anger, frustration, fear with the same primitive fight-or-flight mechanism our cavemen ancestors had millions of years ago.
A person on a prolonged fight-or-flight mode eventually develops a disease due to impaired immune function and malnutrition. The vital body processes such as digestion, assimilation of nutrients, cell production, growth, repair, and rejuvenation all get halted as the body shifts its focus on carrying out emergency functions such as increasing adrenaline production. The pituitary gland works double time to increase its manufacture of andrenocorticotropic hormone, which triggers the release of cortisol and cortisone. Both inhibit the function of white blood cells, resulting in poor immune defense against disease and harmful microorganisms.
Our pre-historic ascendants were able to ferret out these harmful chemicals from their bodies by being physically active. Furthermore, they did not live in constant fear of being eaten by animals. They only feared the saber-tooth tiger when leaving their cave to forage for food and forgot about it once they made it safely back to their dwellings. Modern man on the other hand doesn't exercise, makes mountains out of molehills, sweats the wrong stuff, and constantly worries about his problems, whether they're big or trifling or imaginary.
Replenish your neurotransmitter reserves by eating the right food and by exercising. Deep breathing, acupressure, yoga, prayer, listening to music, spending time with positive people, reading inspirational books, watching funny movies, de-cluttering, helping others, seeking counseling or consulting a life coach, practicing gratitude, finding a support group, picking up a new hobby, and going on vacation can all help you de-stress.
Inhaling the right scents can also assist in relaxation. Essential oils that can lift your mood are lavender, geranium, patchouli, chamomile, neroli, ylang-ylang, rose, and sandalwood. You can pour a few drops of any of these essential oils into your warm bath or burner to feel more calm and at peace.
If there is truly an unpleasant life event that is causing you to feel stressed and depressed, fret not. There are many ways to help you get over it. You can do EFT on yourself, but it would be more helpful to consult a seasoned EFT practitioner for severe depression, anxiety or stress. An EFT practitioner would know how to dig deep and find the core issue that is causing you so much emotional suffering. An EFT practitioner would also help you to formulate the right phrases and teach you various tapping techniques you can do on your own. The great thing with EFT is that you don't only get emotional release from negative memories and events in your life. You would be pleasantly surprised to find your stiff neck or some other chronic pain go away. Your elevated blood pressure unexpectedly goes down. Your life-long craving for a certain bad food suddenly disappears. The mind-body connection never becomes more apparent than in the practice of EFT.
You can also try taking anti-depressant herbs such as St. John's Wort, valerian, and chamomile. Avoid taking selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor (SSRI) drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Celexa, and Effexor. They do not increase serotonin production. What they really do is deplete your neurotransmitter reserves and increase your monoamine oxidase (MAO) levels. MAO triggers aging and causes depression. One potent raw superfood that you can eat to beat the blues and blahs is raw cacao. It contains phenylethylamine, a brain chemical that gives one the feeling of being in love, and anandamide, another bliss chemical. Raw cacao also has dopamine and serotonin precursors, and is rich in anxiety-reducing magnesium. MAO inhibitors are also found in cacao, which allow dopamine and serotonin to stay intact in the bloodstream longer. You can consume up to a tablespoon of raw cacao on most days of the week.
Happiness is not a pie in the sky as some pessimists and skeptics would have us believe. It is not something unattainable without the help of psychotherapy drugs as conventional medicine would have us believe. It is not something that external events or forces can take away from us as our unenlightened mind would have us believe. Happiness is there for the taking for those who are willing to receive it. Take care of your body, re-align with your dreams and goals and watch your happiness soar. Never forget that you can be happy... naturally.
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About the authorCharmaine D. Mercado is a freelance writer who is passionate about natural health, nutrition and well-being.
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