Mood: Questions & Solutions

Mood: Questions & Solutions

Originally posted on Health and Nature News, with permission.

Time and time again we’ve seen those infomercials about the new up-and-coming miracle mood-enhancing supplement or drug only to discover that it either doesn’t work or has a mile-long list of side effects. Americans as a whole suffer from all sorts of mood disorders that are either an inconvenience or simply rule their lives. If mood has such a powerful effect and influences us so much, then might it be worth investigating what is going on inside of us (physiologically) and what is available to help keep it under control? When life gives us lemons or throws us a curveball, let’s figure out what neural circuits snap, crackle, and pop to tell us to make lemonade or throw in the towel.


According to Merriam-Webster, the main definition for mood is “a conscious state of mind or predominant emotion”. The actual word mood is derived from an old English word which refers to military courage, but also could describe a person's temper, humor, or mental disposition at a given time. A mood can be either good, bad, or neutral (a mix of good and bad). When we are in a “good” or “positive” mood, there has been evidence that shows we can think more creatively and slightly boosts our cognitive performance1. Conversely, when we are in a “bad” or “negative” mood, some of the opposite effects occur2. Interestingly, many factors influence our daily mood. Our mood can be greatly influenced by poor diet3 …when we eat bad, we feel bad. When we are sleep deprived, we also generally tend to get more anxious and even a bit depressed4. It has even been suggested that the very facial expressions we make influence our mood5. One of the influencers of mood that is often overlooked is the change in seasons. S.A.D. (Seasonal Affective Disorder) is a mood disorder in which people experience depressive symptoms during certain times of the year, most often being in winter. According to a couple of researchers, as much as 6% of the US population, primarily in northern climates, are affected by SAD in its most marked form. Another 14% of the adult US population suffers from a lesser form of seasonal mood changes, known as winter blues6.


Since there are quite several mood disorders that many of us suffer from, it might be beneficial to focus on just a few and try to understand what is happening within certain regions of our brain. Depression is one of the most predominant of the mood disorders that millions of people throughout the country battle with. Major Depressive Disorder (or MDD) is one type of depression in which the pathophysiology is not clearly understood, as in many other major mood disorders. However, the current theories seem to pivot around sleep cycles, the way neurons talk to each other, and the actual hard-wiring of neural/emotional circuits. The way neurons communicate can be called the monoaminergic theory and revolves around two things: the amount of certain neurotransmitters involved in mood (namely serotonin, norepinephrine, and dopamine) and the way the neurotransmitters are received and their lifespans. In many cases of depression, it is widely accepted that these three monoamines are the main cast members7. In regards to the management and lifespans of these monoamines, certain genetic disorders can lead to their accelerated degradation or insufficient synthesis. When this happens with serotonin, for example, major symptoms of depression can be seen8, as well as other symptoms like insomnia, loss of appetite, etc. 

Other factors that seem to be correlated with depression are sleep/wake cycles, in which certain insomnia sufferers have struggled with depression, due to the physiological link9 in which again serotonin becomes the main culprit. Even the immune system abnormalities have been linked to depression10,11. The use of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs and cytokine inhibitors in combating depression, as well as the normalization of immune cell levels after the treatment also suggests a link between immune system abnormalities and depression. So, we see that certain mood disorders like depression aren’t always exactly “in our heads”, but other parts of the body as well.


Now that we understand a little about what triggers certain mood disorders and what some of the mechanisms of action are, it might be interesting to look into what is out there to help combat some of these physiological and psychological symptoms.

Within the synthetic medicinal/pharma route of treating certain mood disorders like anxiety and depression, there are too many prescription drugs to list in this article. However, within the anxiolytics family, physicians often prescribe drugs that act as antihistamines such as Hydroxyzine, benzodiazepines such as Xanax, opioids such as Hydrocodone, etc. The antihistamines act on certain regions of the brain that control the way neurons talk to each other (namely the cholinergic routes) and create mild sedative effects12, while the benzodiazepines act on other regions of the brain that are rich in what are called GABA receptors13 which are directly responsible for “slowing the brain down”. The barbiturates, opioids, carbamates, sympatholytics, etc. all work in similar ways to reduce neural firing to achieve a sedative-like state of mind. Conversely, the class of antidepressant drugs is also extremely popular in the pharma world. These drugs include classes such as the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), cyclics, monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI’s), and so on. Many of these drugs like the SSRI’s and MAO inhibitors cause their antidepressant actions by allowing our “happy neurotransmitters” like serotonin and norepinephrine to accumulate in tiny areas where two neurons interact and tell our brains “we feel good”. Likewise, the cyclic antidepressants act as SSRI’s and sometimes are prescribed when the others fail.

Switching over from the synthetic drug route to the natural/alternative medicine route, there are myriads of different phytochemicals in nature’s pharmacy that act in similar ways to the prescription drugs.


Humulus lupulus is a medicinal herb that contains bitter resins, in particular, 2-methyl-3-buten-2-ol which acts like the benzodiazepines, attaching itself to certain regions of the GABA receptor in our brain thus slowing down excitement and relieving symptoms of depression and anxiety14,15.


Studies of the anxiolytic effect of Chamomile (Matricaria recutita) in humans suggest that chamomile may have anxiolytic and antidepressant activity16 by the same or similar routes as other benzodiazepines, binding to either benzodiazepine or GABAa receptors. By these means, Hops and Chamomile can almost act as mild alternatives to certain prescription anxiolytics.


The popular herbal extract Griffonia simplicifolia contains an interesting little amino acid called 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP). This little guy just happens to be the precursor to the precursor to serotonin. Studies show that when extracts of Griffonia simplicifolia are introduced to individuals there are marked improvements in sleep, anxiety, and depression17,18.

Vitamin B6

We’ve discussed what the key players are regarding which “mind molecules” are involved in making us feel happy or calm. However, very little is taken to mind as to how these molecules are made and what “those” key players are. When it comes to our bodies making serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, etc. there are certain enzymes involved in their manufacture. These enzymes require little “activator” molecules, sometimes called coenzymes or cofactors. Pyridoxal 5-phosphate (the active form of vitamin B6) is one such cofactor that is responsible for the synthesis of these happy catecholamines19 and have been shown to play their own part in depression and anxiety20.


It’s rather interesting how studies show that brain magnesium deficiency tends to reduce serotonin levels, and certain antidepressants have been shown to have the action of raising brain magnesium. Additionally, excessive amounts of calcium or excitatory amino acids like glutamate and aspartate (taken in excess) can be linked to depressive symptoms 21. Further, magnesium has been shown to reduces anxiety and act as a mild sedative22,23.


It seems as the years go by, more and more evidence surfaces as to new ways we can use science and technology to help depress the depression. Interestingly, as electronics and technology advances, the healthcare/mental healthcare industries are beginning to tap into alternatives to supplements and medication in regards to treating mental health disorders. Techniques such as usage of social media platforms, wearable technology (clothing, bracelets, etc.), and even virtual reality therapy have been utilized24. Even the use of cybertherapy (data gloves in conjunction with cyberspace software) has shown promise to assist in the treatment of anxiety, depression, eating disorders, etc.25. So, using digital and ingestible technology to treat mood disorders may very well be on the horizon, if not already put into practice.


Regardless of race, age, gender, socioeconomic status, or any other category a person may fall into, mood plays a role in everyone’s life. Our days are wonderful when we are in a GOOD mood, but the days when our mood is not so wonderful, for some of us more often than not, just getting through the day can be difficult. It is encouraging to know however, that science is on the rise to assist those of us who need a little assistance with… Our Mood.


Chad Brey, a California State University, Northridge alumnus, has since worked as a chemist for various analytical and research facilities such as Amgen, Baxter, and Nusil Technology. Since 1997 he has worked in the dietary supplement industry for companies such as Earthwise Nutrition (formerly known as Great Earth Vitamins) and has earned a number of certificates as an IACET-certified dietary supplement specialist. Chad has written dozens of technical articles on the specifics of how certain dietary supplements work. Chad has formulated and developed small and large molecules in research and development laboratories since 2003 and continues to consult others in R&D today.
Read more blogs from Chad Brey


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