The Feel Good Factor

  • 26 Dec 2010
  • Reading time 10 mins
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The Mail on Sunday's YOU mag explains my top ten mood boosting secrets from the new book The Feel Good Factor. Find out more

Psychologists tell us that often depression is just anger without enthusiasm. Don’t get sad, get mad, they say. There’s some truth to that, but, for many people, feeling low, anxious and unmotivated has more to do with what’s going on in your brain than in your life.

Secret 1 - The Sugar Blues One of the most common causes of low mood is, quite simply, blood sugar lows. If you are gaining weight, feel tired a lot of the time and crave sweet foods the chances are your blood sugar is out of whack. The solution is simple: to follow my Low GL Diet. GL stands for ‘glycemic load’ and there are three simple rules.

Rule no 1 is to eat low GL foods. 2 bowls of oats has the same GL as half a bowl of cornflakes, a whole punnet of berries has the same GL as 10 raisins, so it’s all about making the right choices.

Rule no 2 is always eating protein with carbohydrate. That means egg or beans on toast, not jam on toast. 

Rule no 3 is to eat little and often – 3 meals, plus 2 snacks, never missing breakfast. Aemon, is a case in point. “My mood has improved greatly and I wake early every morning, clear headed and without the aid of an alarm clock.” He says. Not only did he lose his blues but he also lost 100 pounds in weight in 7 months – and never felt hungry.

Secret 2 - Balance your hormones Having blood sugar problems is one of the ways you can end up with hormonal imbalances. But there other ways. Many people who feel low have an underactive thyroid. If you feel like your get up and go has got up and gone, this may be your problem. It’s certainly worth getting your thyroxine levels checked. A simple way to do this yourself is to test your body temperature which should be at least 36.5°C. If you test your temperature on rising and it’s consistently below this there’s a good chance you have an underactive thyroid. Sometimes the problem isn’t just a lack of thyroxine, but that the body produces antibodies that attack the thyroxine producing cells.

That’s why it is also vital to be tested for what’s called ‘ anti-thyroid antibodies’. If you test positive there’s a very good chance you have an unidentfied food allergy. Jennifer had suffered with severe depression since she was 16 and was finding it very hard to cope, and had gained 42lbs. Her tests revealed that she had very high levels of anti-thyroid antibodies, as well as several food allergies. Three months after starting her allergen-free diet Jennifer said she was ‘thrilled’. Her low mood had lifted, she’d lost weight and went back to full-time work, something she had feared would never happen. There are other hormone imbalances too, such as a lack of progesterone or DHEA that can leave you feel low and lacking in motivation. I talk about these in the book.

Secret 3 - Do you have the guts to be happy? Dr Joseph Egger, was one of the first pioneers studying the link between allergy and mental health. He tested 30 patients who were suffering from anxiety, depression and ‘brain fog’.The study was double-blind, giving the patients either dummy foods, or their allergenic foods.The food allergens alone were able to produce severe depression, nervousness, feelings of anger, loss of motivation and severe mental blankness. One of the most common foods that produces depression is wheat. Peter is a case in point. He had suffered with periods of severe depression, along with many unpleasant side effects from the medication. When we tested him he reacted to a number of foods, including wheat. He had what he described as a ‘huge improvement’ in his mood. In my book I explain how to identify your hidden food allergies.

Secret 4 -  Why fats are essential Extraordinary as it may sound, you can actually predict a country’s murder rate as well as its depression and suicide rate simply by knowing its seafood intake. Fish, especially oily fish such as salmon and mackerel, is very high in omega 3 fats. These help boost serotonin, that’s the brain’s feel good chemical. There have been ten good-quality double-blind controlled trials to date giving fish oils rich in omega-3s. Most of them report greater improvement than antidepressant drugs. They work quickly. In one study, 20 people suffering from severe depression were given an omega-3 supplement. By the third week they were showing major improvement in their mood, whereas those on placebo were not.

Secret 5 -  Amazing aminos Most anti-depressant drugs are said to work because they boost serotonin. If you think about it there are three questions you want to ask: am I low in serotonin? If so, why? And what can I do to boost my serotonin level naturally? The most direct way to raise a low serotonin level is to supplement the amino acid, called 5-HTP, from which it is made. Back in the 1970’s a professor from Osaka University Medical School gave over 100 patients 5-HTP. After a month nearly three-quarters of the patients reported either complete relief or significant improvement, with no side effects. There have been 27 studies to date showing positive results.

You are most likely to benefit if your serotonin level is low. Holly is a case in point. She felt that her anxiety, depression and indecision were ruining her life. When we tested her her serotonin levels were rock bottom. She started taking supplements of 5-HTP. Very quickly Holly began to feel much better. As her serotonin level normalised she started sleeping well, her anxiety reduced massively and her mood lifted. There are other amino acids that can make a big difference, including one called SAMe. I tell you about these in the book. There are also supplements that contain 5-HTP, together with B vitamins, vitamin D and chromium. See

Secret 6 - Get enough sleep Not getting enough sleep is another common reason for feeling down and tired. A common reason for not being able to stay asleep is low melatonin. If you are going to take a sleeping pill get your doctor to prescribe melatonin. Alternatively, try 5-HTP, half an hour before bed. Magnesium also helps switch off a hyperactive mind as do various herbs. The best supplements for sleep provide combinations of these herbs, amino acids and minerals.

Another common reason for not being able to sleep is that your mind can’t switch off To go to sleep you have to change your brain state into what’s called alpha waves. One of the ways to do this is with specific music, called Silence of Peace that switches your brain into sleep mode. You might not believe that something this simple could really work but it does. Sue is a case in point. She would sleep for about three hours, waking every 45 minutes or so. Here’s what she says:‘ The improvement happened from night one. Now, just one week later, I am sleeping for six to seven hours. I haven’t heard the end of the CD yet.’

Secret 7 - Get yourself connected with B vitamins B vitamins help to turn the protein you eat into neurotransmitters - the most important ones being B6, B12 and folic acid. Taking more of these Bs often makes you feel more ‘connected’. In one study, depressed people were either given an antidepressant with folic acid or with a placebo. Nine out of ten of the women taking the folic acid halved their depression rating. In older people the most common missing B is B12. That’s because the older you get the less well you absorb it. As well as improving your mood, it stops your brain shrinking.

But, how do you know whether you need more Bs? The best way is a blood test of homocysteine, which can be tested on a home test kit. Amanda-Jane is a case in point. She was shocked to find her homocysteine score was 26 units (your level should be below 7). She followed my homocysteine lowering diet and supplements and, almost immediately her mood and energy improved. Here’s what she told me:‘I feel much better. My mood is very positive – no panic or depression. I feel buoyant, energetic and enthusiastic - and my PMS has disappeared. You can get your homocysteine tested with a hometest kit.

Secret 8 - Are you vitamin D deficient? From an evolutionary point of view we are designed to be naked, living outdoors and a lot further South than Europe. Between October and March there’s no way you can make enough vitamin D, which is made in the skin with sun exposure. That’s why you feel blue in the winter. The lower your vitamin D level the more depressed you feel. One study in Australia found that those given vitamin D supplements had an improvement in mood in only five days.

Daryl is a case in point. During the winter, he felt very low and had what he described as ‘brain fog’. His blood tests showed supplement low very vitamin D and essential fats. He started eating more oily fish and taking supplements. He quickly noticed what he described as a ‘massive improvement’ in his symptoms. He was no longer waking with headaches, instead feeling what he described as ‘thoroughly refreshed’.

Secret 9 - Exercise outdoors Exercise plays a key part in beating the blues. In fact, it turns out to be as effective as taking antidepressants. If you exercise outdoors, thereby combining exercising with sunlight exposure, that’s all the better. Of course, most people say they feel too tired to exercise, but when you follow my diet you’ll find a big jump in your energy level. If you are feeling low go for a walk in the park or in nature. Being in natural environments often helps get your mind into a better state.

Secret 10 - St John’s wort works The tenth feel good secret is the herb St Johns Wort. It is one of the most thoroughly researched of all natural remedies and works just as well as antidepressants, but has many advantages. Side effects are rare and not nearly as severe. Mixing with alcohol doesn’t lead to adverse reactions. It is neither addictive nor produces withdrawal symptoms .It does not inhibit sex drive as antidepressants do in quite a few people – and can actually enhance it. In my book I explain the dose you need to get an effect. So there are ten nutrition and lifestyle steps you can take to improve your mood and give you get up and go. Of course, there are many very helpful psychological techniques and insights that I cover in my The Feel Good Factor book, including two of my favourites - EBT, and the Hoffman process. Wishing you the best of health and happiness for 2011.