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Prescription 2014: Happiness Enhancers

May 26, 2014 Written by JP       [Font too small?]

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year”, Ralph Waldo Emerson. This is a goal I aspire to, but often fall short of reaching. Sometimes I feel down despite the fact that there is so much for which to be grateful. And, judging by the accounts of many clients, colleagues and friends, I’m not alone. Fortunately, there is a growing body of research indicating that natural practices and remedies can help those of us who are inclined to disproportionately experience darker moods.

My first suggestion for overcoming a depressive state mind is yoga. A long list of peer-reviewed studies reveal that practicing yoga, long or short term, literally alters the chemistry of the body in ways that affect mood. A recent trial published in the journal Complementary Therapies in Clinical Practice reports that a single, 90 minute session of Hatha yoga significantly reduces cortisol, a stress hormone, and results in an improved outlook or “positive affect”. Yoga has likewise been shown to improve sleep quality and a variety of symptoms sometimes associated with depression including fatigue, hostility and tension. If attending a yoga class isn’t possible or practical, I suggest trying a DVD or online course. These modes of instruction are documented as providing similar results to on site classes.

Another option for lightening your mood has been right under your nose all along: aromatherapy. A study appearing in the April 2014 issue of the Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine informs that inhaling the fragrance of yuzu, a Japanese citrus fruit, decreases the level of salivary chromogranin A – a “stress marker reflecting sympathetic nervous system activity”. In addition, a decline in multiple symptoms relating to mood disturbance were noted such as anger-hostility, confusion, depression-dejection and tension-anxiety. A naturally occurring compound known as yuzunone is believed to be responsible for some, if not all, of the benefits described in the above trial. Yuzo aromatic oil is available in select health food stores and online. If you have a difficult time finding it, you could look for orange oil, a more common essential oil which eases the response to stress situations.

My third and final recommendation is to invest in a course of learning, specifically, a scientifically validated mind-body exercise called MBSR or mindfulness-based stress reduction. The University of Massachusetts Medical School offers an 8 week online course in MBSR that costs $199. Over the long term, this is more cost effective than most medications, supplements and therapy. However, the results can be equally profound. Dozens of controlled trials show that MBSR practice effectively and safely addresses many aspects of cognitive and emotional dysfunction ranging from excessive worry to workplace burnout. Researchers have discovered that MBSR increases gray matter concentrations in regions of the brain that produce and release norepinephrine and serotonin – neurotransmitters with antidepressant properties. What’s more, the benefits of MBSR extend much further than the confines of the brain. A current study in the journal Digestion describes a reduction in flare ups in patients with ulcerative colitis who engage in MBSR. This truly points to a mind-body connection which may assist virtually anyone whose mood is influenced by physical conditions.

Note: Please check out the “Comments & Updates” section of this blog – at the bottom of the page. You can find the latest research about this topic there!

To learn more about the studies referenced in today’s column, please click on the following links:

Study 1 - The Effect of Prenatal Hatha Yoga on Affect, Cortisol and Depressive (link)

Study 2 - Yoga for Improving Sleep Quality and Quality of Life for Older Adults (link)

Study 3 – Yoga for Reducing Perceived Stress and Back Pain at Work (link)

Study 4 - Effects of Olfactory Stimulation from the Fragrance of the Japanese (link)

Study 5 – Novel Character Impact Compounds in Yuzu Peel Oil (link)

Study 6 - Effect of Aromatherapy with Orange Essential Oil on Salivary Cortisol (link)

Study 7 - Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction for Older Adults with Worry (link)

Study 8 – Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction: An Intervention to Enhance the (link)

Study 9 - Change in Brainstem Gray Matter Concentration Following a Mindfulness (link)

Study 10 - A Randomized Controlled Trial of Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (link)

The Effects of Yoga on Various Aspects of Mental Health

Source: Biopsychosoc Med. 2014 Jan 3;8(1):1. (link)

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11 Comments & Updates to “Prescription 2014: Happiness Enhancers”

  1. Paul Says:

    Hi Healthy Fellow,

    I appreciate your reminders of proven ways to help yourself when your mood needs an uplift!
    The related posts in this article help to recognize the plural benefits of the assortment tools we can use before we let ourselves fall victims of dreadful consequences or we can minimize their impact.
    Keep up your great job!


  2. JP Says:

    I’m happy this column was valuable to you, Paul. I’m always on the lookout for ways to maintain a constructive and positive outlook. And, as I find them, I’ll continue to share them here, on Facebook and Twitter!

    Be well!


  3. JP Says:

    Update 05/18/15:


    Nutritional Neuroscience – Volume 18, Issue 4

    Objective: Previous studies have shown a positive effect of zinc as an adjunctive therapy on reducing depressive symptoms. However, to our knowledge, no study has examined the effect of zinc monotherapy on mood. The aim of the present study was to determine the effects of zinc monotherapy on depressive symptoms and serum brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) levels in overweight or obese subjects.

    Methods: Fifty overweight or obese subjects were randomly assigned into two groups and received either 30 mg zinc or placebo daily for 12 weeks. At baseline and post-intervention, depression severity was assessed using Beck depression inventory II (BDI II), and serum BDNF and zinc levels were determined by enzyme-linked immunosorbent assay and atomic absorption spectrophotometry, respectively.

    Results: The trial was completed with 46 subjects. After a 12-week supplementation, serum zinc and BDNF levels increased significantly in the zinc-supplemented group compared with the placebo group. BDI scores declined in both the groups at the end of the study, but reduction in the zinc-supplemented group was significantly higher than the placebo group. More analysis revealed that following supplementation, BDI scores decreased in subgroup of subjects with depressive symptoms (BDI ≥ 10) (n = 30), but did not change in the subgroup of non-depressed subjects (BDI < 10) (n = 16). Moreover, a significant inverse correlation was observed between serum BDNF levels and depression severity in all participants. Interestingly, a significant positive correlation was found between serum BDNF and zinc levels at baseline.

    Conclusion: Zinc monotherapy improves mood in overweight or obese subjects most likely through increasing BDNF levels.

    Be well!


  4. JP Says:

    Update 06/02/15:


    Front Hum Neurosci. 2015 May 12;9:281.

    Neuroprotective effects of yoga practice: age-, experience-, and frequency-dependent plasticity.

    Yoga combines postures, breathing, and meditation. Despite reported health benefits, yoga’s effects on the brain have received little study. We used magnetic resonance imaging to compare age-related gray matter (GM) decline in yogis and controls. We also examined the effect of increasing yoga experience and weekly practice on GM volume and assessed which aspects of weekly practice contributed most to brain size. Controls displayed the well documented age-related global brain GM decline while yogis did not, suggesting that yoga contributes to protect the brain against age-related decline. Years of yoga experience correlated mostly with GM volume differences in the left hemisphere (insula, frontal operculum, and orbitofrontal cortex) suggesting that yoga tunes the brain toward a parasympatically driven mode and positive states. The number of hours of weekly practice correlated with GM volume in the primary somatosensory cortex/superior parietal lobule (S1/SPL), precuneus/posterior cingulate cortex (PCC), hippocampus, and primary visual cortex (V1). Commonality analyses indicated that the combination of postures and meditation contributed the most to the size of the hippocampus, precuneus/PCC, and S1/SPL while the combination of meditation and breathing exercises contributed the most to V1 volume. Yoga’s potential neuroprotective effects may provide a neural basis for some of its beneficial effects.

    Be well!


  5. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:

    http://www.ccsenet.org/journal/index.php/gjhs/article/view/42114 (full text PDF available for free download)

    Glob J Health Sci. 2015 Jan 14;7(4):42114.

    Health, happiness and eating together: what can a large thai cohort study tell us?

    Our research investigates the significance of frequent solo consumption of main meals and the association with a holistic wellbeing measure of happiness using data from 39820 Thai Cohort Study members who completed 8-year follow-up in 2013. This nationwide cohort has been under study since 2005 to analyse the dynamics and determinants of the health-risk transition from infectious to chronic diseases. Here we analyse data from the 2009 and 2013 follow-ups. Approximately 11% reported eating more than half of the main meals per week alone. Sociodemographic attributes associated with eating alone were being male, older age, unmarried, smaller household, lower income, and urban residence. Dissatisfaction with amount of spare time (ie ‘busyness’) was also linked to eating alone. In the multivariate cross-sectional model, reporting being unhappy was associated with frequent solo eating (Adjusted Odds Ratio – AOR 1.54, 95% Confidence Intervals 1.30-1.83). Stratified by age and sex groups, the effects were strongest among females (AOR 1.90 1.52-2.38). A monotonic relationship linked frequent eating alone and 4-year longitudinal unhappiness. The larger the dose of unhappiness the greater the odds of eating alone – AOR 1.29, 1.31, 1.72 after controlling for potential covariates. Having a meal is not only important for nutritional and health outcomes; it is also a vital part of daily social interaction. Our study provided empirical evidence from a non-Western setting that sharing meals could contribute to increasing happiness.

    Be well!


  6. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:


    Neuropsychiatr Dis Treat. 2015 Mar 16;11:715-23.

    Psychobiotics and the gut-brain axis: in the pursuit of happiness.

    The human intestine houses an astounding number and species of microorganisms, estimated at more than 10(14) gut microbiota and composed of over a thousand species. An individual’s profile of microbiota is continually influenced by a variety of factors including but not limited to genetics, age, sex, diet, and lifestyle. Although each person’s microbial profile is distinct, the relative abundance and distribution of bacterial species is similar among healthy individuals, aiding in the maintenance of one’s overall health. Consequently, the ability of gut microbiota to bidirectionally communicate with the brain, known as the gut-brain axis, in the modulation of human health is at the forefront of current research. At a basic level, the gut microbiota interacts with the human host in a mutualistic relationship – the host intestine provides the bacteria with an environment to grow and the bacterium aids in governing homeostasis within the host. Therefore, it is reasonable to think that the lack of healthy gut microbiota may also lead to a deterioration of these relationships and ultimately disease. Indeed, a dysfunction in the gut-brain axis has been elucidated by a multitude of studies linked to neuropsychological, metabolic, and gastrointestinal disorders. For instance, altered microbiota has been linked to neuropsychological disorders including depression and autism spectrum disorder, metabolic disorders such as obesity, and gastrointestinal disorders including inflammatory bowel disease and irritable bowel syndrome. Fortunately, studies have also indicated that gut microbiota may be modulated with the use of probiotics, antibiotics, and fecal microbiota transplants as a prospect for therapy in microbiota-associated diseases. This modulation of gut microbiota is currently a growing area of research as it just might hold the key to treatment.

    Be well!


  7. JP Says:

    Updated 07/17/15:


    J Altern Complement Med. 2015 Apr;21(4):243-5.

    The effects of two novel gratitude and mindfulness interventions on well-being.

    OBJECTIVE: To examine the efficacy of two dual-component interventions, one based on mindfulness and one based on gratitude, to reduce depression and stress and increase happiness levels.

    DESIGN: Randomized, controlled study with data collected at baseline, 3 weeks, and 5 weeks.

    SETTINGS: Participants completed an online gratitude or mindfulness intervention at home. Self-report questionnaires were completed at home or at work.

    PARTICIPANTS: Sixty-five women aged 18-46 years (mean age±standard deviation, 28.35±6.65 years).

    INTERVENTIONS: Participants were randomly assigned to a wait-list control condition or to either a gratitude or a mindfulness intervention condition. The interventions were used four times a week for 3 weeks. The gratitude intervention involved a gratitude diary and grateful reflection. The mindfulness intervention involved a mindfulness diary and mindfulness meditation, the Body Scan.

    OUTCOME MEASURES: The outcome variables were depression, stress, and happiness measured by using the Edinburgh Depression Scale, the Perceived Stress Scale, and the Subjective Happiness Scale, respectively.

    RESULTS: All outcome variables improved over time in both interventions group but not in the wait-list control group. Efficacy of the interventions differed between the interventions.

    CONCLUSIONS: These short novel interventions seem to provide a useful way to enhance well-being. Further research in the area is warranted.

    Be well!


  8. JP Says:

    Updated 07/30/15:


    Worldviews Evid Based Nurs. 2015 Jul 28.

    Effects of Yoga on Stress, Stress Adaption, and Heart Rate Variability Among Mental Health Professionals-A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    BACKGROUND: Mental health professionals experiencing work-related stress may experience burn out, leading to a negative impact on their organization and patients.

    AIM: The aim of this study was to examine the effects of yoga classes on work-related stress, stress adaptation, and autonomic nerve activity among mental health professionals.

    METHODS: A randomized controlled trial was used, which compared the outcomes between the experimental (e.g., yoga program) and the control groups (e.g., no yoga exercise) for 12 weeks. Work-related stress and stress adaptation were assessed before and after the program. Heart rate variability (HRV) was measured at baseline, midpoint through the weekly yoga classes (6 weeks), and postintervention (after 12 weeks of yoga classes).

    RESULTS: The results showed that the mental health professionals in the yoga group experienced a significant reduction in work-related stress (t = -6.225, p < .001), and a significant enhancement of stress adaptation (t = 2.128, p = .042). Participants in the control group revealed no significant changes. Comparing the mean differences in pre- and posttest scores between yoga and control groups, we found the yoga group significantly decreased work-related stress (t = -3.216, p = .002), but there was no significant change in stress adaptation (p = .084). While controlling for the pretest scores of work-related stress, participants in yoga, but not the control group, revealed a significant increase in autonomic nerve activity at midpoint (6 weeks) test (t = -2.799, p = .007), and at posttest (12 weeks; t = -2.099, p = .040).

    LINKING EVIDENCE TO ACTION: Because mental health professionals experienced a reduction in work-related stress and an increase in autonomic nerve activity in a weekly yoga program for 12 weeks, clinicians, administrators, and educators should offer yoga classes as a strategy to help health professionals reduce their work-related stress and balance autonomic nerve activities.

    Be well!


  9. JP Says:

    Updated 08/31/15:


    J Phys Ther Sci. 2015 Jul;27(7):2271-3.

    Effects of horseback riding exercise therapy on hormone levels in elderly persons.

    [Purpose] The purpose of this study was to investigate the effect of riding exercise on hormone levels in normal elderly people who were taught horseback riding for 8 weeks.

    [Subjects] Subjects were classified into an exercise group (n=10) and control group (n=10).

    [Methods] The two groups, horseback riding exercise group of 10 and control group of 10, were each tested for 15 minutes, 3 times, over 8 weeks. Post-exercise tests were implemented in both groups in the same way as pre-study tests.

    [Results] The horseback riding group showed a significant difference in the pre- and post-exercise serotonin and cortisol levels. Additionally, serotonin and cortisol levels showed significant differences between the two groups.

    [Conclusion] Serotonin and cortisol levels significantly increased in the experimental group, suggesting that horseback riding exercise is effective for improving the levels of these hormones.

    Be well!


  10. JP Says:

    Updated 09/24/15:


    Evid Based Complement Alternat Med. 2015;2015:794928.

    Yoga and Emotion Regulation in High School Students: A Randomized Controlled Trial.

    Middle adolescents (15-17 years old) are prone to increased risk taking and emotional instability. Emotion dysregulation contributes to a variety of psychosocial difficulties in this population. A discipline such as yoga offered during school may increase emotion regulation, but research in this area is lacking. This study was designed to evaluate the impact of a yoga intervention on the emotion regulation of high school students as compared to physical education (PE). In addition, the potential mediating effects of mindful attention, self-compassion, and body awareness on the relationship between yoga and emotion regulation were examined. High school students were randomized to participate in a 16-week yoga intervention (n = 19) or regular PE (n = 18). Pre-post data analyses revealed that emotion regulation increased significantly in the yoga group as compared to the PE group (F (1,32) = 7.50, p = .01, and eta(2) = .19). No significant relationship was discovered between the changes in emotion regulation and the proposed mediating variables. Preliminary results suggest that yoga increases emotion regulation capacities of middle adolescents and provides benefits beyond that of PE alone.

    Be well!


  11. JP Says:

    Updated 09/24/15:


    Nurs J India. 2014 Nov-Dec;105(6):248-51.

    Impact of Mindfulness-based Stress Reduction (MBSR) on Depression among Elderly Residing in Residential Homes.

    Old age is a period when people need physical, emotional, and psychological support. Depression is the most prevalent mental health problem among older adults and it contributes to increase in medical morbidity and mortality, reduces quality of life and elevates health care costs. Therefore early diagnosis and effective management are required to improve the quality of life of older adults suffering from depression. Intervention like Mindfulness based Stress Reduction is a powerful relaxation technique to provide quick way to get rid of depression and negative emotions by increasing mindfulness. The study was undertaken to assess the effectiveness of MBSR on depression among elderly residing in residential homes, Bangalore. In this study, quasi experimental pre-test post-test control group research design was used. There were two groups: experimental and control, each group had 30 samples selected from different residential homes by non-probability convenience sampling technique. Pre-test depression and mindfulness was assessed before the first day of intervention. Experimental group participants were provided intervention on MBSR. Assessment of post-test depression and mindfulness was done at the end of the intervention programme for both group participants. The study revealed significant reduction in depression (p < 0.001) and increase in mindfulness (p < 0.001) among elderly in the experimental group who were subjected to MBSR technique.

    Be well!


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