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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.

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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4 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!


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