Estimates suggest that more than 154 billion people globally suffer from a mood disorder, but less than half of them seek treatment for the problem.
Mood stabilizers, a term coined by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), are most often used to treat mood disorders that are characterized by sharp highs and lows rather than prolonged depression.1
Most mood disorders stem from low levels of dopamine, a neurotransmitter responsible for motivation; epinephrine, a neurotransmitter that boosts motivation and energy; and serotonin, a feel-good chemical associated with feelings of happiness.
Together, they generate feelings of happiness and pleasure and spark energy. When they are out of balance, prescription drugs that chemically restore natural levels of these important neurotransmitters are often prescribed.
Most commonly, mood stabilizers are used for the treatment of bipolar disorder. However, these drugs can have negative side effects, making them an undesirable or unsuitable option for some individuals.
The Mood-Chemical Brain Connection
What happens when the brain’s chemicals aren’t regulated? It can be a rollercoaster of emotions, depending on which neurotransmitter is out of balance.
When serotonin levels are low, it is easy to become overwhelmed by life’s challenges, insomnia is more likely, and low-level depression could come creeping in. Normal serotonin levels, however, lead to feelings of happiness and contentment.
When epinephrine levels are low, thoughts are more negative and irritability is likely. When levels are normal, there is a sense of calm and well-being.
When serotonin is low and epinephrine is high, the result is often a manic state, with racing thoughts and unfocused actions. When serotonin and epinephrine levels are both low, symptoms of depression often kick in.
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That’s where nature can make a difference. If you’ve ever taken a hike through the woods in autumn, when colors are saturated and aromas including pine sap and the layers of fallen leaves crunching beneath your feet come together with crisp fall air, you likely have an idea about the power of nature.
Henry David Thoreau, the author of the calm-inducing Walden: Or, Life in the Woods a celebration of Thoreau’s beloved outdoors, knew the power of the great outdoors. Thoreau isn’t the only one to benefit from the power of nature, though.
The world of plants has gifted humans with a wide range of essential oils distilled from flowers, leaves, sap, or bark that contain powerful compounds that, when breathed, interact with the olfactory nerves and stimulate the production of mood-regulating neurotransmitters.
While natural mood stabilizers are similar to prescription drugs in that that have the power to regulate levels of serotonin, epinephrine, and dopamine, they can be more accessible or desirable for people who dislike the potential side effects of medications.
Stabilize Mood, Naturally
While it may take some trial and error to find the right natural option to suit your needs, studies have shown that the following natural elements have shown promise as mood stabilizers:
This herb found in Ayurvedic medicine balances levels of epinephrine in the brain. A 2017 study that appeared in the Journal of Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine found that ashwagandha helped control symptoms of chronic stress, alleviating stress eating and reducing weight gain.2
Popular in Polynesian cultures, kava binds to GABA receptors, helping regulate symptoms of anxiety. Research from 2004 that compared several different studies found that kava was an effectively remedied anxiety symptoms.3
A compound derived from the seeds of the African Griffonia simplicifoli plant, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) helps increase levels of serotonin in the brain, giving good feelings a big boost.4
A 2000 study found that gingko, a tree native to Asia, contains kaempferol, a compound that boosts mood by inhibiting an enzyme that breaks down neurotransmitters linked to mood, including serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.5
A 2003 study from researchers in India found that Panax ginseng was an effective natural treatment option for both acute and chronic stress, both of which can have a negative impact on mood.7
This herb interacts with the neurotransmitters associated with mood, keeping levels of neurotransmitters—and moods—stable. A 2008 review of 29 international studies found that the herb had fewer side effects than prescription drugs. However, it should not be used alongside prescription medications due to potentially negative side effects.8
In addition to lavender, many essential oils have been linked to mood stabilization because of the way the compounds found in those oils interact with the brain’s neurotransmitters. Some popular options include wild orange, ylang-ylang, frankincense, star anise, German chamomile, peppermint, lemon, grapefruit, lemon balm, coriander, patchouli, and sandalwood.
These potent natural compounds are worth trying out for boosting your overall mental and physical health and wellness.
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