While the holiday season is jovial and celebratory for the majority of Americans, it can also be a source of despondency and despair for others. This is especially true for those afflicted with seasonal affective disorder or have great fear and anxiety leading to self-imposed travel restrictions in the midst of the COVID pandemic.
Fortunately, as of this writing, the most recent evidence suggests that if you’ve been vaccinated and “boosted”, the latter should be less of an overriding concern.
Nevertheless, as compared to the pre-COVID pandemic era, levels of depression and anxiety have also risen to unforseen heights. With the Holiday Season upon us, presented below is a heart healthy selection of foods/drinks proven to enhance mood and combat/limit depression and make your holiday season a more enjoyable one.
- Mushrooms: A new study of nearly 25,000 men and women found that compared to non-consumers, those who ate mushrooms on a regular basis were less likely to experience signs of depression. Mushrooms are an excellent source of ergothioneine (ERGO), an amino acid with antioxidant properties shown (in rodent studies) to alleviate symptoms of depression. Other good food sources of ERGO are beans (black, kidney) and oat bran.
- Cranberries: Cranberries are also rich in antioxidants and in the brain protective and anti-inflammatory compound ursolic acid. Ursolic acid not only reduces growth of certain tumors but has also been shown to improve memory and reduce mood disorders, especially anxiety and depression. Try a handful of cranberries or 4 ounces of pure cranberry juice each day to reap the benefits.
- Prebiotics: Non-digestible carbohydrate foods (prebiotics) such as garlic, Jerusalem artichokes, leeks and onions, promote the growth of healthy gut bacteria to reduce neuroinflammation and improve symptoms of anxiety and depression.
- Dark chocolate: A study of ~13,600 adults found that compared to non-consumers, daily consumption of dark chocolate (3.5 ounces) was associated with ~60% lower risk of depression.
- Coffee: Compared to minimal or no consumption, coffee drinkers have a 25% lower risk of depression. The most favorable results were observed with an average amount of 13.5 ounces consumed daily.
- Mediterranean Style Diet: A Mediterranean style diet (vegetables, fruits, legumes, nuts, whole grains, fish) is associated with improved mental health in men and women with depression.
- Kiwi: A recent study found that consuming a kiwifruit daily was associated with improved mood and overall well-being that was attributable to more than the high Vitamin C content.
- Bivalves: Mussels, oysters, clams and scallops are good/excellent sources of selenium associated with reduced depression and improved mood.
- Bananas: Bananas are an excellent source of Vitamin B6 with anti-anxiety, antidepressant properties. A banana a day may keep the psychiatrist away!
- Pumpkin Seeds: Try a small handful of pumpkin seeds daily. The rich content of tryptophan, zinc and magnesium may reduce anxiety and combat depression.
Dr. Michael Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. Check him out on twitter: @mmillermd1
Several new studies out this year continue to point in a favorable direction when it comes to your morning (and afternoon) cup of java as it related to cardiovascular health. The first study analyzed coffee drinking in more than 20,000 men and women in the U.S. and found that compared to non-consumers, drinking 2 cups of caffeinated coffee daily correlated with a 31% lower risk of developing heart failure. Although the specific mechanism(s) underlying this effect has yet to be established, coffee is a rich source of antioxidants such as polyphenols that may in turn limit/prevent cell damage and minimize adverse changes to heart function over time for those who regularly consume this beverage.
A second study of more than 170,000 Koreans aged 40 and older found that compared to non-drinkers, 1-3 cups of coffee each day was associated with a 38% reduced risk of cardiovascular death over the ~9 year follow-up period. The authors believe that chlorogenic acid, was a prime contributor to this effect due to its robust anti-inflammatory, anti-oxidant and anti-diabetic properties (see also below).
The third study found that adding caffeine, or a cup of coffee (for the purpose of this post) approximately 30 minutes prior to an aerobic workout (preferably in the afternoon), increases breakdown of fat. Though not tested in this study, anticipated benefits of boosting fat oxidation over a prolonged period might include weight loss, triglyceride reduction and improved cardiometabolic health.
For my patients who enjoy their java, I recommend 1-2 cups daily, with the 2nd cup consumed in the early afternoon, at least 8-10 hours prior to bedtime to reduce insomnia. In addition, because of cancer concerns related to the toxin acrylamide that is released when coffee beans are roasted, I recommend staying away from instant and light roasted coffee brands (due to higher amounts of acrylamide) and stick with medium and dark roasted varieties.
Below are additional health benefits from your morning (and afternoon) mug.
- Improves Mood and Concentration: The sweet spot to boost mood and alertness is a moderate dose of caffeine (100-300 mg) whereas higher doses (above 400 mg) may result in anxiety and impaired performance. For example, a “Grande” cup of Starbuck’s coffee varies in caffeine content from 260 mg (dark roasted) to 360 mg (blonde roasted) whereas a large cup (20 ounce) of Dunkin’ Donuts is ~300mg.
- Reduces Glucose Levels: Coffee contains the phytochemical, chlorogenic acid that slows the absorption of carbs, thereby lowering blood glucose levels and possibly the risk of type 2 diabetes.
- May Reduce Risk of Several Cancers: According to the American Cancer Society, drinking coffee has been associated with reduced risk of several cancers including prostate, liver and uterine cancer.
- May help Asthmatics. Coffee contains trace amounts of theophylline that dilates lung airways and at higher medicinal doses is used as a treatment for asthma. In fact, caffeine has been shown to improve lung airway function for up to four hours, in people with asthma.
Dr. Miller is Professor of Cardiovascular Medicine at the University of Maryland School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland USA and a member of the American College of Cardiology Nutrition Workgroup. His latest book is “Heal Your Heart: The Positive Emotions Prescription to Prevent & Reverse Heart Disease“.