Having trained as a clinical psychologist, I usually like to see patients attempt to increase their mood through behavioral changes, first. However, there are those cases where medical intervention is necessary. I always use the analogy that, for some, medication is the life vest that puts them afloat above the water to even hear what’s being said in the therapy session.

There is, however, an intermediary step, that one can pursue before using psychotropic medication*. Herbal supplements. WAIT- don’t exit off the page…I’m not a new believer in some cult-like herbal supplier or sales program. I just stumbled upon a colleagues very helpful book while on vacation and actually tested the recommendations myself.

In Hyla Cass’s groundbreaking book, Natural Highs: Feel Good All the Time, she discusses many natural supplements that can boost our mood without breaking our wallet or severely messing with the delicate balance that is our naturally-occurring brain chemistry.

For a full review of all supplements, I will leave it to you, to do your research. Yet, I will tell you about the ones that have made a noticeable difference in my life:

1) 5-HTP- This is the pre-cursor to seratonin in our brains. Seratonin is the neurotransmitter that regulates our sleep, mood, and appetite. Oftentimes, patients are prescribed what is called a “selective-seratonin-reuptake-inhibitor”, or SSRI. You can think of our brain as being composed of millions of tiny sponges, and an SSRI prevents them from “sucking up” too much of the good stuff (a.k.a Seratonin).

Use: I use the 200mg 5-htp at night about one hour before I want to go to sleep. I have found that it takes off the “edge” just enough to be able to comfortably drift off to dreamland. Another benefit is that I have noticed much more vivid dreams, and significantly more restful sleep.

I use to use 3 mg of melatonin at night, which regulates our circadian rhythms, but I do not use these supplements simultaneously.

2) GABA (gabba-aminobutyric acid)- GABA is what is known as an inhibitory neurotransmitter It is responsible for regulating neuronal excitability. Basically, it helps us to relax.

Use- I often use this instead of  alcohol when I’ve had a stressful day. I find that the effects are about the same (alcohol actually works by increasing the amount of available GABA in the brain), without the hangover and bloating 😉 I will usually take Taurine (see below) at the same time , which acts as a catalyst, allowing the GABA to be used more rapidly and readily by the system.

3) Taurine is an amino acid, similar, in chemical structure, to GABA. It works in conjunction with GABA to decrease neuronal firing (= less anxiety,excitability). It also regulates our sodium and potassium channels….which is basically linked to our brain’s electrochemical communication, but far beyond the scope of my purpose in writing this blog, and probably even further beyond your boredom tolerance level, as well as mine.

Use: I take one to two of these in conjunction with two GABA pills, as needed for anxiety. You will not notice the same effects as you would with alcohol or prescription anti-anxiety medication, but on a smaller level, you will notice relief. I think this is especially useful for people who would like to wean themselves off of prescription dependence* or people who are concerned about liver toxicity*.

Bonus– Taurine also has been found to have a positive effect on acetylcholine levels (the amino acid connected with memory)

4)Fish-oil- This has so many benefits it is silly NOT to take it. Each fish oil capsule is made up of the ingredients that go into making our brain cell membranes. Some studies have found that fish oil is helpful in warding off depression and lifting mood. Additionally, fish oil has been found to regulate our insulin production (= the messenger responsible for telling our bodies to store food as fat), as well as protect us from heart disease. Fish oil has anti-inflammatory properties so it also helps to increase the “glow” from our skin.

Use: I typically by the 900 mg capsules. You can get these from GNC and they cause you to burp up a fishy taste all day. You are supposed to have between 900-1000mg a day, and I like being able to take it all in one pill (they are large pills though, so be forewarned if you have trouble swallowing).

So there you have it…these are my tried and true herbal supplements I recommend for boosting your mood. I would suggest you learn more about the ones available and see what works for you. As always, what you are putting into your body, food-wise, is also very important. You can’t expect to feel upbeat and positive if you are on a consistent big mac/taco bell diet.

*If you think you should be on a psychotropic regimen, please consult your doctor before trying herbal supplements. Additionally, do not cease using your current psychotropic regimen without first consulting with your physician.

Dr. Colleen Long is the author of “Happiness in B.A.L.A.N.C.E,” and practices in the Los Angeles area. Dr. Long works mainly from a positive psychology framework as it applies to addiction, depression, relationships,  and weight loss. Her website can be found at www.DrColleenLong.com. All public speaking/media event requests handled through FreudTV (info@FreudTV.com).