In the middle of winter, when cold and flu bugs are rife, it’s natural to think about boosting your immune system to protect yourself from seasonal invaders and lessen their impact when they arrive. A less well known but perhaps more insidious effect of seasonal bugs however is that which they can have on your mood.
A nasty dose of winter cold or flu can leave you feeling depressed, both during the illness and after.
It makes sense that feeling ill with a cold or flu would make you feel a bit glum, especially when you withdraw from daily activities that help to keep your mood buoyant, but it can be more than that. Flu symptoms can include intense ache, painful joints, fevers, loss of energy and no appetite. Researchers have also found however that as our bodies’ immune system springs into action to fight off infection, this can trigger depression.
Once the immune system senses the presence of an invader, it releases chemicals called cytokines to help fight the bug. Whilst cytokines are an essential part of our defence, they also lower levels of our feel good neurotransmitter serotonin.
The role of immune mediators in neuropsychiatric disorders has drawn significant interest over the last decade. Elevated levels of proinflammatory cytokines have been found in a number of psychiatric conditions including obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), schizophrenia and depression.
Understanding the potential widespread effects of an illness, including those on your mood is useful. It helps to make sense of a lowered mood if it happens and also helps you to pinpoint the right course of action.
So what can you do about it? As well as supporting your immune system during times of cold and flu, it’s useful to add in some extra support for your mood. In addition to practical mood boosting steps such as connecting with others, getting plenty of rest and a bit of fresh air and gentle exercise if you are able, you can provide your mood with some uplifting nutrients too. Key mood supporting nutrients include magnesium, B vitamins, vitamin C, folic acid, omega 3 fats (in particular EPA) and 5-HTP – the natural precursor to serotonin.
The take away message is that you don’t have to be at the mercy of whatever seasonal bugs throw at you; take the right action as soon as you can to help minimize the effects and you will soon be feeling right as rain.
Zhu, C B, Blakely R D et al. The proinflammatory cytokines interleukin-1 beta and tumour necrosis factor-alpha activate serotonin transporters. Neuropsychopharmacology (2006) 31, 2121-2131. Doi: 10.1038/sj.npp.1301029; published online 1 February 2006