The pandemic has affected the mental well-being of many teens. Anxiety and disconnection are prevalent; with over a quarter of teenagers reporting that they felt anxious or on edge most days in the previous fortnight (Mental Health Foundation – https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/news/teenagers-mental-health-pandemic). Using nutritional psychiatry strategies we can improve mental health despite the external influence of the pandemic.
When the simplest of actions are too difficult for your teen to manage; like going to school, attending to hygiene, staying connected with friends, we need to make to make a big difference quickly. Using targeted supplements allows for quicker results than diet alone which can take longer to see a benefit.
If you are able to get your child’s vitamin D levels tested then that is recommended. However, this is not always possible. Ask your GP to test or order an online test. This is an important first step because vitamin D is important for serotonin production and lowering inflammation both of which can play a role in the development of low mood and anxiety. If vitamin D is not in range it may be difficult to move forward and sometimes it is the step that makes a huge difference.
One teenager I worked with had a vitamin D level of 26 ng/ml. Given our increased tendency to stay indoors during the pandemic and that we had just come through the winter months this low level perhaps wasn’t surprising. However, be aware that functional medicine nutritionists’ and GP’s may have different ideas about what is an adequate vitamin D level. The level of this young girls’ vitamin D, 26 ng/mmols, was considered a mild deficiency by GP. She was recommended to take 400 iu’s daily to increase her level. This would have raised her level very slowly and her symptoms were warranting a quicker solution. Her main symptoms were high levels of anxiety, dizziness, low mood and discomfort in her jaw bone. We used vitamin D at therapeutic levels, along with companion nutrients to ensure optimal uptake and within 2 months all of her symptoms had abated. This was the only intervention we used at that point.
Vitamin D deficiency can impact on quality of sleep and this is a priority for growing teenagers. Good quality sleep needs to be a focus. Having a stable sleep-wake cycle is crucial for mental health and well being. Sleeping for most of the day and staying up for most of the night is disruptive to natural rhythms and it is a key factor in the development of depression. It can be difficult to get teens to surrender their gadgets at nighttime, keeping them out of the bedroom or negotiating a time to switch off (with older teens) is necessary. Consider using a 5HTP complex to help them sleep and subtlety move into a more ‘normal’ sleep/wake pattern. Encouraging them to spend time outside as soon as they wake up is useful too – the exposure to sunlight helps to reset circadian rhythms. Failing that a few days camping, working with the natural rise and fall of the sun can help.
A 5-HTP complex not only helps with sleep but by increasing serotonin production it helps to improve mood and lessen anxiety. This simple intervention can provide a turning point for your child’s mental well-being. It’s important to note that 5HTP cannot be use if your child is currently taking anti-depressants. If they are already on medication for depression then book an appointment with us so we can discuss the options.
It can be difficult to manage the diet of a teenager but if they are keen to make some changes try to minimise the amount of fizzy drinks, squashes or energy drinks they have as these can have a large effect of blood sugar balance. The low levels of blood sugar that we see in reactive hyperglycaemia can contribute to the onset of panic attacks, anxiety, aggression and irritability. Aspartame is often added in place of sugar and although the jury is still out on this one – it is possible it reduces serotonin and could worsen anxiety.
Check foods for sources of MSG (E621) in foods too.Look carefully for the presence of MSG. It cane be found in crisps, snacks, instant-noodles, etc, chinese take away food. MSG raises brain levels of glutamate and as a consequence lowers the GABA. GABA helps us to feel calm and glutamate heightens anxiety and could provoke mood swings.
I find that implementing these steps consistently enables your teen to move out of the corner they have found themselves trapped in. You can then begin to support their mental wellbeing in a wider way.