How to Control Mood Swings Without Drugs

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Last updated August 23, 2023.
Edited and medically reviewed by Patrick Alban, DC. Written by Deane Alban.

Mood swings are not inevitable and lifestyle habits often cause or worsen them. Learn drug-free ways to control mood swings with simple lifestyle changes.

It’s normal for your mood to vary as you react to events of the day.

But if your reactions swing wildly and you feel like you live on an emotional roller coaster, then your mood swings are out of control.

Mood changes, especially when they are sudden or unpredictable, often take a toll on relationships or performance at work.

The first thing you may blame, especially if you are a woman, is hormonal fluctuations caused by pregnancy, menopause, birth control pills, or your monthly cycle.

And while hormones can play a part, unreasonable mood swings are often caused or exacerbated by your lifestyle.

How to Control Mood Swings With Diet

The food we eat can have a profound effect on our mood.

The right foods provide nutrients that feed, nourish, and protect the brain.

Healthy foods provide the building blocks of hormones and brain chemicals that regulate moods.

Conversely, the wrong foods not only lack essential brain nutrients, but they also contain compounds that can trigger biochemical events that contribute to mood swings.

1. Eat Real Food

Renowned food journalist Michael Pollan succinctly summed up a healthy diet in his bestselling book In Defense of Food: An Eater’s Manifesto — “Eat food. Mostly plants. Not too much.”

By “food” he means things that our ancestors from just a few generations ago would recognize as food — vegetables, fruit, nuts, beans, meat, eggs, and fish.

The food-like products found in boxes, cans, and packages in the inner aisles of the grocery store may be tasty, but nutritionally they cannot compare to real food.

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2. Eat Healthy Fats

It’s important to include plenty of healthy fats in your diet, such as those found in avocados, nuts, oily fish, olive oil, and coconut oil.

The brain is largely made of fat and these foods provide the basic building blocks of healthy brain cells and neurotransmitters — chemicals that brain cells use to communicate with each other. 

The low-fat diet has been a big, fat failure.

It hasn’t helped us lose weight or have healthier hearts

It’s also been a disaster for our collective mental health. 

Acetylcholine is the brain chemical most associated with memory and learning.

Alzheimer’s patients have levels of acetylcholine that are far below normal.

According to research scientist Datis Kharrazian, PhD, DHSc, author of Why Isn’t My Brain Working?, your brain will literally digest itself if you don’t provide it with enough healthy fats to make sufficient acetylcholine.

And don’t make the mistake of avoiding all dietary cholesterol.

Cholesterol consumption is not the risk factor for heart disease that it’s been made out to be and you need it for synthesis of the sex hormones estrogen, progesterone, and testosterone. 

Too little cholesterol can lead to hormonal imbalances and the associated mood swings of pregnancy, menopause, and PMS in women and andropause in men.

" Inositol is an excellent supplement for relieving mood swings that occur with PMS, pregnancy, and menopause.

Low cholesterol has also been linked to an increased risk of depression, suicide, and dementia

3. Avoid Sugar

Refined sugar sends blood sugar levels, and mood, on a roller coaster ride — first up, then down.

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Eating mostly unprocessed food should preclude consuming much sugar, but there are many so-called “healthy” foods that are loaded with added sugar, such as yogurt, smoothies, bottled teas, and energy bars. 

Sugar goes by many names, and it doesn’t matter if it’s called high fructose corn syrup or organic cane juice crystals, it’s all metabolized the same way.

4. Watch Out for Wheat

Even if you’re sure that you have no problem with gluten, you still should consider minimizing wheat consumption.

Wheat, even whole wheat, has a high glycemic index score. 

Surprisingly, eating whole wheat bread can raise your blood sugar level as much as eating a Snickers candy bar!

If you are on the fence about reducing your wheat intake, try going without it for a few weeks and see if your mood swings and general health improve.

You may be surprised!

5. Manage Caffeine Strategically

With a coffee shop seemingly on every corner, it’s not much of an exaggeration to say that today’s world runs on caffeine.

While some caffeine can improve your mood and make you more productive, too much can make you an anxious, jittery mess.

If you’ve consciously decided to consume caffeine, enjoy it but drink it in moderation and consume roughly the same amount daily.

The latest research shows that caffeine is more addictive than previously thought.

Withdrawal symptoms such as mood swings, headache, brain fog, and nausea can start within 24 hours of your last dose of caffeine. 

NUTRITION FOR THE MIND/BODY CONNECTION

It’s almost impossible to live a lifestyle that provides all the nutrients needed for good brain health and performance. The reason? All of us confront multiple nutrient thieves — stress, poor diet, insomnia, pharmaceuticals, pollution, and more — that steal nutrients that the brain needs to thrive.

Taking quality nutritional supplements:
  • Provides the building blocks to create new brain cells and brain chemicals
  • Helps increase resilience to stress to avoid mental burnout
  • Supplies the brain with the fuel it needs for mental energy

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If you love coffee or tea, figure out your ideal dose and stick with it.

But if you are guzzling sugar-laden energy drinks, soda, or coffee drinks, switch to a more natural, healthy source of caffeine.

6. Minimize MSG

Avoid foods that contain added MSG (monosodium glutamate).

This chemical food additive gets broken down into glutamate, a known neural excitotoxin that, in excess, literally stimulates brain cells to death.

Too much MSG can cause mood swings, migraines, brain fog, upset stomach, heart irregularities, and asthma in sensitive individuals. 

The worst sources include fast food, ramen noodles, canned soups, salty snacks, and refined soy products like veggie burgers.

Manage Mood Swings With Supplements

If you find that making dietary changes alone isn’t sufficiently helping your mood swings, here are some supplements that can help.

Fish Oil

If you don’t regularly eat cold-water fatty fish (e.g., salmon, herring, sardines, mackerel), consider taking a fish oil supplement for extra omega-3 essential fatty acids.

Fish oil supplementation has an impressive record for improving brain functions of all kinds, including mood, memory, cognition, and general mental well-being. 

Increasing your omega-3 fat intake can increase the volume of gray matter in areas of the brain that control mood and depression. 

Omega-3s have even been found to help those with bipolar disorder, a psychiatric disorder characterized by extreme mood swings. 

Adaptogenic Herbs

Adaptogens are a unique group of herbs that work like a thermostat to keep you in a balanced physiological state known as homeostasis.

They work by supporting adrenal function, balancing blood sugar levels, and normalizing the output of the stress hormone cortisol.

Chronically elevated cortisol is linked to mood swings, memory loss, anxiety, brain fog, and depression

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Bacopa, ginseng, ashwagandha, holy basil, and Rhodiola rosea are popular adaptogens that offer known mental health benefits.

These herbs energize you when you are fatigued and relax you when you are stressed out, putting you in the “Goldilocks zone” of feeling just right.

Minimize Mood Swings With Exercise and Sleep

Serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine are three major neurotransmitters that are critical for maintaining a positive mood.

Physical exercise normalizes their levels, keeping them from getting too low or too high. 

Exercise also boosts the production of the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, which reduce the stress response and improve mood. 

Exercise will help you sleep, another important factor in controlling mood swings.

Even one sleepless night can leave you moody, irritable, and overly emotional the following day.

If you don’t get enough sleep at night, try taking a power nap in the afternoon.

A 20-minute nap will help decrease cortisol, restore your good mood, and give you a productivity boost that lasts the rest of the day.

Surprisingly, research has found that taking a nap works even better than caffeine to get you through a midday slump.

Mood Swings in Women: PMS and Menopause

If you’re a woman with hormone-based mood swings, consider taking inositol.

This mood-enhancing nutrient is found in high concentrations in the brain where it facilitates communication between brain cells.

Inositol is an excellent supplement for relieving the mood swings, depression, and anxiety that occur with PMS (premenstrual syndrome), PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder), pregnancy, and menopause. 

It’s been found to be as effective as the drug fluvoxamine for treating all kinds of anxiety, including panic disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, eating disorders, and agoraphobia. 

Other supplements that can help keep PMS mood swings in check include calcium, magnesium, vitamin B6, chasteberry, and St. John’s wort.

If you are transitioning into perimenopause or menopause, a decline in estrogen can contribute to mood swings.

Pregnenolone is the building block for other hormones that decrease during this time of life, including estrogen, progesterone, testosterone, and DHEA.

For this reason, pregnenolone supplementation can be particularly helpful for women during menopause.

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Mood Swings in Men: Low Testosterone

Testosterone levels start to gradually decline once a man reaches age 30.

Low testosterone is a major source of mood swings, fatigue, and depression in men.

If you aren’t sure where you stand, you can have your testosterone level checked.

Your doctor may recommend testosterone replacement therapy, but this has its drawbacks.

However, there are several ways to increase your level naturally.

At the top of the list is stress management.

There’s an inverse relationship between the stress hormone cortisol and testosterone — when cortisol goes up, testosterone goes down. 

Also, you can engage in physical exercise, eat a healthy diet that contains adequate protein and healthy fats, and take the right supplements.

Vitamin D, zinc, magnesium, and ginger are all safe, proven testosterone boosters. 

When Mood Swings Are Extreme

If your mood swings are extreme, they may be caused by an underlying health condition or psychiatric disorder.

Mood swings can be a symptom of an anxiety disorder, a thyroid disorder, ADHD, depression, bipolar disorder, dementia, schizophrenia, or substance abuse. 

They can also be caused by some prescription medications, especially anti-anxiety drugs, sleeping pills, antidepressants, and stimulants used to treat attention disorders. 

If you think that your mood swings are serious, or related to a health condition, discuss the situation with a healthcare professional.

If an underlying condition is the cause of your mood swings, making healthy lifestyle changes can be a helpful adjunct to professional care, but is not a substitute for it.

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