Updated: Oct 15, 2019
It's hard going through puberty - do you remember? Those feelings of not really knowing what's up but being all out of sorts.
One in five Australians experience a mental health condition in a given year, and almost one in two will experience a mental health condition at some point in their lifetime
In our household we have an expression called “food mood”. My boys are like bottomless pits at times and sometimes during period of growth or higher levels of anxiety, they need more food to stabilise their blood sugar levels and fuel their brain. But what happens when your teen has a good meal in their belly and they’re still low or anxious or just out-of-sorts?
Adolescence is a time of many psychosocial and physiological changes and with it can bring some pretty moody behaviour and as parents, it can be a bit tricky to manage.
What can help?
One of the changes during puberty is how teens respond to stressors. Specifically, adolescence is marked by significant shifts in hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis reactivity, resulting in heightened stress-induced hormonal responses.
A stressor can be physical or psychological, and when a he/she experiences a stressor, two hormonal systems are activated to help them cope with the situation.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders among Australian youth and pose as one of the biggest threats to mental health.
Since I’m a naturopath, and not a psychologist, my area of expertise in this area lies in the area of herbal medicine, nutrition and gut health.
In herbal medicine there are herbs that can help modulate anxiety and depression as well as help respond to stress. An increasing amount of research being done in this area to provide traditional medicine with the scientific evidence and validation that so many people need. (I mean, how can herbs help with anxiety and depression right?)
There is also a wealth of research being done linking gut bacteria (microbiome) with mental health. What is referred to as the “brain-gut-microbiota axis” in the body means that there’s a bidirectional signalling between the brain and the GIT microbiotia (aka gut bacteria). This involves multiple immunological endocrine and neurocrine pathways.
It has long been accepted that psychological stress can impact microbiota composition and functioning. Research conducted over ten years+ has shown that alterations in the composition of the ecosystem alters emotional behaviour and brain function.
This means that we can open up the conversation and treatment beyond anti-depressant medication being the only option. As always, there is not a one size fits all approach and scaffolding to support a troubled teenagers needs to be put into place.
So without going into too much detail here, the take home message is that your teen’s mood may be contributed to by an imbalance in gut flora as a result of a range of factors such as stress, a poor diet or even anti-biotics.
Sooooo often I see teens consuming fast food – breakfast, lunch and dinner. Slurpees, packets of food, and caffeinated ‘energy’ drinks. Busy parents rush out the door handing canteen money to their kids because there just doesn't seem to be enough time – or the kids are making and taking their lunch to school but not eating it for whatever reason.
However, the importance of a good diet cannot be stressed enough because they need good nutrition in order to THRIVE physically and emotionally. Spikes in blood sugar from nutrient empty drinks and processed food, only feed the issue and can negatively affect their state of mind.
These foods are all important to help your teen feel good on the inside.
wholefoods such as fruit and vegetables
protein from a range of sources including grass fed and finished beef, chicken, lentils, activated nuts and eggs
healthy fats such as ghee, coconut oil, avocados, olive oil
avoid coffee and caffeinated drinks
include food high in magnesium (or supplement)
include essential fatty acids (omega 3) from wild fish (or supplement)
A functioning digestive system means that they can absorb the nutrients plus keep their bowels happy too. No teen should be constipated or have diarrhoea – a daily motion that is neither strained nor loose is important. If your teen has skin breakouts, fatigue and moody behaviour check in with them about their digestive health.
Herbs that reduce anxiety and support the nervous system are referred to as anxiolytics and nervines.
They can also be prescribed to help modulate hormones and enhance digestive function.
The most familiar (ie mainstream) herb that is used as an anti-depressant is called St Johns Wort but this should be taken with caution due to its potential interaction with other medications such as the Pill.
In a recent Australian study, saffron was found to be an effective natural antidepressant for teenagers suffering from mild to moderate levels of depression due to school / social issues. After the treatment period, the teenagers taking the saffron reported improved mood and felt more calm (ie less anxious).
More research is needed.
Other herbs traditionally used include
· Magnolia off (Magnolia
· Melissa off (Lemon balm)
· Passiflora (Passionflower)
· Eschscholzia californica (Californian poppy)
· Piper methysticum) (Kava)
· Valeriana off (Valerian)
· Withania (Ashwaganda)
· Zizyphus spinosa (Zizyphus)
· Humulus lulupus (Hops)
BUT before you reach for your over the counter tablet aptly named to make you feel that it’ll be the answer to your moody teen, seek the advice of someone qualified to do so. Herbal medicine needs to be prescribed carefully to suit the individual.
So if your teen is down, anxious or feeling moody, help is at hand.
· Counselling (many schools have this in-house)
· Psychologist (see GP for referral)
· Naturopath /herbalist
· Exercise coach / PT
For further tips on lunchbox ideas, breakfast on the go, healthy snacks and digestive health, keep an eye out for my next few posts.
If this article has raised an issue for you, or someone you know is in need of support, please contact:
Lifeline on 13 11 14 or
beyondblue on 1300 22 46 36