Insights into the Impact of Food on Mood
The Biochemistry of the Brain
Emotional states and the number of “Happy Feelings” we experience are influenced by social and psychological factors, but also by the state of our neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers released from nerve cells in the brain and nervous system. We can produce “Happy Neurotransmitters” by eating the right foods. For example, we need adequate B3, B6 and enough of the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin, which is important for feelings of well-being.
There is a biochemical process in the body, known as methylation. It is involved in the metabolism not only of serotonin but melatonin, histamine, noradrenaline and adrenaline. To function correctly, it requires the amino acids glycine, serine, methionine, and vitamins B12, folate, B6 and manganese. Methylation is also important for the health of the myelin sheath that insulates the billions of nerve cells and facilitates the appropriate transmission of nerve signals. This myelin sheath is also largely made up of fats, so a balance of essential fatty acids, saturated fats and cholesterol is required.
Most of us can hugely increase “Happy Feelings” by ensuring that we have a good supply of all the necessary vitamins, minerals, amino acids and essential fatty acids to support our biochemistry.
How to Feed our Brain
- Foods to include in your daily diet to support the serotonin pathway include:
- 100g portion of tofu, chicken breast and turkey, wild salmon, sardines, halibut, mussels or 2 eggs
- 1 cup of cooked beans or lentils
- 1 cup of cooked brown rice
- 2 portions of green leafy vegetables e.g. 90g of cooked spinach/kale and 90g of asparagus
- 90g of shitake mushrooms
- 1 tbsp of tahini, sunflower seeds or pumpkin seeds
- 1 banana
- 1 tbsp of raw, unsweetened chocolate powder
- Plenty of spices such as cardamom, ground ginger, cinnamon, turmeric, and herbs such as parsley, bay leaf, tarragon, coriander and dried marjoram.
- Aim to eat oily fish (wild salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines, anchovies and herrings) twice a week, and take 1 tbsp of flaxseed oil daily.
- Decrease alcohol and stress, both of which rob our body of necessary nutrients.
You Are Unique
A small percentage of people have difficulty absorbing B6 and therefore have difficulty making serotonin. Those with poor methylation often have high histamine and suffer from allergies such as hay-fever. If you have a really good diet and though life is good, you still feel low, this may be a problem with B6, and it is worth consulting a Nutritional Therapist, who may recommend extra B6.
We are all biochemically and genetically unique, and there are some fantastic blood tests that now allow us to peer into the inner workings of our brain and nervous system. These tests assess elements such as amino acids, essential fatty acids, red blood cells, folate, B6, B3, B12, iron stores, magnesium, copper and urine for breakdown products of neurotransmitters, kyrtopyrroles, etc. They can provide a wealth of information about the balance of your neurotransmitters and whether they are impacting your mood.
Eat the best diet you can, eat lots of nutrient dense foods, lots of whole grains; particularly ensure a good intake of B Vitamins and essential fatty acids. Identify the stressors in your life and allocate each one to one of the following categories: Avoid, Accept or Alter. Identify your own unique ways of building resistance to stress and becoming more resilient. Practice optimism. Practice living in the moment. If you suspect that you are prone to lowered mood even when you live in a healthy and positive way, it is good to know science can provide testing to help identify your own nutrient status, and can identify the right balance of nutrients that are required to nourish your brain; and can help you to achieve a happy, alert, focused, calm and confident state of mind.
The Mind-Body Connection
Be mindful also of the role of exercise. It affects a number of different neurotransmitters, thus improving mood, reducing anxiety, and strengthening motivation and willpower. Other benefits are the social aspects of exercise: improved self-image, improved circulation, greater energy and improved stress management. Find ways to incorporate any physical activity into your day: take a gentle walk to the shops, play golf, do some gardening, practise Yoga or Pilates, dance, run, anything that appeals to you. After all, 25 minutes is only 1.5% of your day. You can afford to give yourself 1.5% of your time.
To find out more about training at CNM, see www.naturopathy.ie or call 01-2353094 to book for our open evening in Griffith College on 18th June at 7pm