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05/12/2008

The effects of food on mood

(NaturalNews) Research has found that certain foods trigger particular brain chemicals which impact on our emotions for as long as two to three hours. Thus our diet can contribute to feeling positive or negative. Knowing what foods trigger which brain chemicals could help us to manage our feelings better.

Certain brain chemicals known as neurotransmitters are linked to emotions. These neurotransmitters are dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin which are produced in the brain under the influence of elements found in different types of food.

Researcher Judith Wurtman, previously of MIT and author of The Serotonin Power Diet, has researched the influence of food on the production of the neurotransmitters in the brain. Her findings are that feeling alert is caused by the brain producing dopamine and norepinephrine. Feelings of calmness and being positive are associated with serotonin.

Serotonin production is linked to the consumption of carbohydrates. Wurtman's research found that when carbohydrate consumption stops then the brain stops producing serotonin.

Serotonin helps control the appetite. When serotonin is produced in the brain, then it works on our appetite making us feel full, thus preventing us from overeating. In addition, Wurtman says that serotonin is essential in regulating our moods.

Carbohydrates such as bread, cereal and pasta contribute to producing a temporary increase in serotonin, as well as having a calming effect. On the other hand, protein-rich foods, such as tuna or eggs, contribute to producing dopamine and norepinephrine which increase alertness and concentration. Again the impact is temporary.

Women have less serotonin than men and feel the impact of a low-carb diet much more since it can produce PMS-like symptoms. Wurtman says that eating carbohydrate without protein in certain amounts and at specific times of the day will promote serotonin.

Our brain needs a good supply of nutrients to function normally and when there are deficiencies then a range of conditions emerge impacting on how we feel. While carbohydrates are important for serotonin production, many other nutrients are important for the functioning of the brain and thus their impact on mood.

For example, numerous studies have found that Omega-3 is important in reducing depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, ADD/ADHD, as well as, dementia. A common factor in up to 31% of people with major depression is a deficiency of folate.

Other studies, conducted in the 70's, associated vitamin B1 (thiamine) deficiency with a range of moods including, feeling fearful, irritable, depressed, and agitated. (1) Other research has found that a low fat diet can cause depression.

The swing in mood and energy that people sometimes feel throughout the day can be modified by reducing the intake of foods with a high Glycaemic Index (GI). Foods that are typically digested slowly – low GI foods – such as minimally processed grains, legumes, certain fruits and vegetables, have less impact on blood sugar levels than foods with high GI. Low GI foods have less impact because digestion is slower and there is a slower release of blood glucose. High GI foods include processed flour, sugar, doughnuts and corn flakes. The recommendation is to consume low GI foods to reduce the level of blood glucose and thus the swing in mood and energy.

Amanda Geary, author of books on the food/mood connection, discovered the importance of food on mental health while recovering from mental illness. She was inspired to kick-start a project called "Food and Mood Project" in the UK, a web project providing resources for people wanting to improve their mental and emotional health. (2)

Simply reducing or cutting out substances such as salt and sugar, from the diet can eliminate irritability experienced by some people. Geary calls these stressors and also lists alcohol and caffeine as part of this group of substances that we should have less of. Stressors stimulate the body, but very soon they leave us feeling depleted.

With the festive season almost upon us, it is worthwhile considering what we eat if we want to feel happier and calmer. Geary has suggestions for eating during the festive season at www.foodandmood.org/Pages/festiveplan.html.

(1) www.nutritional-healing.com.au/content/... for mood
(2) www.foodandmood.org

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