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Food definitely affects your mood
By Lina B. Marhaba

Diet, stress and life events impact our mood. When it comes to diet, there are four major factors that can alter mood, sometimes with more pronounced effects in susceptible people. These are carbohydrates (sugars), omega-3 fatty acids, B-vitamins and estrogen in women.

CARBOHYDRATES

Carbohydrate-rich meals increase a chemical in the brain called serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that conducts electric impulses between neurons. Its effects range from giving a sense of well-being to relaxation and sleepiness. People with mood disorder have low levels of serotonin, and they tend to crave sugars mainly in winter and/or with lack of sunshine.
High-protein diets or low-carb diets might cause major mood oscillation in people sensitive to a slight decrease in serotonin levels.

Daily stress and major crises cause the release of a ?stress? hormone called cortisol. Cortisol leads to the rapid breakdown of serotonin. This explains why stress in part causes depression. Exercise indirectly increases serotonin levels and releases endorphins, chemicals also found in chocolate, that give off a sense of well-being.

Usage of those amino acids by the muscle allows more tryptophan shuttling to the brain and, hence, more serotonin production. In addition, exercise causes the release of endorphins, chemicals also found in chocolate, that give off a sense of well-being.

OMEGA-3 FATTY ACIDS

These are fatty acids found mainly in cold-water fish and flaxseed. There has been a correlation between a decrease in omega-3 consumption and an increase in depression rates. Many medical studies have shown that inclusion of omega-3 in the diets of depressed patients improved depressive symptoms drastically. Trans-fatty acids (found in most commercial foods) are synthetic fatty acids that have been linked to many diseases and connected to mood disorder. The mechanisms by which trans-fats affect mood is by lowering the levels of omega-3, by altering the conductance of the electric impulses between neurons, and by disturbing the metabolism of other essential fats needed for growth primarily in children.

B-VITAMINS

B-vitamins in general, and B6 in particular, have been linked to mental health. Alcohol, refined sugars and caffeine destroy those vitamins, leading to mental and physical fatigue. B-vitamins are involved in energy production needed for physical activity and mental homeostasis (optimal functionality). Vitamin B6 is needed for the synthesis of some neurotransmitters, including serotonin. In addition, deficiencies in vitamin B1, B3, B5 and B12 are linked to mental ailments ranging from anxiety and depression to paranoia and irritability. B-vitamins are widespread in fruits and vegetables including oranges, legumes and leafy green vegetables.

ESTROGEN

The sharp decrease in estrogen levels at the end of the menstrual cycle, post-partum and perimenopause are responsible for the symptoms of PMS, post-partum blues and mood swings, respectively. Estrogen regulates neurotransmission and appears to enhance serotonin activity. Dietary sources of estrogen-like compounds called phytoestrogen include flaxseed and legumes such as soy, chickpeas and lentils. These phytoestrogen are weak forms of estrogen that might correct any deficiency. Over-consumption, mainly in form of supplements, is not advised
While major depressive conditions require the attention of a mental health specialist, adapting few changes in your diet and lifestyle could give your mood a boost. A healthy mind comes from a healthy body.

Lina B. Marhaba of Vestal is a doctoral student with an MS in nutrition science.
 

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