Ever felt so hungry you got angry? Food is so important to our mood that we now have a slang term that combines these two words, it is hangry. As you may have guessed, nutrition plays an important role in psychological wellbeing. Virginia Woolf said it well, “One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” She may not have understood the absolute scientific truth to her statement, but nonetheless she is absolutely correct. In this two part series let’s take a look at what you can do with your nutrition and supplements to up your happy factor!
You may have heard about serotonin, dopamine and epinephrine, these are called neurotransmitters and this is how our nerves communicate. They are made from the amino acids that come from protein. Of the 9 essential amino acids tryptophan and phenylalanine are the amino acids needed to make neurotransmitters. (1) These can come from meat, fish, poultry, eggs, cheese, milk, beans, quinoa, nuts and soy.
The omega-3 fatty acids EPA and DHA are the substance used to make brain cells and are required for normal brain health. Deficiencies in these fatty acids have been associated with inflammation and mood imbalance. Good food sources are: flax, chia, sunflower, soybean, walnut, salmon, tuna and sardines. (1)
The preferred source of fuel for brain cells is the glucose that comes from carbohydrates. Make sure you provide your brain with fuel.
All of the B vitamins as well as vitamin C are important in the creation of neurotransmitters, metabolism and detoxification. Vegetables, fruits, meats, whole grains are all sources of these important vitamins. Deficiencies of the B vitamins have been linked to depression, confusion and other psychological symptoms. (1)
Vitamin D is vitally important in mood regulation because of it’s impact in nerve health. Depending on how much time you spend out doors or if you use sunscreen generating enough vitamin D from the sun can be next to impossible. Salmon, swordfish and sunned mushrooms are good sources of vitamin D.
Zinc, copper, iron, selenium, magnesium all serve a role in various processes in the body like the creation and sending of neurotransmitters and protecting cells from damage. Deficiencies in minerals are associated with depression and adverse moods. (1) Nuts and meat all have these minerals. They can be found in verying amounts in grains and vegetables.
So, if you are moody and looking for that missing piece of the puzzle, take a look at your diet. Get to the root of the problem and determine if you have a food sensitivity, excessive sugar intake, leaky gut and/or missing nutrients in your diet. If you feel as though you have the right diet then you might find the boost in mood you need with supplements.
Our understanding of the beneficial bacteria that lives in our intestines is beginning to flourish. There are a variety of different types. Two specific types were studied Lactobicillus helveticus and Bifidobacterium longum. During a double blind, placebo controlled study, researchers found that these probiotics when taken for as little as two weeks had a beneficial impact on mood. (1) This is not surprising as there are almost as many nerves that go to the gut as there are in the brain! Our guts even have their own chemical messengers, a lot of complex communication occurs there.
In a double-blind placebo controlled study this plant extract improved the participants overall symptoms of depression, insomnia and emotional instability but not self-esteem. (2)
In a meta-analysis of literature the active part of turmeric, curcumin was found to reduce depression in those with major-depressive disorder. (3) This may be due to its powerful anti-inflammatory ability to protect cells of the nervous system.
People with anxiety and depression have been found to be low in a neurotransmitter GABA. (4) There is not extensive evidence that supplementing with GABA can increase the amount in the brain, although some people claim that they get relief from anxiety and depression with supplements.
Green tea provides an amino acid, L-theanine. During a randomized double blind, placebo controlled study researchers determined that participants who drank 197 milligrams of L-theanine in 14.5 ounces had reduction in stress hormone production. This may be due to increase in dopamine, GABA and protective effect on nerve cells. (5)
Magnolia, passionflower extract, lavender among others’ are used to help moderate moodiness. Honor yourself by making mood matter-there are a variety of therapies available, let food be one of them. Plant based nutrients called phytonutrients are found in berries, citrus fruit, green tea, turmeric, rosemary, ginger, sage, garlic and onions and have protective benefits on the cells of our brains because of their powerful ability to help the body detox and repair DNA.
Dark left green vegetables
As a dietitian, it’s difficult to understand how anyone can be happy without dark leafy greens in their daily diet. From spinach, chard, and collards to romaine lettuce and broccoli, these are the very best sources of the B vitamin, folate. Your brain cells won’t turn on without it. It’s no wonder that poor intake of folate increases the risk for depression, fatigue, poor memory, and possibly even more serious mental problems like schizophrenia.
Packed with vitamins and minerals, one serving of dark greens supplies an entire day’s requirement for vitamin A, more than 3 milligrams of iron, almost a third of your daily need for folate, and hefty amounts of calcium and B vitamins, all for about 20 calories. A one-cup serving of cooked Swiss chard supplies more than half of a woman’s daily recommendation for magnesium, a mineral that helps her cope with stress, curbs symptoms of PMS, and aids in sleep. Phytonutrients, such as sulforaphane in broccoli and the carotenoids in spinach, clear toxins from the body and strengthens your resistance to colds and infections.
Sweet and tart, fresh and clean. If morning sunshine had a scent, it would be citrus. That aroma also holds the secret to a happy mood and weight loss.
Mood-wise, vitamin C is important in boosting energy, since it helps absorb iron and maintain healthy red blood cells that carry oxygen to every cell in the body, including the brain. Without iron, your brain literally suffocates, leaving you groggy, depressed, too pooped to appreciate life, and totally unmotivated. The vitamin C in citrus also helps curb the stress response, lowering stress hormone levels and possibly reducing blood pressure. People even report they feel calmer during stress when they consume enough vitamin C.
Oranges are brimming with folate (a B vitamin essential in brain and mood function), while all citrus are overflowing in phytonutrients, fiber, and potassium, a mineral essential for energy and preventing fatigue. Just one cup of any citrus juice supplies about a quarter of your daily potassium needs (you’d have to drink twice as much apple juice to get the same amount of potassium). Hundreds of different phytonutrients have been identified in citrus, with names like terpenes, flavonoids, coumarins, and carotenoids. Most of these phytonutrients protect the brain and improve memory.
The heart of the wheat kernel is a gold mine of nutrition. Half a cup of toasted wheat germ supplies 100% of your daily need for folic acid and 50% of your magnesium, zinc, and vitamin E requirements. Vitamin E-rich diets help prevent and slow the progression and might even lower the risk for developing Alzheimer’s disease by up to 70%. Wheat germ also supplies decent amounts of trace minerals, such as iron and zinc. You also get a truckload of phytonutrients, including octacosanol, a compound that improves endurance and helps the body cope with stress.
These sweet and juicy fruits are the perfect water and fiber combination for weight loss. They also are loaded with B vitamins, vitamin C, and antioxidants, such as the flavonoids, resveratrol, and more than 40 different anthocyanins. These potent antioxidants strengthen tissue defenses against oxidation and inflammation, which are underlying factors in most age-related diseases, from heart disease and cancer to memory loss, Parkinson’s, and Alzheimer’s. The antioxidants in berries might even help reverse memory loss. Best of all, frozen is just as antioxidant-packed as fresh, so enjoy these nutrient gold mines all year around.
Berries are more than just antioxidants. Research from Tufts University shows that these little fruits regulate our genes! They turn on the cells’ production of disease-fighting chemicals that then work 24-7 to protect the brain and all the body’s tissues from damage. No wonder they improve cell communication, stimulate nerve cell growth, and enhance brain cell connections.
If I told you I had a pill that would take 20 years off your age. You would drop weight, improve your mind and concentration, boost your mood, have all the energy you need or want, and sleep and handle stress better, would you take it? You’d be a fool not to, right?
Well, it isn’t a pill, it’s a plate. Grace your meals with piles of mood-boosting superfoods and you will look, act, feel, think, and sleep better.
If it doesn’t hit your plate, make sure you’re supplementing the following:
- Ashwagandha + DHA w/ Vitamin D
- Fermented Ginseng
- Messaoudi, M., Lalonde, R., Violle, N., Javelot, H., Desor, D., Nejdi, A., . . . Cazaubiel, J. (2011). Assessment of psychotropic-like properties of a probiotic formulation (Lactobacillus helveticus R0052 and Bifidobacterium longum R0175) in rats and human subjects. British Journal of Nutrition, 105(5), 755-764. doi:10.1017/S0007114510004319
- Clinical trial of Rhodiola rosea L. extract SHR-5 in the treatment of mild to moderate depression. Darbinyan, G. Aslanyan, E. Amroyan, E. Gabrielyan, C. Malmström, and A. Panossian. Nordic Journal of Psychiatry Vol. 61 , Iss. 5,2007
- Al-Karawi, D., Al Mamoori, D. A., and Tayyar, Y. (2016) The Role of Curcumin Administration in Patients with Major Depressive Disorder: Mini Meta-Analysis of Clinical Trials. Phytother. Res., 30: 175–183. doi: 10.1002/ptr.5524.
- Hanns Möhler, The GABA system in anxiety and depression and its therapeutic potential, Neuropharmacology, Volume 62, Issue 1, 2012, Pages 42-53, ISSN 0028-3908, http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.neuropharm.2011.08.040.
- White, D. J., de Klerk, S., Woods, W., Gondalia, S., Noonan, C., & Scholey, A. B. (2016). Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients, 8(1), 53. http://doi.org/10.3390/nu8010053
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