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Effects of Food on Your Mood

05/30/2000

Question:

I`m doing some research on mood effecting foods and how they react with your body to alter a person's mood. Can you give me some research that has been done on this subject or some examples of foods and how they work with our bodies to effect us. Thank you.

Answer:

Thank you for your question. The Wurtmans have published research related to carbohydrates, mood and the neurotransmitter, serotonin. But the interest in food`s ability to alter mood has interested people since the beginning of civilization. Poor dietary habits in general are common in people who suffer from mental disorders especially depression. Small nutrient deficiencies can actually alter the brain waves recorded on an EEG.

Neurotransmitters are chemicals released by nerve cells to communicate with the rest of the nervous system. Some neurotransmitters stimulate nerves leading to increased mental processes while others inhibit nerves leading to relaxation. Diet affects the synthesis or formation of these neurotransmitters and their activity. Carbohydrates effect chemicals that regulate how a person feels and acts. Carbohydrate-rich foods include bread, cereal grains, pasta, rice, candy, regular soft drinks and even some vegetables such as lentils, peas, potatoes and winter squash. These foods when consumed as the main part of a meal or snack increase the brain concentrations of an amino acid called tryptophan which is used by the body to manufacture the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Higher levels of serotonin leads to relaxation and calmness.

People with Seasonal Affective Disorder, a disease characterized by depression, lethargy and bouts of overeating, typically crave carbohydrates during the winter when we have less sunlight. Studies have found individuals suffering from SAD noticeably increase their intake of carbohydrates during the winter. Sugar also has an effect on mood other than the serotonin connection. Distressed newborn infants were calmed by small amounts of a diluted sugar solution. In contrast, depressed individuals responded with an improved mood when sugar and caffeine were removed from their diets. The depression worsened when sugar was reintroduced. Caffeine is also a central nervous system stimulant that can affect mood. Small doses appear to increase alertness, combat fatigue and improve performance of tasks that require attention to detail; however, too much leads to agitation, headaches, nervousness and decreased ability to concentrate. Vitamin deficiencies are often found in psychiatric patients. These deficiencies include: B1, B2, B6, B12, niacin, folic acid and C. The poor eating habits that are often a part of the cycle of depression usually include other nutrient deficiencies. Magnesium is essential for normal nerve function and in neurotransmitter production. Marginal deficiencies of magnesium results in confusion, personality changes, depression and poor concentration.

Adequate protein for breakfast seems to be important for people who need to be alert but are not morning people. In contrast, adequate protein in the evening seems to be more important for the morning person who needs to remain alert at the other end of the day. Following the Food Guide Pyramid for everyone seems to be the best advice with an emphasis on complex carbohydrate - not sugar.

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Response by:

Shirley A Kindrick, PhD Shirley A Kindrick, PhD
Former Team Leader of Comprehensive Weight Management
College of Medicine
The Ohio State University