Food to change your mood

January 2, 2009 by  
Filed under Food & Nutrition, Health, Natural Medicine

Food is so closely associated with our emotions that we scarcely give it a thought. We overeat when unhappy or depressed, chomp chocolate to soothe a broken heart and celebrate with special foods to make an occasion memorable. However, it might help you to know that you can manipulate your moods to some extent by paying attention to your diet.

There are some foods in particular which trigger chemicals in the brain and these can have an effect for up to 3 hours on our emotions. I know this first hand because I wrote a book with a naturopath many years ago and she said she always knew when I had been eating chocolate – which I was doing a lot of at the time – because my mood was different and my responses not as fast or open. Knowing which foods can help, or hinder, your mood might be a useful tool to get you through any challenging situations that can arise. There are three neurotransmitters (chemicals) in our brain that affect our emotions: dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. Our brain produces them in different quantities depending on certain elements in our food so the more, or less, of these we eat then the more we will feel their influence.

Feeling Good:

We are fairly familiar with the effects of serotonin as it makes us feel calm and positive and modern anti depressants are based on enabling greater serotonin intake. Serotonin is manufactured in the body from the amino acid tryptophan, which is present in most protein-based foods. If you want a natural mood boost then add in some of its best sources: cheese, meat, soya beans, sesame seeds, oats, bananas, dried dates, milk and salmon. Plus of course my perennial favourite – chocolate.

However, given the fashion for high protein diets, please don’t ignore the important role of carbohydrates. If you have a very low, or no, carbodydrate diet then your serotonin production can just cease as the brain needs them to produce serotonin. You may be thinner, but your mood could plummet. In fact you may be doing yourself a disservice by cutting down on carbs as serotonin helps control the appetite by giving us the feeling we are full and stopping us from having that extra helping. If you need to calm down, then reach for a slice of bread, some whole grain cereal or pasta and that will increase your serotonin levels and balance your mood.

Women particularly need to pay attention to their serotonin levels as we have less than men do and therefore are more affected by a low-carb diet. In fact it can lead to symptoms similar to those of PMS, so if you feel any of those you might try just upping your carbs and seeing what difference that makes.

Feeling Alert:

If you are starting to slow down, or even want to have forty winks, and need a quick boost then the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine are the ones that can help increase your focus and alertness. That mid morning slump is often treated with coffee or a biscuit, but in fact for a temporary lift you would do better to head for protein. Having a steak in your coffee break isn’t always appropriate, so snack on something like tuna or eggs. Go to work on an egg was an old slogan, but keep a hard boiled egg handy and you will be as alert at 11am as you were at 9am.

Feeling lethargic:

Our energy levels do fluctuate during the day, but if yours are extreme then one remedy might be to switch to foods with a low Glycaemic Index (GI). These are digested more slowly and release their energy in a more measured fashion and so have much less impact on your blood sugar levels. Look for unprocessed foods, grains, and particular fruits and vegetables. The high GI foods are usually those that are more processed and include baked goods, sugar and that breakfast favourite – cornflakes. If you eat more low GI foods you should be able to contain those energy swings, and for a full view on how to do that there are plenty of excellent books on the subject on Amazon like: The Low GI Diet Cookbook: 100 Delicious Low GI Recipes to Help You Lose Weight and Keep It Off or GI High Energy Cookbook: Low-GI Recipes for Weight Loss, Health and Vitality

Important new finding on bone health

December 7, 2008 by  
Filed under Healthy Ageing, Medical Research & Studies

For the first time ever, a link has been made between the body’s production of serotonin in the gut and the production of osteoblasts, the cells that create new bone. Normally we associate serotonin with the brain and its role in our ‘feel good’ moods, but apparently a new study has found that 95% of the body’s supply of this molecule is produced in the gut and it is acting as a hormone to regulate bone mass,”

In an online paper published in the Journal Cell, a team led by Dr. Gerard Karsenty, chairman of the department of genetics and development at Columbia University in the USA have uncovered what could be a new way to control bone formation and treat could osteoporosis. Dr. Karsenty has found that gut serotonin is released into the blood, and the more serotonin that reaches bone, the more bone is lost. The reverse also applies; the less serotinin in the bloodstream then the denser and stronger bones become. As part of his study Dr. Karsenty was able to prevent menopause-induced osteoporosis in mice by slowing serotonin production. Osteoporosis is often dubbed ‘the silent killer’ because it is rarely diagnosed until the condition is established and bones start to break and fracture under little pressure. Conventional osteoporosis treatment has focused on preventing bone loss, such as with bisphosphonate drugs like Didronel, Fosamax and HRT, but unless action is taken to build bone then the situation eventually deteriorates. There are two more natural alternatives to such osteoporosis drugs, one of which is made known to us through this new study. Its findings have huge implications for osteoporosis treatment, as it could be a simple matter of regulating your diet. The basic building block for serotonin in the body is the amino acid tryptophan, which is found in red meat and turkey and in chocolate, oats, bananas, milk, yogurt, eggs, fish, poultry, sunflower and pumpkin seeds, and peanuts. So if you have a tendency to osteoporosis in your family, which is one of the biggest risk factors, then aim for a diet low in tryptophan foods to help minimise your bone loss.

The other approach, that has been tried and tested by many osteoporosis sufferers, is to use the hormone that is essential for bone-building and that is progesterone. Its levels decline with age and it is a simple matter to supplement with natural progesterone cream, patches or tablets. Though notionally available on the NHS in the UK, it is more likely to be offered as a private prescription and it cannot be bought over the counter in the UK, though it is perfectly legal to import it for your own use. If you want to know more about this hormone, the book Natural Progesterone by Dr Shirley Bond and myself will answer all your questions (you will find it on my website) and you can find plenty of suppliers of the cream that Dr John Lee recommended including Wellspring who operate out of Guernsey and have a helpful website at