Foods can affect our moods chemically in regards to alertness and pain perception. The basic principle is that the nutrients in food act as pre-cursors to neurotransmitters in our brains…the more precursors there are, the more neurotransmitters are produced. Here are some examples so that this will make more sense (the nutrients discussed are from food sources specifically and as well supplements):
- Breaks down into Amino Acids when digested
- Tyrosine is one of those amino acids that increases the release of dopamine, norepinephrine and epinephrine – these chemicals increase alertness and energy
- Sources include fish, poultry, meat, eggs, legumes, cheese, milk, tofu
- Promote relaxation and help combat stress (that’s why we tend to grab carbs when we’re really feeling the crunch of a project deadline)
- Carbohydrates provide sugar in the blood which leads to a release of insulin
- Insulin not only clears out the sugar in the blood but also the amino acids in the blood except tryptophan
- Tryptophan converts to serotonin in the brain which helps with pain reduction, decreased appetite, sense of calm and in large enough quantities = sleep.
- Sources include whole grains, fruits
B Complex Vitamin
- Choline is a specific B Complex Vitamin that is concentrated in high cholesterol foods (eggs)
- Lack of choline has been associated with impairment of memory and concentration
- Choline is the precursor to acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) which at low levels is linked to Alzheimer’s disease and poor memory
- This one is somewhat of a mystery in that we don’t know what the neural function is or what the mode of action is, but we do know that:
- Lack of selenium = increased anxiousness, irritability and hostility
- Sources include Brazil nuts, tuna, sunflower seeds, whole grain cereals
- We’ve all heard about the importance of Folic Acid during pregnancy, but deficiencies in Folic Acid have been linked to depression
- Low levels of Folic Acid = decreased serotonin levels (as previously discussed with carbohydrates)
- As little as 200 micrograms may be enough to improve mood. That’s equal to 1 cup of cooked spinach or 1 cup of orange juice.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
- These fatty acids aid your brain cells and neurotransmitters to function properly which has a “mood-lifting” effect
- Sources include salmon, sardines, flaxseeds
So when you feel tired after Thanksgiving dinner it may be related to the Tryptophan in the turkey, but may also be related to the insulin response from the carbohydrates. Both nutrients work together to produce that restful (almost sleepy) feeling. Whatever the case may be, it may be worth making note of your mood next time you eat some of these foods. If you’re feeling tired, try some protein or you can try mood enhancer supplement like Peak Nootropics. The point is to take advantage of the “natural” mood altering benefits foods have.