A nutritious diet not only helps you lose weight and remain healthy, but it can also help you avoid mood disorders like anxiety and depression symptoms. A diversified diet rich in fruits, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, legumes, and omega-3 fatty acid-rich foods is considered to be the most effective nutritional plan for preventing or alleviating mood disorders.
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Good Mood Food
We are what we eat, I think most of us would agree that what we eat and the way we eat does affect us quite a lot. The Chinese have a saying: “Disease enters through the mouth.” Unhealthy eating habits are well documented to cause mood swings. Blood sugar swings and dietary deficiencies are frequently to fault. Our minds and bodies can’t work properly without a regular supply of fuel from the meals we eat. Sugary, high-calorie snacks, to which many people turn, have their own set of detrimental consequences.
You might be wondering, are there are any foods that will help you feel better, foods that may even influence your mood?Particular foods have been demonstrated to boost overall brain health as well as certain types of mood disorders by providing the body with minerals and vitamins that have been scientifically proven to help with mood disorders.
Recently, studies on the link between nutrition and mental health have been published. However, numerous things can influence mood, including stress, the environment, inadequate sleep, heredity, mental disorders, and dietary inadequacies.
Poor Diets And Stress Cause Weight Gain
Almost half the population now struggle to maintain weight, there is less time to cook and a greater reliance on convenience foods, and even our increasing cancer rates have been linked with nutritionally depleted diets. It stands to reason that what we eat will also affect our mood, behaviour and emotions state to a large extent. Just take a look at how foods affect you, you associate eating some foods with a great deal of pleasure like ice cream or chocolate. If you are hungry you may feel irritable and restless, whereas if you have has just eaten a meal you may feel more calm and satisfied. If you are sleepy, may feel more productive after a cup of coffee and a light snack.
And if you have consistently eaten less food than needed over a long period of time you may well be apathetic and moody (typically through low blood-sugar levels). In this article we will take a closer look at some of the core issues surrounding nutrition, the brain and behaviour.
Your brain has a very high energy and nutrient requirement. Intake of energy and several different nutrients affect levels of chemicals in your brain called neurotransmitters (hormones). Neurotransmitters transmit nerve impulses from one nerve cell to another, and they influence your mood, sleep patterns, and thinking, the movement of your body and much more. Deficiencies or imbalances of essential fatty acids, vitamins, minerals or amino acids can all impair brain function, cause changes to your memory, make it easier for you to become irritable, moody, depressed or violent and may even damage nerves in the brain.
How Foods Affect Your Mood
It is important to view nutrition as being one of the most powerful factors under our control shaping how we think, how we feel and more importantly how we act. I once read a book written about nutrition and its effect on mental and emotional health by British Dr. Derrick Lonsdale, who specialised in Paediatrics (children’s health) and graduated from London University in 1948 but retired in 1982 in order to practice natural medicine full-time. Dr. Lonsdale specialised in inherited disorders caused by faulty body/brain chemistry, known as “inborn errors of metabolism”, and published a book in the late 1990’s entitled: “Why I Left Orthodox Medicine: Healing for the 21st Century”. Dr Lonsdale’s theory is quite a simple one, and so logical.
It became evident to Lonsdale that the behaviour of individuals whose main complaints are bad behaviour and delinquency can be related in some degree to inefficient metabolism of their brain and nervous system. Lonsdale believes from his experiences with children and diet that the diet itself does not directly cause a person to commit a crime. But it does make it a lot easier for that person’s “primitive nature” to come through and under these circumstances to commit mindless acts of violence. Sadly we see a lot of mindless crime happening today.
Experts like Lonsdale believe that consuming highly refined foods can be compared be compared with “flooding” the engine of a car by having the choke on for too long. In the brain, refined carbs along with the resulting loss of efficiency creates an imbalance between the upper brain (personality, thinking, cognition) over the lower one (the more primitive urges, eating, sleeping, reproduction, survival, etc). The result is that our more primitive behavior is exposed. The part of the brain that first develops with the infant is the part the allows the child to survive in a hostile environment (the lower part).
The upper part of the brain is not really wired up to the lower part of the brain quite yet. As the child grows and matures, there is an increasing dialogue between the upper and lower – and it is during these brain formative years that a healthy balanced diet is so important.
The upper part of the brain becomes an “advisor” to the lower part, and monitors the incoming behavioural desires and more primitive emotions (e.g. sex drive) which are bubbling away under the surface. In normal circumstances (a healthy balanced person) these primitive drives are modified by your brain’s awareness so that the sexual act, for example, is turned into love making – and not brutal rape.
Sexual related crimes have sharply increased, and have we found any real causes? We can’t blame it all on the media and simply the “loose morals” of society. And hasn’t our society become increasingly violent? We do feed our kids violence through the media, place in their hands violent computer games, and then on top of that we feed them nutritionally depleted foods high in sugar, salt or fats which can adversely affect they way they think or feel.
Drugs The Medical Answer For Behavioural Issues
The usual and customary Orthodox medical treatment for most behavioural issues was and still is today the prescription of pharmaceutical drugs, as it is still hard for doctors to envision any dietary issue as a serious cause of bad behaviour, delinquency and adolescent criminal activity. I’ll bet that this is an even harder concept to grasp for the lawyers and judges! If you look at the diets of those who are convicted of violent crimes, like Dr. Lonsdale has for many years, you will often find that many of these people habitually consumed too much soda, alcohol, and have major nutritional deficiencies due to a nutritionally depleted diet.
In 1977, an American probation officer persuaded a judge to sign over to her care various adolescents that had come before the judge for sentence.
She was able to show a judge that, by controlling the diet of these young criminal individuals, the known high incidence of repeat offending was reduced. A good article covering different topics on drugs and behaviour: Behavioural problems: are drugs really the answer?
Vitamin B1 – Brain Vitamin
Vitamin B1 is involved in glucose energy metabolism, and even a marginal deficiency causes the body (particularly the brain) to be unable to utilise carbohydrates efficiently for the production of energy. Thiamine deficiency contributes to a number of conditions ranging from confusion, reduced memory, and sleep disturbances, to severe headaches, congestive heart failure, muscle wasting and even death.
According to a study released in 2019, In the recent years, thiamine supplementation has been used with some success as a therapeutic approach for neuro-developmental disorders, including autistic spectrum disorders and depression. An often overlooked issue, is the lack of incorporation of antioxidants into supplemental treatments that are deemed critical.”
In 1980, Dr. Lonsdale wrote a nutritional paper that was published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concerning a study of 20 adolescent patients whose main complaint was behavioural issues and delinquency. They became quarrelsome, irritable and even became aggressive. Of particular importance, small stresses such as a remark would fire off an emotional reaction that was way out of proportion to the degree of insult.
Almost all of them were found to be deficient to a degree in vitamin B1 (thiamine), and many of them had several other vitamin and mineral deficiencies as well. Their diet history in most cases, consisted mainly of convenience or junk type foods, typical of many adolescents today. These are the foods that might be defined as high in calories but lacking the vitamins and minerals that enable them to be metabolised effectively.
Following vitamin B1 supplementation, behaviour improved, suggesting that marginal thiamine deficiency may have contributed to their aggressive behavioural syndrome. It was found that an increased intake of refined carbs automatically increased the need for thiamine. Now you can understand why people who drink alcohol regularly have an increased need for Vitamin B1. Do you drink regularly? Try a good B complex twice daily, you will be amazed, especially if you have been getting rather short with people, or perhaps you feel mentally jaded and fatigued.
Dr. Lonsdale did not suggest that thiamine was the only vitamin that regulates function in the human nervous system, and that all the vital nutrients act together in a team relationship. Particular attention was paid to vitamin B1 because over many years Lonsdale was able to document the relationship of vitamin B1 deficiency with a diet that is overloaded with refined carbs. Adolescents who typically consume such diets became impulsive, highly irritable, aggressive and sensitive to criticism. Perhaps many of our youth may well benefit from a regular dose of thiamine, particularly those that consume alcohol, one of the most raw or “naked” carbohydrates, on a regular basis.
Your Brain and Sugar
Nature never intended sugar to be in as raw a state as we have created. Natural sugars in nature are not found wrapped neatly in paper in a white granulated form hanging off a tree branch, but are always found wrapped up in some sort of stem, fruit, root or even a leaf, along with many different types of fibres present which play a most important part in the metabolism of the sugar.
These fibres slow down the absorption and release of sugars in your system, and you will find in nature that sugars are always present with minerals such as chromium, zinc and Vitamin B6 which aid in their digestion and assimilation into the system.
What is one of the most powerful and legal drugs, particularly with young people? What substance is readily available, capable of giving the brain addictive cravings and its consumption is growing rapidly? That’s right, it is sugar.
Many people probably do not know that one company who markets a popular black soda drink sell an amazing 2 million litres every 24hrs in NZ., when I came to NZ in 1998, I saw that this company was selling 1.25 million litres every 24hrs.
To explain how nutrition affects your brain in a simple way, you can compare your brain and glucose to the workings of your motor car with petrol as the fuel. We all know that your car runs on a high-grade fuel to make it go. You simply can’t put diesel into your petrol car, if you do – look at how it plays up and smokes! And your mechanic may even tell you that you could be doing serious (expensive) damage to your engine if you drive it like this. Now look at your brain, it is an incredibly high “performance engine”, requiring a large supply of high-grade fuel consisting of glucose & amino acids in order to function optimally.
Poor Brain Fuel Choices
How could anyone expect to get good performance from the cheap and fast fuels they regularly pour into their engines such as alcohol, fizzy drinks, cakes chocolate, ice cream, deep fried take-away as well as the foods containing preservatives, colours, and other chemicals? Refined white sugar is a most potent form of fuel, and look at how it makes your brain and body feel. It is worth remembering, that of the approximately 70, 000 chemicals in existence, only a few hundred have been adequately tested on human beings, so in some sense you could view thousands of these additional chemicals potentially as “fuel additives” of which we have virtually no understanding of their workings on our delicate precision machinery. But worse than this – today we actually use sugars in a super refined state which our brains and cells were never really designed to run on in the first place, and some of these chemicals are amazingly thousands of times sweeter than sugar!
I can remember when I was about 19yrs old after a long run; I quickly drank a can of soda. Within one minute I almost collapsed as I went weak at the knees, I broke out in a cold sweat and nearly passed out. What happened? Blood-sugar levels soared to dizzying heights in my blood stream in less than one minute, sending out hormones like insulin and cortisol to correct this spike of glucose. The result was a sharp decline (hypo) after a rapid increase (hyper) in blood sugar, confusing the brain and almost “short-circuiting” my system. You can imagine what occurs to those who daily consume fizzy and “Diet” type drinks, they will tend to have unstable blood-sugar levels quite regularly, although the episodes would not be as violent as I experienced, they would be enough to create instability. Hypoglycemia (low-blood-sugar levels) leads to anxiety and irritability.
Foods Create Chemical Addictions
Highly processed diets affect our brain (the computer) initially by way of our tongue and taste buds; and we keep on stimulating our “super computer with food colours, flavours and preservatives. This constant agreeable stimulus gets us hooked, and many companies know just how easy it is to manipulate foods (or rather the chemicals in or on them) to get us to eat more and more of them. Take a look at your favourite snack food – be honest, how easy is it for you to ….stop. I heard an American Professor called Paul Pilzer speak on how big companies use their tricks to snare unsuspecting buyers with their highly processed foods. Paul, a world-renowned food economist and college professor, mentioned that one company specialise in making potato chips for women who weigh more than 100kgs. This particular company had a group of women eat their chips to complete a specialised survey to find out how much they could eat before they felt full. By manipulating the chemicals on the chips, they were able to get women to eat just that little more.The results? Increased sales in a highly competitive market. Large food companies with even larger marketing budgets will continue to find their sneaky and sordid ways to peddle their toxic wares, to the detriment of their unsuspecting consumer.
Do you remember the TV commercial from the past which informed you: “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop”. This chip company now has a brand new slogan – “Mind Popping”! This marks a move away from the iconic “Once You Pop, You Can’t Stop” slogan which was first introduced in 1996, clearly a move away from their marketing campaign and slogan being seen as creating a snack food addiction.
Another book on my shelf entitled “Nutrition and Mental Illness” was written by Carl Pfeiffer, one of the pioneers in nutritional approaches to mental disease. Dr Pfeiffer dedicated his first book to “The many patients who are presently denied effective nutritional therapy in our mental hospitals”. Pfeiffer states that there is the compulsion or craving to eat something which we know to be either wrong or bad for us, but that we are unable to stop once we were hooked.
DHA (Omega 3) Aggressiveness may occur as a result of Docosahexaenoic Acid (DHA) deficiency and DHA supplementation may help to prevent and treat anger, aggressiveness and violence. NZ Hoki oil, an outstanding 100% NZ Omega 3 oil is becoming available on the market in NZ. Each 1000 mg capsule contains an amazing 270mg of DHA. You could also consume more fatty fish such as mackerel, sardines, salmon and trout, which are high dietary sources of DHA.
5-HTP: : (amino acid) Treats aggressiveness by increasing serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin is a hormone that has a calming effect on the brain. 5-HTP is easier to find in the USA, but not Australia/New Zealand than tryptophan. Supplemental tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP so there is no additional benefit to be gained from using both 5-HTP and tryptophan, although it is likely that 5-HTP is more effective for increasing serotonin levels than tryptophan (as it is one step closer to serotonin than tryptophan). See your naturopath.
Tryptophan: (amino acid) reduces aggressiveness without affecting an individual’s assertiveness. Tryptophan “works” by raising levels of the calming neurotransmitter, serotonin. Scientific studies support the use of tryptophan as a treatment for aggressiveness. Tryptophan supplements are often “hard-to-find” and are generally only available in relatively low dosages. See your naturopath.
Vitamin B 1: Violence can occur as a result of vitamin B1 deficiency and supplemental vitamin B1 reduces aggressive behavior when the underlying cause is vitamin B1 deficiency, and this will be particularly relevant when the diet consists of “junk”, fizzy, high in refined carbs and is poor generally.
Vitamin B3: The niacinamide form of vitamin B3 helps to reduce aggressive and violent behavior. Animal studies have demonstrated that niacinamide can be as effective as pharmaceutical minor tranquilisers for reducing aggressiveness.
Vitamin B12: Helps to lower elevated levels of an amino acid named homocysteine. Elevated homocysteine levels have been implicated as a cause of aggressiveness – get your level checked by way of a fasting blood test.
Iron: An iron deficiency can cause mood swings, irritability and poor behaviour generally. Among adolescent males, iron deficiency has been shown to be directly associated with aggressive behavior. Iron can cause some toxic effects when used in excess and iron supplementation is unlikely to benefit aggressive individuals who are not deficient in iron, so do a blood test please.
Lithium: Lithium (a micro-mineral) reduces aggressiveness and has been used successfully with treatment-resistant hospitalised children with diagnoses of conduct disorder – aggressive type. It has also been found to reduce “self-mutilation” that violent patients occasionally engage in. Lithium carbonate or orotate are the safest forms of lithium available. Your practitioner can help here, this is not an “over the counter” medicine. I have had many successful results with Lithium in OCD (obsessive compulsive disorder) tension, anger and generally socially misplaced individuals. A Hair Analysis will pick up this deficiency. Not all those with low levels have a problem, but when I find the levels particularly low in a patient with behavioural concerns, I often get good results.
Magnesium deficiency. Mg supplementation may alleviate many cases of poor behaviour generally.
Selenium deficiency can cause emotional instability.
Herbs: Korean Ginseng, Saint John’s Wort, Valerian and Passiflora are all good herbs to use with anxiety, anger and mood issues generally. Be aware of interaction of pharmaceutical drugs and herbal medicines.
Perhaps, one day, we will have advanced enough to become truely aware that our behavior is indeed affected by what we eat and drink. One would think that by the 21st century we would be that advanced, but it appears that we are not! Unfortunately, we are still living in a time when profits of the big chemical companies appear to overcome all moral objections.
The recommendations made above are best used in conjunction with advice from your health care professional. Treating behavioural issues does take time and patience on the part of the patient as well as the practitioner, but is highly achievable when the right diet and lifestyle changes and supplements are recommended.
Jouvet, M., et al. Noradrenaline and cerebral aging. Encephale. 17(3):187-195, 1991.
Lonsdale, D, et al. Red cell transketo-lase as an indicator of nutritional deficiency. American Journal of Clinical Nutrition. 33(2):205-211, 1980.
Werbach, M. R. Nutritional influences on aggressive behavior. Journal of Orthomolecular Medicine. 7(1), 1995.
Pfeiffer, Carl C. Nutrition and Mental Illness. Healing Arts Press. Vermont 1989.