Food And Mood

“Food affects your mood” is the heading of an article by Dr.Susan Biali (practising family physician with a degree in dietetics) in the June 24, 2003 edition of The Medical Post (page 24). According to her there is good evidence in the medical literature to indicate that a number of biologically active brain hormones depend on what we eat. There are 5 major items that she pointed out, which I summarized below in tabular form.

The medical literature points to the importance of these various food factors to allow us to have a balanced brain metabolism. When these ingredients are present our mood is more likely to be normal with more resilience to depression.

The literature centers around various population groups in comparison with the North American population. For instance, in an article of the Dec. 2000 issue of Psychiatric Clinics of North America a study was reported that found that Taiwanese and Chinese people consume a lot more omega-3 fatty acid rich foods such as fish than North Americans.

In the same study the rate of major depression was found to be 10-times more frequent in North Americans and the investigators felt that this was so because of the brain hormone stabilizing effect of the omega-3 fatty acids. Other researchers suggest that chronic stress might lead to a depletion of omega-3 fatty acids in the brain through an oxydation process, which eventually results in depression.

Food And Mood

Food And Mood

Several nutritional factors appear to have caused deficiency states of essential brain nutrients, one being the junk foods like candy bars, French fries, hamburgers etc. leading to a dysbalance of the omega-6 fatty acid to omega-3 fatty acid ratio. Another factor is the increase of consumption of highly refined carbohydrates (sugar and starch), often also called high glycemic foods. This is known to lead to the metabolic syndrome, also called syndrome of insulin resistance. Finally many people still have too much fat in their diets with a high amount of hydrogenated vegetable oils (see link). It is also important to note that folate, Vit. B6 and Vit.B12 are required for prevention of hardening of the arteries by lowering homocysteine levels.

Brain food components that affect your mood
Food item: Comments:
omega-3-fatty acids Chinese and Taiwanese eat much more of these and have 10 times less depression than North Americans
DHA, a long-chain omega-3-fatty acid our daily intake is 100mg less per day than 50 years ago due to our diet being based on commercial livestock; lack of DHA leads to depression
too much
omega-6-arachidonic acid in “junk foods”
ratio of
omega-6 to omega-3 arachidonic acid has increased from fast food consumption; this
leads to depression
folate and Vit.B12 deficiency associated with depression
an essential amino acid that is needed to make serotonin, a brain hormone without
which we experience depression

So what is “brain food” ? Dr. Biali pointed out in her article that it is always best to start with a low fat, well balanced food plan where junk foods are avoided and where vegetables and fruit provide the low to medium glycemic index carbohydrates. Fish should be eaten at least three times per week to provide the brain with the essential omega-3 fatty acids.

It is probably not recommendable to take tryptophan as a supplement: in 1989 several fatalities occurred from impurities in commercial tryptophan and many researchers are concerned about dysbalancing the network of brain hormones by giving an overdose of only one amino acid, but not giving enough of the others. It is much safer to simply eat enough protein (meat, soy protein, milk products) and the body can pick and choose what it needs in terms of amino acids including tryptophan. With folates one needs to be careful not to exceed 0.8 mg per day as with mega-doses of folate in the 15 mg range toxic symptoms of vivid dreams, disturbed sleep patterns and even occasional seizures developped. A good multivitamin supplement will not only provide the right folate dose, but also Vit. B12, which is also needed to prevent depression.

Last edited December 9, 2012

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About Ray Schilling

Dr. Ray Schilling born in Tübingen, Germany and Graduated from Eberhard-Karls-University Medical School, Tuebingen in 1971. Once Post-doctoral cancer research position holder at the Ontario Cancer Institute in Toronto, is now a member of the American Academy of Anti-Aging Medicine (A4M).