There is no doubt that food has an effect on emotions. Food can make us feel good, guilty, and even disappointed. Some people feel energized on a low-fat, high-carbohydrate diet while others feel lethargic and tired.
Foods that are sometimes referred to as comfort foods are often high in carbohydrates. Some carbohydrates are a good source of tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin, and may help boost serotonin activity in the brain. Tryptophan also converts to niacin in the body, another nutrient linked to mood, although evidence is lacking. Tryptophan food sources include turkey, peanuts, meats, milk, cottage cheese, and soy products.
Omega-3 Fatty Acids
Today's refined and processed foods have led to a significant shift in the omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acid intakes in the American diet. The recommended ratio is 4 (omega-6) to1 (omega-3.) This means we should consume 4 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3. Unfortunately, Americans eat closer to 20 parts omega-6 to 1 part omega-3; 20:1 ratio instead of a 4:1. This deficiency in omega-3 fatty acids has been linked to various health concerns including mood disturbances. Some studies suggest that including foods rich in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil, in your daily diet may help boost mood and brain function.
Omega-3 fatty acids help normalize cell-signaling processes and suppress inflammatory compounds associated with a low mood. Omega-3 fatty acids may reduce oxidative stress in the brain, protecting it from the damaging effects of free radicals, which some experts link to cognitive decline. There are ongoing studies evaluating the role of essential fatty acids, particularly fish oil, in altering or stabilizing mood. It is important to see a physician if symptoms of low mood persist. Consider supplementing with fish or flaxseed oil to ensure adequate intake of essential omega-3 fatty acids.
Did you know exercise may be good for the brain? Walking for 15 to 20 minutes daily may help boost brain function. A study by Harvard School of Public Health found that older women who walked at a leisurely pace, 2-3 hours/week, had improved memory and thinking ability verses inactive women. (JAMA, 2005)
Supplements and Mood
In addition to diet and exercise, supplements may play a role in mood elevation and/or brain function. Supplement with fish oil to ensure adequate DHA (omega-3 fatty acid) intake. Other supplements linked to mood include B12, B6, folic acid, SAMe, and St. John's Wort.
• B vitamins such as B12, B6 and folic acid appear to reduce elevated levels of homocysteine, which is associated with low mood and cognitive decline.
• B6 is necessary for tryptophan metabolism and conversion to serotonin. Low levels of B6 have been associated with low mood.
• B12 deficiency, more common in older adults, can cause alterations in mood The Institute of Medicine recommends those aged 50 years and older receive 25 mcg of B12/daily from fortified foods and supplements. Older adults often have problems absorbing B12 from food.
• Low folate levels are often found in patients with a low mood.. More recently, folic acid was shown to reduce the risk of Alzheimer's in those taking at least 400 mcg/day (Alzheimer's & Dementia: The Journal of the Alzheimer's Association, July 2005.) A June 2005 report at the Alzheimer's Association International Conference on Prevention of Dementia linked daily doses of folic acid (800 mcg/day) to enhanced performance on memory tests, reaction time and thinking speed for older adults.
SAM-e is used to help boost mood and is a natural way to help enhance emotional well-being. St. John's Wort is an herbal supplement and may be beneficial for boosting a low mood as well. NOTE: SAM-e and St. John's Wort should not be taken together.
St. John's Wort may be a better choice for mild mood elevations.
If experiencing symptoms of depression or dementia, see a physician for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.