Thursday, November 12, 2009

The Lazy Way to Happiness

Sleep and mood are closely related. In the modern society, to manage more, people compromise on sleep. Newborns normally require 10.5 to 18 hours of sleep, while adults may need to sleep from 7.5 to 8.5 hours.

Sleep deprivation in normal subjects typically causes worsening of mood, with complaints of irritability, depression, and decreased motivation. Lack of sleep may decrease a person’s ability to appreciate things as funny, which would be considered amusing in general. Lack of sleep can also be a significant risk factor for anxiety.

Less sleep has been reported to result in decrease in brain serotonin levels, which can influence academic and athletic performance, and overall subjective well-being.

Healthy sleep has been shown to enhance well being. Adequate sleep has been shown to benefit several forms of neural processing, including insight formation, novel-language perception, visual discrimination, and motor skills.

It has been suggested that if one is feeling down for no reason, shifting the snooze time a bit early for a few days and taking proper sleep would bring back the zest.

To enhance happiness, it is thus advisable that we assess our sleep requirements and develop a proper routine.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Munching Away to Happiness (4)

The type and quality of fats in the diet can influence mood and behaviour.

Dietary fats are built from fatty acids. Fatty acids can be either saturated or unsaturated. Saturated fatty acids (SFA) have all the hydrogen atoms the carbon atoms can hold. They are usually solid at room temperature. Saturated fatty acids are considered the main dietary factors in raising blood cholesterol.

Unsaturated fatty acids have at least one unsaturated bond; that is some of the carbon bonds are shared doubly with the adjoining carbon atom. They are usually liquid at room temperature and generally come from vegetable sources. They are known to keep the blood cholesterol level down and reduce cholesterol deposits in artery walls. The unsaturated fatty acids can be further classified as mono-unsaturated fatty acids (MUFA; single double bond in the fatty acid chain) and polyunsaturated fatty acids (PUFA; more than one double bond).

Two important unsaturated fatty acids are n-3 fatty acids (popularly called as omega-3 fatty acids) and n-6 fatty acids (popularly called as omega-6 fatty acids).

Due to recommendations to substitute PUFAs for SFAs to lower serum cholesterol, there has been increased intake of vegetable oils from sunflower seeds, safflower seeds, corn, cottonseed, and soybeans. This has resulted in a significant increase in the consumption of n-6 fatty acids. Traditionally the ratio of n-6 to n-3 fatty acids in the diet has been mentioned to be 1-2:1, which is now estimated in urban diets to be 20-30:1 (approximately).

Although investigators are not sure of the reasons, a high n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio has been associated with health problems including mental health problems like affective problems and concentration/memory difficulties.

Studies have shown decreased levels of n-3 fatty acids and higher n-6 to n-3 fatty acid ratio in patients with mood disorders. Some published reports show a significant effect improvement in depression symptoms on n-3 fatty acid supplementation.

n-3 fatty acid containing foods include:

Fish - Salmon, sardines, mackerel, Scallops, fresh tuna, halibut, shrimp, cod, trout
Seeds - Flaxseed
Nuts - Walnuts

If we get our facts about fats right, perhaps we can understand happiness better.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Munching Away to Happiness (3)

Minerals like vitamins are classified as micronutrients. They are required in small quantities for healthy functioning. As with vitamins, certain minerals contribute to a positive mood. Deficiencies in minerals are sometimes implicated in certain mental health problems. The main minerals implicated in affect on mood are magnesium, zinc, selenium and iron.

These nutrients appear to have a role in neurotransmission. Levels of magnesium and zinc have been shown to be lower in the blood of patients diagnosed with depression. Low selenium levels have been associated with poor mood. Supplementing the diet with selenium can lead to a subsequent improvement. Iron deficiency has also been implicated in poor mood and attention.

Minerals which can impact mood and their food sources include:

Veg - spinach, watercress, avocado, peppers, broccoli, brussle sprouts, green cabbage, watercress
Nuts - Almonds, brazil nuts, cashews, peanuts, macadamias, pistachios, walnuts, pecan
Seeds - pumpkin, sunflower, poppy
Wholegrains - oatmeal, wheatbran, long grain rice, buckwheat, barley, quinoa
Dairy - plain yoghurt
Legumes - baked beans
Fruit - banana, kiwi, blackberries, strawberries, orange, raisins
Sweet - chocolate

Veg - mushrooms, garlic, spinach
Wholegrains - wheat germ, brewers yeast, barley, rye, oats, long grain brown rice
Meat - turkey breast
Fish/seafood - Cod, Tuna, Halibut, Salmon, shrimp
Legumes - tofu
Nuts - brazil nuts
Dairy - mozzarella cheese
Seeds - mustard, sunflower

Cereals - fortified breakfast cereal
Nuts - cashews, walnuts, almonds
Dairy - mozzarella, Swiss, cheddar cheeses, low fat yoghurt
Pulses - chick peas, kidney beans, baked beans, lima beans
Legumes - lentils, miso
Seafood/fish - oysters, mussels, shrimp
Meat - chicken (dark meat), turkey, lamb, pork
Seeds - pumpkin, sesame
Vegetables - spinach, mushrooms, squash, asparagus, broccoli
Fruit - blackberries, kiwi
(The concentration of zinc in plants varies based on levels of the element in soil.)

Cereals - fortified breakfast cereal
Veg – spinach, peas, broccoli
Fruit/dried fruits - blackberries, kiwi, pomegranate, prunes, raisins, apricots
Pulses - kidney beans, baked beans, lima beans
Meat – red meat. chicken, turkey
Fish/seafood - Cod, Tuna, Salmon
Legumes- tofu
Nuts - almonds
Wholegrains – wheat, millet oats, brown rice

It has not been proven unequivocally that people with a low mood affect have a lower mineral status than the general population. However, a sensible diet is sure to bring some zing in the routine.


1. Sanstead HH. A brief history of the influence of trace elements on brain function. Am J Clin Nutr. 1986;43:293-8. [PDF]

2. Kaplan BJ, Crawford SG, Field CJ, Simpson JS. Vitamins, minerals, and mood. Psychol Bull. 2007;133:747-60. [Abstract]

Friday, November 6, 2009

Munching Away To Happiness (2)

The relationship between certain vitamins and mood is well established. The importance of specific vitamins in neurotransmitter systems is also known.

Some vitamins which are known to affect mood, attitude and thus happiness levels include B1 (thiamine), B3 (niacin), B6 (pyridoxine), B12 (cobalamin), B9 (folic acid) and C (ascorbic acid). All vitamins must be derived from the diet.

Several studies have shown that participants experienced low mood, irritability and fatigue when their thiamine status was low. On increasing the thiamine status their mood improved. Individuals with low levels of pyridoxine have been shown to display more irritability, depression, hostility and anxiety as compared to individuals with normal levels. Folate deficiency has been implicated in both depressed moods and in major depression. Patients with low levels of folate and B12 exhibit poorer moods than patients who have at least one of the vitamins at a normal level.

When deficiency of these vitamins occurs, the initial reported symptoms may well be only behavioural or psychological disturbances. Sometimes psychological symptoms can occur in the absence of physical signs of a deficiency. Scurvy from vitamin C deficiency is often preceded by irritability and a general malaise. There is a subset of individuals with Vitamin B12 deficiency who present with psychiatric symptoms in the absence of anaemia.

It has been shown that adequate repletion of the vitamins can improve cognitive functioning and reverse mood alterations triggered by the deficiency.

Vitamins which can impact mood and their food sources include:

Vitamin B1
Wholegrain - spelt bread, oats, brown rice, barley, fresh pasta
Veg - peppers, cabbage, broccoli, asparagus, romaine lettuce, mushrooms, spinach, watercress, green peas, aubergine, brussel sprouts
Pulses - lentils
Legumes - Soya milk
Seeds - sunflower seeds
Nuts - Brazil nuts, hazelnuts, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios, sesame seeds
Fish/seafood - tuna, salmon, mussels

Vitamin B3
Wholegrain - brown rice, rice bran, wheatgerm
Veg - broccoli, mushrooms, cabbage, brussel sprouts, courgette, squash
Nuts - peanuts
Meat - pork, turkey, chicken
Fish - tuna, salmon
Seeds - sunflower seeds

Vitamin B6
Wholegrains - brown rice, oats, bran, barley
Fruit - bananas, mango
Fish - tuna, trout, salmon
Veg - avocado, watercress, cauliflower, cabbage, peppers, squash, asparagus, bok choy, potato
Meat - chicken, turkey
Beans - lima beans, soy beans
Pulses - chickpeas
Seeds - sunflower

Vitamin B12
Meat - chicken, turkey, lamb
Fish/Seafood - salmon, halibut, bass, tuna, shrimp, trout, oysters, crab, clams
Dairy Products - cottage cheese, low fat yoghurt, boiled or poached eggs, milk

Folic acid
Veg (especially green leafy) - Spinach, lettuce, asparagus, beets, Savoy cabbage, broccoli, green peas, fresh parsley, brussels sprouts, cauliflower, avocado
Fish - cod, tuna, salmon, halibut, shrimp
Meat - turkey
Nuts and Seeds - peanuts, sesame seeds, hazel nuts, cashew nuts, walnuts
Beans and Pulses - lentils, chick peas, black beans, kidney beans, pinto beans
Fruit - oranges

Vitamin C
Veg - red pepper, red cabbage, broccoli, brussel sprouts, cauliflower, kale, celery, squash, cabbage, watercress
Fresh fruit - strawberries, oranges, tangerines, kiwi, cantaloupe, papaya, cranberries, pineapple

A balanced diet which includes these vitamins may just be the right thing to bring out that spontaneous smile.


Kaplan BJ, Crawford SG, Field CJ, Simpson JS. Vitamins, minerals, and mood. Psychol Bull. 2007;133:747-60. [Abstract]

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Munching Away to Happiness (1)

Conventional wisdom mentioned that what we eat effects on our thoughts and feelings. Modern day research has also shown that there exists a relationship between a person’s diet and his mood. The food we consume can influence the chemical composition within the brain and affect our mood.

Food can affect the production and release of neurotransmitters. Neurotransmitters are messengers which allow neurons to communicate information amongst themselves. Some food substances contain amino acids which are precursors to neurotransmitters. Fats consumed in the diet can directly affect the brain cell membrane structure and substance.

Serotonin which is a monoamine neurotransmitter is also known as the 'feel-good hormone', and is involved in the regulation of mood and sleep. It is made in our body from an amino acid called tryptophan. In healthy people with high trait irritability, tryptophan has been shown to increase agreeableness, decrease quarrelsomeness and improve mood.

Orally taken serotonin does not enter the brain. However the precursor tryptophan and its metabolite 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) can enter the brain. Increase in consumption of tryptophan can lead to increase in brain serotonin. By eating a balanced diet of which includes foods that contain tryptophan, the levels of serotonin can be increased.

Foods containing tryptophan include:

Vegetables - spinach, cabbage, watercress

Pulses - lentils, chick peas (hummus)

Nuts - almonds, pistachios, hazelnuts, peanuts,soy nuts

Seeds - poppy, pumpkin, sesame seeds

Legumes - kidney, soya, lima beans

Lean meat - skinless chicken, skinless turkey

Dairy - plain yoghurt, milk, eggs, cheddar, gruyere, swiss, cottage cheeses

Fruits - bananas, pineapple, plums, dates, figs, prunes

Wholegrains - porridge oats, brown rice

Of course there is a catch. Conversion of dietary tryptophan to serotonin is affected by other factors. Other competing amino acids present in the protein may hinder its transport to the brain. Carbohydrates may increase tryptophan’s availability, because the insulin released by them puts the competing amino acids to a different use. Thus eating small amounts of brown rice, wholemeal bread, porridge oats along with the protein food is useful. Further, different enzymes, minerals and vitamins are required to convert tryptophan to serotonin.

Other methods to increase serotonin include:

1. Exposure to sunlight (bright light)
2. Exercise


Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2007;32:394-9. [PDF]

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Happiness in Relationships

The primary trait to look for in a partner is strength of character.

I thought about it and I find it very apt. Good character values are not only uplifting and inspiring but also come in useful during times of interpersonal conflict.

In an article, author Karen Salmansohn says that to find sustainable happiness in love, one must prioritize finding a person who:

1. Values growing as a person.

2. Understands that a relationship serves the double function of ‘den of pleasure’ (fun, companionship, etc which keep the passion thriving) and ‘laboratory for growth’ (to inspire, nurture and motivate each other to achieve eudaimonia).