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]


VSB said...

Ah! So there is the answer to all my philosophical endeavours to be in a pleasant frame of mind through storms et al - Serotonin! May the Lord God give it in ample to the great angry mass of humanity.
On a serious note, the information does enable one to cogently relate one's own dietary habits to one's general frame of mind. Eating right is a challenge though, especially with the approaching weekend :)

VS said...

There are other methods too like exercise. :o)