Nutrition and Mood
‘You are what you eat’ is a common phrase that is thrown about when talking about nutrition. It’s not strictly true but it can be used to describe the relationship between balanced nutrition and health. This relationship isn't exclusive to physical health, but mental wellbeing as well. Today’s article, in this week’s mood series, looks at nutrition and mood. Macronutrients- Carbohydrates
The term macronutrients include fat, carbohydrates and protein. These are the 3 energetic nutrients in the human diet. Today, we will look at carbohydrates and their effect on mood.
Carbohydrates are named as such because they are made from carbon, hydrogen and oxygen. They provide the body with 4kcal/gram of carbohydrate and act as the primary energy source within the body. Carbohydrates can be found in foods such as potatoes, rice, pasta, bread, sweet potatoes and cereals. The intake of carbohydrates has been shown to increase the happy hormone serotonin. For more information on serotonin check the mood series day 1 article.
When carbohydrates are consumed the body releases the hormone insulin. Its main role is to move carbohydrates from the blood into storage. However, insulin also promotes amino acid absorption which can increase amino acids like tryptophan in the blood. Evidence demonstrates that this increases the synthesis of brain serotonin. This can result in feelings of elation after a carbohydrate-based meal and why carbohydrates are known as ‘comfort food’.
Carbohydrates are a fantastic source of energy, fibre and b-vitamins but be mindful that excessive carbohydrate consumption can lead to a reduction in insulin sensitivity and may increase the risk of type 2 diabetes. Remember to create a healthy balanced meal by including carbohydrates alongside protein, fats, fruit and vegetables.
Micronutrients- Vitamins and Minerals
Vitamin D is one of the most talked about vitamins in nutrition media. This is because we don’t get enough of it, and because of its amazing beneficial health effects. Considering that a symptom of vitamin D deficiency includes mood changes such as depression you think you’d be right to assume that Vitamin D plays a large part in mood management. Well, the jury is still out on this one. Most of the evidence suggests that it plays a very important role in mood regulation, however there are still some naysayers.
A 2008 study found that circulating vitamin D (25(OH)D) was 14% lower in people who had been diagnosed with both minor and major depressive disorders. As a result, many studies look to supplement vitamin D to measure mood outcomes. A 2004 randomized trial gave two groups either a 600iu or 4000iu supplement. Then, they measured their depressive symptoms via a questionnaire before and after their 3-month supplementation. The results showed that there was a significant improvement in wellbeing (measured by the questionnaire) following vitamin D supplementation through the months of December to February. As expected, the group receiving the higher dosage of 4000iu had a greater response.
Vitamin D is a fat-soluble vitamin that can be sourced via food, supplementation or the sun. The UK NHS recommendation is 10mcg or 400iu per day. Humans contain in their skin, an inactive form of Vitamin D called 7-dehydrocholesterol that is converted to active vitamin D3 within the skin. This isn’t always possible if we are wearing sun-protection, covering our skin or in the northern hemisphere. In the UK, it’s recommended that everyone take a Vitamin D supplement between September and March due to the lack of available sunlight. Food sources of Vitamin D include egg yolks, oily fish, fortified foods and liver. For reference, one egg yolk contains around 1mcg/40iu of vitamin D, whereas 140grams of salmon contains 10.2mcg/408iu. Alternatively, you may like to try supplementation. Vitamin D typically comes in strengths of 400iu/1000iu/4000iu. Most Vitamin D supplements are vegetarian and are made from lanolin in sheep's wool. Whereas vegan supplements are typically made from lichens or mushrooms.
Magnesium may not be a nutrient that you have particularly thought about within your diet. However, it plays many essential roles not just in mood management but in bone health, electrolyte balance, energy metabolism and the nervous system. In fact, magnesium is needed for an estimated 3000 biochemical reactions within the body.
One study conducted on cadavers showed an association between reduced magnesium concentration in the brain and patients who had depression. A 2005 study mirrored this result in patients undergoing Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) treatments, whereby they found that depressed patients had lower magnesium concentrations. In addition to this, magnesium is used as a cofactor when converting tryptophan to serotonin. At the top of the diagram below you will see that the pathway starts with dietary tryptophan. Magnesium is required to convert this to 5-HTP. Following this, magnesium is also required to convert 5-HTP to 5-HT or Serotonin. If you would like more information on serotonin, the happy hormone, then check out the first article of this mood series.
Magnesium can be found in food or supplementation. The daily recommendation for an adult is 270-300mg/day. Food sources of magnesium include, spinach, dairy, nuts, seeds, wholemeal bread, avocadoes and even dark chocolate. For reference, 100grams of spinach contains 79mg of magnesium. Also, you can source magnesium from supplements. Most supplements are made to EU requirements so you may see dosages as high as 400mg. Any source of magnesium is great. Be mindful to avoid sources of magnesium such as magnesium oxide, this is because it is not very bioavailable for humans.
Much like magnesium, vitamin B6 is also approved to claim, ‘contributes to normal psychological function’. In addition to this, vitamin B6 is approved to claim, ‘contributes to the regulation of hormonal activity’. As you will see above, Vitamin B6 acts in a similar way to magnesium. By supporting the conversion from dietary tryptophan to the happy hormone, serotonin.
One study looked at depressive symptoms and Vitamin B6 association. It found an association between deficient levels of blood plasma vitamin B6 and depressive symptoms. In fact, they found that vitamin B6 deficiency doubled the number of depression cases. Whereas a systematic review looked at 8 studies that used b-vitamins in mood studies. They found that of the 8 studies, 5 found significant benefit to mood. In the same study, they found that B-vitamins showed benefits to stress and anxiety symptoms but not to depressive symptoms.
Vitamin B6 is also known as pyridoxine. Vitamin B6 can be consumed via supplementation or through food. Our daily recommendation for vitamin B6 is 1.2-1.4mg/day. Food sources rich in Vitamin B6 include pork, poultry, bananas, oats, peanuts and milk. For reference, one banana contains 0.5mg of vitamin B6. Any form of Vitamin B6 is suitable for supplements, you may see dosages up to 100mg in vitamin B6. Do not be alarmed by any excess B-vitamin will leave the body through urine because it is water soluble. Be mindful not to take an 100mg vitamin B6 supplement for long periods of time as this may cause numbness and tingling in the extremities.
For some, the herbal route is the best way to go, this may include drinking or taking chamomile, valerian root, lemon balm or green tea (theanine). Evidence has shown that time after time these herbals have hold of the mood and sleep supplement market – why? Because they are effective and natural.
For example, chamomile has been seen to be an effective remedy for generalised anxiety disorder. One controlled clinical trial on chamomile extract found a modest anti-anxiolytic activity in patients with mild to moderate generalised anxiety disorder. Whereas, in the case of green tea, a study found that frequent consumption of green tea was associated with lower prevalence of depressive symptoms in the elderly. Multiple studies have shown that green tea can influence psychopathological symptoms such as the reduction of anxiety. Although, the majority of studies agree that there is no one constituent of green tea that contributes to these findings. 5-HTP
5-HTP is a naturally sourced supplement from the plant of the griffonia simplicifolia. This is an endemic plant to the continent of Africa. You may feel familiar with 5-HTP as it has been mentioned above. 5-HTP is the precursor for serotonin and melatonin. The body naturally makes 5-HTP from dietary tryptophan. However, the belief is that you can also supplement this in 5-HTP tablets to boost the body's ability to produce serotonin.
One study worked with people who had therapy resistant depression. This means that the patients have been prescribed antidepressants, therapy and electroconvulsive therapy which had no beneficial effect. The procedure of this study was to give the patients 5-HTP at dosages of 200mg and 600mg. The results showed that 43 out of 99 people (43.4%) were confirmed to have completed recovery by the end of the study period.
5-HTP or 5-hydroxytryptophan can be bought in tablet and capsular form. Typical dosages range from 100mg-300mg/day. It is often paired with Vitamin B6 and magnesium to support its effect. Be mindful not to take 5-HTP if you have already been prescribed anti-depressants.
So, in many respects, you are what you eat but try not to be all consumed by this. Nutrition is just one part of the puzzle when it comes to supporting your mood. Tune in for tomorrow’s article on seasonal affective disorder’. Or, you could check out yesterday’s article on
- Nowak G, Poleszak E, Sowa-Kucma M, Pilc A. Magnesium and Glutamate interaction in depression and antidepressant therapy. Biological Psychiatry. 2010;67:195S.