Mind and body work together
Over the last few decades it has become abundantly clear that you cannot separate mind and body. In the 80’s our research, published in the Lancet, showed that an optimal intake of vitamins and minerals could raise a child’s IQ by 7 points. In the 90’s a direct correlation was found between a person’s or country’s intake of essential omega-3 fats and risk for depression, suicide, murder rate and aggression. More recently we’ve discovered that a person’s homocysteine level, determined by B vitamins, predicts a child’s exam results, a teenager’s risk of mental illness, and older people’s Alzheimer’s risk.
In my Feel Good Factor workshop in London this month, and Optimum Nutrition for the Mind workshop in Dublin in May, I’m going to show you the underlying principles that determine your mood, motivation and mental alertness. As a result you will learn how to get back in the driving seat of your mind and background emotional state.
If you’ve seen Inside Out, the Pixar animation where a child’s life is told from the point of view of characters in her mind, you’ll have seen that joy, anger, sadness, fear and disgust run the show. In the same way, I’m going to show you what is running the show at a biological level in your mind and how you can become in control.
Exercises and strategies that improve your mood
In the Feel Good Factor seminar, which will focus on low mood, low energy and weight gain, I’ll also introduce you to some non-nutritional exercises and strategies that directly affect how you feel, coming at it, if you like, from the other direction. So, while a blood sugar dip can make you anxious, depressed and hungry, and is a major driver for over-eating, so too is feeling unloved or unworthy, triggering emotional eating. Why do we choose to overeat when upset? We are going to both unravel the ‘upset’ part and also understand why we gravitate towards sugary foods.
Serotonin - the mood booster
It has a lot to do with serotonin, the mood boosting neurotransmitter that’s made from tryptophan, the amino acid in protein-rich foods. There’s a drug that raises serotonin very effectively. It’s called MDMA (Ecstasy). For a few hours you feel both elated and unable to eat. Such is the power of serotonin. We are not going to be taking Ecstasy in these workshops, but we will be learning how to boost serotonin.
So which kind of breakfast – a high protein breakfast or a high carbohydrate breakfast – would be most likely to increase the brain’s serotonin levels and improve mood?
Logically, one might think that high protein means more tryptophan and that would mean more serotonin. But the reverse is true. Brain levels of serotonin, and mood, go up after eating carbohydrate not protein, even when there’s no tryptophan in the food. While this seems counter-intuitive there’s a simple reason for it.
Tryptophan, the protein constituent from which we make mood-boosting serotonin, is carried from the blood into the brain by insulin, and insulin is only released if you eat carbohydrate.
If you crave something sweet when you feel down, and it makes you feel better, the chances are you’ve unconsciously learnt that you need insulin to raise serotonin.
Knowing this you can start to see how eating and living in a way that maximises serotonin, helps to keep you in a good mood. Controlling your blood sugar with a low GL diet, supplementing 5-HTP, the form of tryptophan than directly raises serotonin, are two ways that work. Omega-3 fats also increase serotonin receptor capacity. But so too does sunlight and exercise, major drivers of serotonin.
You can influence serotonin by what you see, hear, taste and smell. If you don’t believe me listen and watch this two minute mood boosting film and you be the judge. How do you feel at the end? You’ve just boosted your own serotonin.
It is this amazing interplay between our chemical, psychological and physical zones that change your entire experience of life. We are physical, chemical, psychological and spiritual beings, living in an environment. Our health depends on each of these realms being in harmony. When this is achieved we are naturally full of energy, free of pain, happy, alert and purposeful.