Having a stable psyche depends on a multitude of factors. One of them is having a balanced amount of neurotransmitters in your brain, which are responsible for determining your mood and personality. Various aspects of personality can be altered by the three major neurotransmitters: dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline, which are affected by nutrition, health status, environmental factors, genetic factors and external emotional stimulus. Serotonin is the neurotransmitter in the brain that has been given all the credit for positive mood. Of course, it’s not that simple. Eating properly is the first step to producing a healthy amount of neurotransmitters and to avoiding inflammation in the brain.
How to Maximize Your Brain Power with a Healthy Diet
The following dietary choices can help you balance your neurotransmitters and maximize your moods:
- Eat adequate protein – Our neurotransmitters are made from amino acids which are the building blocks of proteins. A diet that is too low in protein can result in poor neurotransmitter production and balance. The richest sources of essential amino acids such as tryptophan (precursor of serotonin) are from animal products. For plant based protein, combine whole grains with nuts, seeds or legumes to maximize protein quality.
- Eat adequate B vitamins – The B vitamins are abundant in vegetables, whole grains and legumes and are essential for proper neurotransmitter production. In the body, tryptophan is converted to either serotonin/melatonin or niacin (B3). Adequate niacin (B3) intake allows conversion of tryptophan to the neurotransmitters. Adequate pyridoxine (B6) is necessary for the body to convert the amino acids. If you choose to supplement, take a B complex that includes all the B vitamins to maintain balance.
- Eat healthy fats – Your neurons are surrounded by fat which is obtained from your diet. Eat healthy fat such as that from fish, avocado, nuts and coconut. Avoid all trans fats. Reduce consumption of omega 6 vegetable oils such as corn, sunflower, safflower and canola oil which increase inflammation in the body and in the brain.
- Eat primarily low glycemic foods – Eating a low glycemic diet will enable you to maintain stable blood sugar which preserves the vitamins and minerals in your diet to do their repair jobs rather than put out the fire caused by excess blood glucose. Excess blood sugar depletes your body of its nutrients, especially B vitamins, whose importance in neurotransmitter balance is paramount. Avoid refined sugar, white flour products, wheat products (increase blood sugar whether whole or white) and alcohol.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol– Both of these deplete your body of vitamins and minerals reducing your capacity for renewal of neurotransmitters.
Other Sprit Lifting Measures:
- Expose yourself to outside light, especially in the morning – This can be a challenge in the winter time, but do what you can. Your body converts tryptophan to serotonin in day light and melatonin in absence of light. Help it make the right choice by having a proper light/dark routine. Avoid lights at night before bed so that you can transition to sleep with greater ease.
- Exercise – Frequent moderately vigorous exercise is undeniably associated with better mood.
- Check your thyroid function – One of the primary signs of an under-functioning thyroid is depression. Even if your blood work falls within “normal” range, you may have a subclinical issue or a conversion problem (not converting enough inactive thyroid hormone to active). There are natural approaches to support thyroid function.
- Strengthen your stress coping mechanisms – get support from a therapist, or implement a new cognitive approach, such as that suggested by Byron Katie in her book “Loving What Is”.
Ross, Julia. The Mood Cure. Penguin Books; New York. 2002.