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Food and Mood

Written by: Dr. Fred Harvey, MD

Humans have known for ages untold that what we eat has effects on our affects! Millenia ago we discovered that fermented sugars create a substance that greatly changes our perceptions of reality. So much so that it has been banned in certain jurisdictions in the past and the present. That substance is, of course, alcohol. Alcohol directly alters our mood and thoughts by working as a disruptor of communication. It breaks the transmission lines briefly so that the brain gets a rest from thinking.

Alcohol is a very obvious mood changing food, but it is one of a group of substances that can alter mood indirectly. These foods are what are called histamine liberators. They cause the gut to release histamine. histamine is a potent communication molecule. It causes the release of adrenalin, which gives us a sense of energy and euphoria, but can lead to irritability when overstimulated. Other foods actually contain histamine and can change our mood through stimulating our body with excess adrenalin. Food sensitivities can induce a similar response. It is this post-ingestion high that draws people back to harmful foods via food “addiction”. It is likely a component of alcoholism.

Another indirect way foods can alter mood is through the microbiota, or the bacteria living in our gut. Artificial sweeteners like aspartame and sucralose alter the growth of the families of bacteria favoring ones that irritate the gut and cause inflammation. Inflammation changes our mood. Clostridia species favored by a high saturated fat diet create a metabolic byproduct that interferes with production of our brain communication chemicals dopamine and serotonin. The disruption can induce depression symptoms in some individuals.

Excess caloric intake causes obesity, inflammation and creates a low energy state, despite the ingestion of too many calories. That creates counterproductive metabolism. Starvation deprives the brain of needed fuel to create the molecules of emotion like serotonin and dopamine. The precursors of which come from foods like dairy and turkey which contain tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin, and fava beans which contain dopa, the raw material needed to make dopamine.

So, as you see, we are what we eat, and our foods help to determine our moods. For more information on this topic or to schedule your complimentary 15-minute consult, please contact The Harvey Center for Integrative Medicine at 941-929-9355.

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