Culture in Mind

Mental health, culture, and ethnicity

Mood Food

Eating for happiness

Living with bipolar disorder I am sensitive to the fact that what my food incluences my mood. Over the years, research has proven that several foods and micronutrients create calmer brains that therefore are happier brains. Below is a short exploration of just a few of these micronutrients and how they influence how we feel.

Omega 3 Fatty Acids

Found in cold water fish (salmon, mackerel, cod liver oil, sardine oil), chia seeds and flaxseed oil are also among the best sources. Some eggs also have omega 3 because the chickens were fed flaxseed. A review of the literature by Parker and Hagerty in Acta Psychiatrica Scandinavia in July 2011 found that there are plausible mechanisms for omega 3 fatty acids to influence mood. As a treatment for mental health disorders they work for lifting depressive mood but have no influence on mania. Other studies have found that these nutrients are important for brain development, and regulating stress responses, aggression and depression in people with mood disorders.

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Vitamin D

Connected to sun exposure in its metabolic processes, there is evidence that Vitamin D intake impacts mental well-being among adults and the elderly. Vitamin D deficiency and insufficiency has been linked to seasonal affective disorder (SAD) but rigorous research is lacking to make conclusive causation. (However, in cities like Seattle that get little sun the public health department recommends Vitamin D supplements).

For older adults, low levels of Vitamin D has been shown to predict low mood. A review of the literature on the relationship between Vitamin D and mood conducted by Murphy and Wagner showed that Vitamin D levels were related to a relationship with premenstrual syndrome, seasonal affective disorder, non-specified mood disorder, and major depressive disorder. Though all this research is relatively new, the trend is that taking Vitamin D can only help your mood, so why not make sure you're getting what you need? Because Vitamin D is so important to our health it is added to milk and some juices.

L-Tryptophan

In a report in the journal Bipolar DIsorders (Vol 13, 5/6) Sarris and his team found that this nutrient had a positive impact on moods. This amino acid is used by the brain to make serotonin that is mainly linked to depression. Some foods that contain L-Tryptophan include nuts, seeds, eggs, meat, fish, tomatoes and cheese.

Drink

Though this article is about food, it should be noted that some beverages influence mood in ways that are not quite clear. The most common beverages that influence mood are caffeine and alcohol and people with mood disorders should avoid/limit their intake of these substances. Generally, alcohol depresses mood and caffeine lifts it. People without mood disorders who want to maintain even moods may also want to consider limiting their intake as well. 

Our understanding of how our brain works is only beginning and this limits our understanding of how our consumption of certain foods, nutrients and micronutrients influence the way our brain works. A healthy diet with lots of colorful fruits and vegetables will make our bodies healthier and new scientific reports suggest that this leads to higher levels of metnal function1 and this makes us feel better. So even if we do not focus on particular nutrients, healthier eating will generally lead to a happier you.

1Davidson, K. M., & Kaplan, B. J. (2012). Nutrient intakes are correlated with overall psychiatric functioning in adults with mood disorders. Canadian Journal of Psychiatry, 57(2), 85-92

Ruth C. White, Ph.D., M.S.W., and M.P.H., is the author of Bipolar 101 and is an associate clinical professor at the School of Social Work at the University of Southern California. 

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