Food and Mood: Part 3

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Joleen Wilson - Dietary Manager

             Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS

Written by Joleen Wilson, RD/LD, CNSC, CBIS, Dietitian for Pathway to Eating Disorders Treatment at Brookhaven Hospital

In parts one and two of this blog series, we’ve learned that we must eat tryptophan in order to obtain adequate serotonin levels in the brain.  But it’s not entirely that simple!  You must also eat enough B vitamins in order for this conversion to even occur.  B-vitamins help regulate the three neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine.  Many patients feel more “energized” after taking B vitamins or getting a B12 shot.  And this is oftentimes because they may have been deficient in a B vitamin that was needed for these neurotransmitters to work.  Studies suggest that more than one in four people with depression are deficient in B vitamins.  Keep in mind that B vitamins (as well as vitamin C) are water soluble vitamins, so if you super supplement with them, you will just excrete the extra in your urine.  The best way to obtain all your B-vitamins is to eat a variety of meats as well as green leafy vegetables.

Pyridoxine, more commonly known as vitamin B6, is critical for the function of the central nervous system.  Low intake is reported in as many as 79% of people with depression.  Include several servings daily of protein-rich foods such as chicken, nuts, legumes, fish, as well as bananas, avocados, and dark green leafy veggies.  Increase your consumption of whole grain vs. refined grains as more than 70% of B6 is lost during processing.

Folic acid is essential for the development of all cells including red blood cells.  Nearly a third of depressed patients lack sufficient folic acid and a deficiency can result in a type of macrocytic anemia.  Natural sources are green leafy vegetables, broccoli, okra, asparagus, brussel sprouts, legumes, oranges, avocados, and bananas.

Niacin (vitamin B3) deficiency is most often seen in alcoholism.  Effects of deficiency include depression, nerve damage, anxiety, irritability, mania, memory loss, dementia, delirium, and mood swings.  Food sources are varied and include poultry, salmon, lean beef, peanut butter, potatoes, wheat germ, milk, and peas.

Vitamin B12 is found only in animal products (meat, shellfish, milk, cheese, and eggs).  Therefore, if you are a strict vegetarian or vegan, you must supplement with vitamin B12 to avoid a deficiency.  Low levels may be linked to depression, hallucinations, memory loss, paranoia, delusions, and confusion.  Vitamin B12 is essential for manufacturing red blood cells.  Poorly formed red blood cells can’t carry oxygen to the brain, so impaired mental function can result.

During the fourth and final part of this blog series, I will discuss some other vitamins, nutrients, and compounds that affect our mental wellness.

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