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Food for mood (Part 1).

Summary: When it comes to body health, most of us are aware that a balanced nutrition is necessary. Not only can we not physically function well or survive without an adequate nutrition, we also get mentally affected. The old saying, "We are what we eat," is still valid in our modern days of speed, information and advanced technology. Nothing seems to replace a healthy diet. This is also true for our brains as well as our moods. Both rely heavily on how we nourish them and how we nurture them in order for them to operate and respond optimally.

Many of us may have noticed, as parents, how sugar and additive overconsumption leads children to uncontrollable hyperactivity or can exasperate attention deficit disorder (ADD). Excessive alcohol intake can also affect the brain by inducing violence and irrationality. Women are more susceptible to alcohol than men. Gluten rich grains can aggravate the behavior and condition of autistic children. Other foods also have either good or bad influence on both body and brain. This only indicates the effect of foods on the brain and the nervous system. Of course, this also includes the person's mood.

In today's article, I shall go through the important nutrients, which improve mental performance and mind frame and next week, I shall explain which foods to have and substances to avoid. Both articles will also talk about foods, herbs and lifestyle habits that can prevent mood swings and fits of gloom, as well as reduce depression.

The brain consists of over 70 percent water and a good part of it is made of fat. Like other body cells and organs, brain cells (neurons), hormones, serotonin and neurotransmitters (the chemical messengers that make neurons communicate), all require essential fatty acids (omega fats) and other important nutrients to ensure the operational effectiveness of the brain.

Though we barely heeded, we still remember how our concerned mothers ran after us with the spoon of the "yucky" (excuse the word) cod liver oil. We were told that fish and its oil made us cleverer. Lucky were the ones who had the more palatable kind with orange flavor. I can still recall the fishy taste and smell. At that time, I could not understand whether the torture of having it justified the perk in smartness. Ignorance! Strange enough, history repeated itself. I also chose to give the oil to my children, but luckily they were not subjected to torture like we were. Nowadays, it comes in capsules, the more palatable form.

Recent scientific evidence supports our mothers' determination to give us fish and fish oil. It was found that fatty fish oil and other essential fatty acids are the natural food for the brain, neurons and neurotransmitters. The polyunsaturated fatty acids, omega-3 fat, from cold water fish like salmon, tuna, cod, mackerel, sardines and anchovies, contain two important anti-inflammatory omega-3 fatty acids: eicosaphentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA); both of which provide neurological benefits. Brain foods offering omega-3 fatty acids are fatty fish (uncontaminated), their oil, other fish, seafood, organic free-range eggs and chicken, nuts (walnuts, almonds) and chia and flax seeds.

Another type of polyunsaturated fatty acids is omega-6 fat; they complement omega-3 fat. They are found in sesame, other seeds, their oils and primrose oil. Because they are part of the building blocks of neurotransmitters, they are needed to help in the transmission of neuron signaling and impulses to enhance brain function and activity. These chemical messengers are important in maintaining alertness, enhancing cognitive skills and performance, sharpening memory, regulating and lifting the mood, improving behavior and preventing depression and mental disorders.

Another necessary hormone to the brain is serotonin. The hormone is responsible for regulating the temperament, behavior, sleep and appetite. When it is low, it leads to anxiety, mood swings, sleep disorder and depression. The amino acid, tryptophan, is the nutrient that is converted into serotonin inside the body. It is found in whole grains, turkey, poultry, other meats, fish, eggs, cheese, banana, melon and pineapple.

Serotonin has yet another function. It is synthesized by the body into another hormone, melatonin, which is responsible for regulating the internal "biological" clock. Without melatonin, sleep becomes disrupted like in the case of jet lag. The digestive system gets disturbed as well as other body systems.

Dopamine is another hormone, which promotes good humor and alertness. It is obtained from high-protein foods like turkey, red meat and others, poultry, seafood, eggs and fish. Regular moderate activity increases the secretion of the substance in the brain. An acute deficiency in dopamine can result in the incapacitating and painful Parkinson's disease. Because of dopamine insufficiency and inactivity, older people, too, develop similar symptoms to Parkinson's like stiffness of muscles and low grade depression.

There are more nutrients, phytochemicals, dietary supplements and herbs. Along with regular moderate activity, stress reduction and therapeutic exercise, they are essential for psychological and physiological hygiene and balance, brain and body health and mood stability. Of course, there are foods and substances to avoid, which can affect the mental state positively or negatively.

In Part 2 next week, I shall elaborate on them in detail. I shall also speak about lifestyle changes, which are necessary to stabilize the mood and lift the spirit.

N.B.: Individuals with medical conditions or on medication should consult their physicians when they decide to introduce anything new in their diet even if it is natural.

Copyright: Arab News 2011 All rights reserved.

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Publication:Arab News (Jeddah, Saudi Arabia)
Date:Dec 27, 2011
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