Tag Archives: Blood sugar

How Your Diet Affects Your Mood

Depression and Bipolar

Food is fuel.  The fuel we put into our body determines how efficiently it runs.  It’s a pretty simple concept yet when it comes to brain function there is a disconnect for many physicians.

When people come to me for help with various conditions, dietary changes are almost always part of the program.  They are especially important if someone if suffering from a mood disorder.

If a poor diet can lead to poor function of the heart, gall bladder, immune system, pancreas, intestines, etc., then why couldn’t it lead to poor brain function? It can, but it’s always overlooked by traditional medicine.  Let me explain.

The Basics

Remember, food is fuel.  The neurons in your brain consume up to 40% of your circulating blood sugar at a resting state.  That figure can jump up to 80% when your brain is working hard like studying for a test or doing your taxes. Your blood sugar is the fuel your brain needs to keep going.

Low blood sugar occurs when people do not eat frequently enough or in an amount that satisfies the demands for energy of the entire body, including the brain.  Low blood sugar, or hypoglycemia, causes mood to change.  Most notably, people experience irritability. This irritability is relieved by simply eating food and allowing your blood sugar to rise back to a normal level.  Next time you’re feeling irritable and you haven’t eaten in a few hours, try eating a healthy snack.  It might just be the fix you’re looking for.

If something as simple as low blood sugar can alter your mood, what else can?

Alcohol

Alcohol is consumed the world over mainly for one reason and one reason only – it has mind altering properties. Let’s face it; alcohol does not taste good in the way that ice cream does.  People are not consuming it solely for the taste. The per capita consumption of ethanol in the United States is 2.31 gallons per year.  That means, on average, every American over the age of 15 consumes 2.31 gallons of pure alcohol per year.  This is equivalent to 702 beers, 410 glasses of wine or 197 shots per year, per person.

Alcohol works on the brain by affecting the neurotransmitter GABA.  GABA is an inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain.  Initially, consuming alcohol elevates mood and reduces anxiety and stress.  As a matter of fact, most current pharmaceuticals aimed at reducing anxiety work by acting on GABA.

However, continuing to consume alcohol has a downside.  When consumed to excess, moods begin to go down and depression is often the consequence.  It also causes sleepiness which illustrates alcohol’s powerful depressive effects.  Always remember, alcohol is a depressant and it’s this way because it acts on the inhibitory neurotransmitter in the brain called GABA.

How Foods Affect Our Neurotransmitter Levels

A few weeks ago I wrote a post about neurotransmission and how getting your neurotransmitters measured is a good way to assess your mood status and possibly change it for the better.  I went into the details of some neurotransmitters and it would be good to read before continuing to read this post.  Click here to view it.

The neurotransmitters in our brain allow one nerve to talk to the next.  It is the level of these neurotransmitters, to a large extent, that govern how we feel.  Low levels of some neurotransmitters lead to anxiety while others may lead to depression.  The interplay between all of them is complex and a problem with mood is often due to more than low levels of a single neurotransmitter but there are primary players to blame in each mood disorder.

Carbohydrate Heaven

Many people have noticed that when they eat a meal that is high in refined carbohydrates they notice an elevation in mood.  So much so that people can often become addicted to this type of food just to feel good.  This is for one very real physiological fact – eating refined carbohydrates increases serotonin production in the brain.

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that most of the anti-depressant drugs like Prozac and Paxil work on.  They work by tricking the brain into thinking it has more serotonin than it actually does.  Consuming refined carbohydrates works by actually increasing serotonin levels.  Here’s how.

There is a barrier between our brain and our blood.  It prevents things from getting into the brain that should not.  It is very effective.  However, it also prevents necessary nutrients from getting in as well.  They need a special pass to  get in.  This includes the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is what the body uses to make serotonin.  If one consumes a diet very low in tryptophan, serotonin levels are likely to be low.  Tryptophan is found in foods that contain protein.

In order for tryptophan (an other amino acids) to get into the brain a transporter system exists.  It is called the large neutral amino acid transporter or the LNAA.  Competition for the LNAA is fierce.  Tryptophan is a weak competitor.  It is often left out of brain except when refined carbohydrates are consumed. When refined carbohydrates are consumed high amounts of insulin are secreted.  Insulin sends free amino acids out of our blood into our muscles when it is circulating.  Because tryptophan is a bound to albumin it is left unaffected by this process.  It is now free to circulate up to the brain where competition for the LNAA is now low and it gets into the brain more easily.  It also allows more serotonin to be produced.

Now, I hear what you’re saying.  I am not suggesting you go eat tons of refined carbohydrates to feel good!  As a matter of fact you should avoid them because they just lead to a blood sugar crash later in the day resulting in irritability.  Now you’re irritable and depressed – not a good combination!

What you should do is make sure you eat foods that are high quality proteins.  This includes mostly animal products like meat and eggs.  Also, supplementing your diet with 5-HTP is helpful.  This is the direct precursor of serotonin and is in fact a type of tryptophan. It passes into the brain freely and does not compete for the LNAA.

Not Enough B6

Vitamin B6 is an essential vitamin in many ways.  In terms of brain health, it is essential to allow the conversion of the neurotransmitter glutamate into GABA.

Glutamate is the primary excitatory neurotransmitter in the brain.  When levels are too high seizures are known to occur.  At lower levels anxiety occurs.

GABA is the primary inhibitory neurotransmitter.  At very low levels seizures occur and when levels are slightly decreased anxiety is the result.

Glutamate ——–> GABA – GABA is converted from glutamate and B6 is required to do this.

A diet that is low in B6 will cause glutamate to build up in the brain and GABA levels will be low.  This may result in anxiety.  Foods that are highest in B6 are:

  • Spinach
  • Bell peppers
  • Turnip greens

Consuming these on a regular basis may help if your problem is the conversion of glutamate to GABA.  You may also have to supplement with B6.  This is easy to find over the counter.

No Fish? No Happy

Omega-3 fatty acids have been touted to help everything from heart disease to pain and inflammation.  Research also points to another aspect.  Brain health.  People who have the lowest level of a particular omega-3 called DHA report depression as a problem significantly more than people with the highest levels of DHA.

DHA is important for growing babies, but research is starting to show that it is important for overall brain health for adults as well.

Just how it wards off depression is not clear.  One theory suggests that because DHA is important for the insulation surrounding the nerves, low levels may prevent neurons from communicating effectively.  Whatever the reason, the research is pretty clear that low levels are not good for optimal brain function.

Consuming fish regularly is a good step.  However, more people will not be able to consume enough fish to get enough DHA.  Consider supplementing with a fish oil that is high in DHA.  Most nutrition companies now make fish oil that is high in DHA.  This may help ease your depression and prevent further episodes.

This list could go on and on.  The moral of the story is that what you eat can have a significant impact on how you feel.  If you want to feel good, inside and out, you must eat a healthy diet.  Hopefully some of these tips have helped.

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Time Change Gotcha?

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Every year around this time people start coming into my clinic complaining of sleep disturbances.  They find themselves not being able to get to sleep at night and then feeling groggy and unrested in the morning.  This phenomenon is interesting and shows us just how sensitive humans are to changes in our schedules and changes in light.

As a matter of fact, there are research papers that show that traffic accidents increase up to a week after the changes both in the fall and spring.

Every fall we set our clocks back one hour and daylight savings ends for all of us.  For a select few, this change can affect how they feel greatly.  And it’s not just psychological.  This shift in time means that it will be lighter in the morning and darker in the evening.  While this may not seem like such a big deal, peoples’ body clocks don’t always adjust right away and this can affect how we feel.

For instance, many hormones that we secrete are timed with our body clocks.  If our body clocks shift out of balance, our hormone balance may shift as well.  Two great examples are melatonin and cortisol.

Cortisol

Cortisol is highest in the morning and lowest at night.  With a shift in sleep habits, this rhythm is thrown off as well.  Symptoms may include fatigue, changes in blood sugar and feelings of a foggy mind.  For most this is a temporary condition and once the body adapts to the time change, the natural circadian rhythm of cortisol production returns as well.  If it does not or the symptoms are particularly annoying one thing you can do is make sure you eat regularly.  Cortisol helps elevate blood sugar when it begins to drop to low so eating regularly will take the strain off of your cortisol system and allow it to focus on re-regulating itself.

Melatonin

Melatonin is particularly interesting.  Melatonin is secreted by the pineal gland in the brain.  It is secreted during darkness.  Thus, with the increase in light in the early morning hours your melatonin levels are likely to drop off quickly and wake you earlier than you’d like.  This is problematic because it is often hard to get back to sleep once melatonin levels have dropped.  On the flip side, melatonin levels are likely to rise too early in the evening making you feel like it is time to sleep when it’s not.  A great way to combat this physiological mix up is to take melatonin just before you go to bed (30-60 minutes prior).  I recommend taking a very small amount because research has shown that large amounts can have the opposite effect.  Take about 1.5mg before bed.  This will temporarily increase your melatonin levels and allow you to get better quality sleep and signal your body that it needs to re-regulate its melatonin production.

It should only take about a week for your body to adapt to the change.  If it takes longer, you might have a true sleep disorder and should consider having it evaluated.  Try these helpful hints first though!

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4 Substances That Slow The Aging Process

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Anti-aging is a large field in medicine.  Most of the diseases that human beings suffer from significantly increase as we age.  The theory is that if we can slow down the aging process we can live longer, more disease free lives.

Individual cells can live forever in the laboratory.  It’s been done.  This is a fascinating fact .  However, human beings are multicellular organisms and each cell does not live in isolation.  Further, cells that live forever in the laboratory live in ideal conditions.  They are not exposed to chemicals, hormones or undergo the same physical stresses that we do on a day to day basis.  But, the fact remains – a biological system, given the best possible scenario, can live forever.  So what if there were things we could do to slow the aging process?  We may not be able to live forever, but could we significantly increase our life spans?  The answer is yes.  There are several known substances that have a positive effect on the aging process that are available to everyone in supplement form.

Aging

Aging is a genetic process and a free radical induced process.  First, our genes are important.  It is helpful if Mom and Dad lived to be 100, but it is not essential.  Our DNA is stored in each cell in the nucleus.  Within this nucleus are the chromosomes that contain all of the DNA we were born with.  We get 23 chromosomes from each of our parents for a total of 46.  Every single cell in the body has an identical copy of these genes.  Each chromosome is shaped roughly like an X.  The ends of these chromosomes are called telomeres.  These telomeres are interesting in that they shrink as we age.  There are known substances that slow the shortening of these telomeres and therefore slow the aging process.

Free radical damage is also another way that people age.  Free radicals are potent molecules that bounce around in our bodies and break down our cells.  The theory is that the human body can only repair so much and this damage begins to accumulate over time causing us to age.  Now, it would make sense if we just avoided these free radicals wouldn’t it?  It would if we could.  Some of the most potent free radicals are nitrogen and oxygen which happen to make up 78% and 21% of the air we breath respectively.  Our diets are designed to help us fight this battle because we can consume antioxidants.  This class of nutrients fights free radical damage but it cannot win the war.  There are, however, compounds that are known to be powerful free radical scavengers and should be consumed on a more regular basis to slow the aging process.

Supplements That Slow Aging

Resveratrol

Resveratrol is a magnificent substance.  It is found in many things, but mainly in the skins of grapes.  It is also why red wine (in moderation) seems to have such great health benefits.  Resveratrol activates something called sirtuins.  Sirtuins are genes (known as SIRT1 though SIRT8) that function to repair breaks in our DNA strands that occur as we age.  These sirtuins also play a key role in maintaining the length of the telomeres discussed earlier.  Sirtuins also act to regulate inflammation in the body by inhibiting something called NF-KappaB.  This is a potent inflammatory enzyme that is responsible for many disease processes in human beings.  Resveratrol also decreases the production of adhesion molecules that attract inflammatory cells to our vessel walls and therefore inhibits atherosclerosis.  These adhesion molecules also promote the spread of cancer.  Taking resveratrol is easy but be sure when you buy a supplement it is of high quality and contains trans-resveratrol.  All other forms are useless to take.

Pterostilbene

This substance is very similar to resveratrol but it is found in blueberries.  It works with resveratrol in multiple complimentary mechanisms to limit NF-KappaB.  This is not available in supplement form, but you can certainly get it from eating as many blueberries as you’d like!

Quercetin

This magnificent substance protects against such diseases as asthma, inflammatory bowel disease and arthritis.  It has also been shown to help modulate blood sugar levels in diabetics and non-diabetics.  Blood sugar control is extremely important for longevity.  Quercetin acts by also inhibiting NF-KappaB.  This is also available in supplement form and is sometimes paired into one supplement with resveratrol.

Grape Seed Extract

This helps to regulate pro-inflammatory cytokine activity in fat cells.  It helps combat obesity and type II diabetes.  It also triggers genes for glucose uptake.  This assists cells in the absorption and removal of glucose from circulation.  This substance is very readily available in supplement form.

The research into longevity is quite interesting and there are many substances that can slow the aging process, not just the ones above.  Of course, you must also watch your diet and exercise to get all of the wonderful benefits that the above provide.  If you do those things and take these life lengthening substances you will live and longer and happier life.

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