How Nutrition Affects Your Mood
Your brain is a machine that’s constantly working and needs good fuel to run properly. What you feed it directly affects how your brain works, and by extension, your mood. Nutrition affects your brain’s ability to produce mood-boosting neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine. Antioxidants are needed to protect your brain from oxidative stress and inflammation, which are linked with mood disorders.1,2 Even your gut health can influence brain function, since many key neurotransmitters are produced by gut bacteria.
A healthy brain and mood comes from a healthy diet. Here are some of the key nutrients that influence your mood:
B vitamins are essential for producing healthy levels of important neurotransmitters like serotonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, and GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), which play a major role in regulating your mood and stress response. Vitamins B6, B12, and folate (B9) are particularly important, and studies show a consistent link between mood imbalances and low levels of these vitamins, especially folate.3,4,5
These B vitamins are needed for healthy methylation, a biochemical process that is intimately involved in healthy brain chemistry.6 Some people have more trouble with methylation than others, thanks to genetic differences that affect their ability to properly metabolize B vitamins. Taking B vitamins in their methylated, active forms -- folate as methyl folate, B12 as methylcobalamin, and B6 as P-5-P -- can help get around this problem. Studies have shown that taking methylated B complex vitamins can improve symptoms in those with mood imbalances.7
Many people are low in folate and vitamin B12. Folate is found in leafy greens, cruciferous veggies, and starchy beans, while B12 is found in meat, dairy, and eggs. Vegans often lack B12, so taking a B12 supplement is recommended. Beans, fish, whole grains, and seeds are great sources for many of the B vitamins.
The omega-3 fatty acids found in fish and fish oil supplements -- EPA and DHA -- play an important role in brain health. These healthy fats are highly concentrated in the brain, where they help maintain healthy brain cell and nerve function and regulate inflammation in the brain, which is a risk factor for mood disorders.1,2 Multiple studies show that omega-3 fatty acids have a positive influence on mood, both for healthy individuals and for those who suffer from mood imbalances.8,9,10,11
Omega-3s EPA and DHA are primarily found in cold-water fish like salmon and tuna. As a bonus, these fish are also a good source of B vitamins. Health professionals recommend eating fish at least twice a week to get a healthy dose of omega-3s, but if you don’t, a good fish oil supplement can help fill the gap. If you’re vegan or avoiding fish, we recommend a vegan DHA supplement from algae.
Probiotics and Prebiotics
There’s a reason you get “gut feelings” about things: your gut and your brain are intimately connected. Your gut is lined with millions of nerve cells or neurons, and the way they function is influenced by your gut bacteria, which help produce important neurotransmitters. In fact, about 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut by your healthy bacteria.12,13,14 That means you need to have a healthy gut environment in order to support healthy brain function and mood.15,16,17
You can get healthy gut bacteria, or probiotics, from fermented foods such as yogurt, miso, and pickled veggies. If you don’t eat these very often, a probiotic supplement might be a good idea. Studies have shown that probiotics can have a positive influence on mood in both healthy individuals and those with mood imbalances.18,19,20 It’s also important to feed the healthy bacteria in your gut with prebiotics, a type of indigestible fiber that helps the good bacteria grow. Prebiotic fiber usually comes from fruits and veggies, like apples, artichokes, asparagus, and onions.
Tyrosine and Tryptophan
Tyrosine and tryptophan are amino acids that act as precursors for mood-boosting neurotransmitters. In the body, tyrosine gets converted into dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in attention and pleasure, while tryptophan gets converted into serotonin, which helps regulate your stress response and mood. Getting plenty of these amino acids in your diet can help increase levels of these neurotransmitters.
Since amino acids are protein building blocks, tyrosine and tryptophan are found in many protein-rich foods, such as meat and dairy, nuts and seeds. Popular nuts and seeds like almonds, peanuts, cashews, and sunflower seeds are great sources for both, and eating more nuts is linked with a lower risk of mood imbalances.21,22 You can also get tryptophan from complex carbs, such as whole grains and starchy root veggies, and there’s some evidence that this is a better source than proteins. The reason is that protein-rich foods contain many other amino acids that compete with tryptophan for absorption into the brain.5
Several studies show that eating more fruits and vegetables is linked with lower rates of mood imbalances.23,24,25 Though it’s not totally clear why, it is thought that the antioxidants in these plant-based foods make a difference in brain health by protecting against oxidative stress and inflammation. Studies have found that those with mood imbalance often have low levels of important antioxidants like vitamins A, C, and E, and that supplementing with these antioxidant vitamins can improve symptoms.26
Eating a variety of colorful fruits and vegetables is the best way to get all the antioxidants and nutrients your brain needs. Different colors represent different antioxidants that provide different benefits, so try to eat the rainbow. You can also boost your daily antioxidant intake with our Raw Greens smoothie powder or our whole food multivitamin.
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22. Fresán U, Bes-Rastrollo M, Segovia-Siapco G, Sanchez-Villegas A, Lahortiga F, de la Rosa PA, Martínez-Gonzalez MA. Does the MIND diet decrease depression risk? A comparison with Mediterranean diet in the SUN cohort. Eur J Nutr. 2019 Apr;58(3):1271-1282. doi: 10.1007/s00394-018-1653-x. Epub 2018 Mar 7. PMID: 29516224.
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