Chronic stress sends us into fight-or-flight mode, read more about it in my previous post. When we are in a fight-or-flight mode, the hormone cortisol and adrenaline flood our body. Heart rate, breath, and blood pressure increase and we get a surge of glucose into the bloodstream to use for energy. You feeling highly alerted and full of energy in that moment. Blood flow moves to our extremities (our arms and legs) so that we can flee danger. It flows away from the digestive system, which is not considered necessary for immediate survival and actually takes a lot of energy to run.
This response is great if we need to escape a dangerous situation being full of energy and ready to run away from the danger to save our lives. This well-designed response is not so great in modern society, if we’re simply stressed out about deadlines, finances, family situation, or other situations that make us feel stressed. Lack of blood flow (and therefore oxygen) to the digestive system slows function, which means poor digestion, nutrient absorption, and elimination (constipation). While hundreds of years ago, this process saved our life, in modern society it harms our bodies than saving it.
So why is Yoga so important and became ‘en vogue’ ?
“Again, it all starts in the mind and nourishing the mind with nutritional food can support the nervous system and reduce stress.”
Yoga can be a fabulous tool to calm the mind and ultimately the feeling of stress and support us to detach from it. It does the opposite – it supports and allows us to slow down. When you think of Yoga, Yoga are slow movements, postures that we need to remain in for several seconds or even minutes, it allows us to take deep breaths, longer breaths and fill our lounges. In has been scientifically prove, that 60 minutes of yoga significantly increase gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA) — aka the “chilled” amino acid — levels in the brain.
GABA is a neurotransmitter (brain chemical) that works directly on the brain to calm the mind and enhance mood. It does this by regulating noradrenaline, dopamine, and serotonin. GABA functions as a brake on the neural circuitry during stress and relaxes the muscles; slows heart rate and breathing; and reduces anxiety, tension, and insomnia.
So why am I describing all this when the blog post is all about food influences our mood ?
If we understand what type of hormones are being produced in a stressful situation that are being released in the brain, and what happens in our body and mainly in our minds as this is where the process gets kicked off, it is important what we eat to nourish our body with the type of food that positively supports the body to replenish our resources. Remember; the flight and fight response is over 1000 years old, it is part of our DNA. So you cannot erase this response – it is part of who we are and our evolution. However, you are in control to support your body to provide it with the necessary nourishment and comfort during those periods. Food can enhance feelings of happiness and reduce stress, anxiety, and depression. Let’s briefly look at the common drivers of poor mental health:
• Inflammation and oxidative stress
• Hormone imbalance
• Insulin resistance
• Gut dysbiosis
• Psychosocial (For example: loneliness, life challenges/stress, lack of meaning and purpose)
Do you see the connection ?
Again, it all starts in the mind and nourishing the mind with nutritional food can support the nervous system and reduce stress. Generally, foods rich in B vitamins are perfect for this. There are also other types of foods that nourish the mind that you may have not thought of.
There’s a communication system between the gut and brain called the gut-brain axis. The vagus nerve at the center of the axis connects the neurons in the gut with the brain. So you have two brains in your body that communicate with each other.
A healthy, diverse gut microbiome (gut flora) directly affects this communication and contributes to a happy, healthy mood, mind. A lot of time, what we say in coaching is that the feelings influence our thinking. The feelings come from the gut (“listen to your gut”) and the mind brings it to the conscious level. So what you feed your gut ultimately is being communicated to your mind. This results to the fact that many disorders of the mind and behavior such as anxiety, depression, autism, and schizophrenia are influenced by the gut microbiome.
For example: If I have too much coffee, talking about three cups a day, my body response by an increase heart-rate, short breathing, sweating, shacking – and the reason being is that I fed my body with too much cortisol. I will speak more about it in my next post. Ultimately though, I feel more stressed, anxious and nervous. I still enjoy a coffee from now and then, knowing thought that coffee influences my hormonal balances allows me to regulate my intake to stay in balance.
By now, you might be wondering, so how does the gut bacteria influence my mood ?
There are several ways on how it supports you to live a happy, balance life:
• It activates the antioxidant and anti-inflammatory activity.
• It improves the blood sugar balance (so important when you have PCO, and will talk more about it).
• It makes 90% of the body’s serotonin (Serotonin is so so so important !! It is responsible for a healthy mood, sense of calm, optimism, sleep, appetite, and healthy bowel movements).
• It produces and responds to other chemicals that the brain uses, which regulates sleep, stress, and relaxation, such as melatonin, dopamine, norepinephrine, acetylcholine, and GABA.
• It improves the strength and health of intestinal walls, preventing leaky gut, and it reduces inflammation by maintaining the tight junctions between the cells in the lining of these walls. (will draw a picture to make sense of that)
So let’s remind ourselves what Probiotics stand for : They are living bacteria that restore and renew our gut microbiomes. Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium increase GABA in the gastrointestinal system and help decrease anxiety and stress. Lactobacillus rhamnosus helps lower the stress hormone cortisol.
Lactobacillus pentosus from fermented cabbage (kimchee, good old Sauerkraut) improves mental function and BDNF production, which is important for behavior, learning, and memory. Avoid pasteurized, store-bought varieties and those made with added sugar.
Some great food sources of probiotics are:
• Yogurt (goats or cow)
• Fermented vegetables
• Kombucha tea
• Apple cider vinegar
Make sure you avoid the added sugar. Check the ingredients of the yoghurts in the aisles in the supermarket! In particular the flavoured ones have sugar in them so stay away from those.
2. Flavonoid Rich plants
Flavonoids are phytonutrients that enhance the function of GABA. They are antioxidants that have anti-inflammatory activity, and inflammation and oxidative stress are characteristic traits of mental health disorders as listed in the post above.
What are plant-based foods rich in flavonoids ?
• Nuts (be picky and make sure your body doesn’t react to them. For example, I cannot eat peanuts and cashew (unfortunately) doesn’t agree with me)
• Fruits (berries, citrus fruits, apples, pears)
• Most vegetables,
• Black and green tea
• Wine (in balance !!!)
• Chamomile flowers (Chamomile tea been shown to have antidepressant and anti-anxiety effects. It contains volatile oils and flavonoids, which have anti-inflammatory properties.
• Linden flowers
3. Omega-3-fatty acids
Omega-3 fatty acids have an anti-inflammatory and antioxidant effect on brain tissue. Inflammation in the brain affects serotonin, dopamine, glutamate, and GABA levels and contributes to oxidative stress.
Omega-3 fish oil supplementation has been shown to reduce depression in as little as 21 days. EPA and DHA play a role in serotonin production, release, and function in the brain. Low levels of EPA/DHA contribute to depression and brain dysfunction.
EPA protects against nerve-cell death and promotes nerve-tissue growth in the hippocampus, a part of the brain responsible for happiness, decision making, learning, and memory.
Where can we find Omega-3s ?
• Oily fish (herring, mackerel, sardines, salmon, anchovies)
• Salmon fish oil
• Cod liver oil
• Hemp seeds
4. Pumpkin seeds
Pumpkin seeds are a rich source of magnesium ! And stress what stress does to us is to deplete magnums levels in our body. It doesn’t matter if it is emotional, physical, environmental or biochemical – it sucks every little bit of magnesium out of us. Deficiency of magnesium can lead to inflammation, insomnia, anxiety, poor memory, and concentration.
Low magnesium levels can negatively affect blood sugar balance and our ability to use insulin effectively, which leads to insulin resistance. Insulin resistance can affect mental health and contributes to depression as pointed out earlier in the post above.
Where can we find Magnesium ?
• Dark chocolate
• Banana (create source in particular at night and helps you have a sound and nice sleep!)
Alcohol depletes magnesium levels in the brain, so avoid regular alcohol intake when stressed.
5. Organic grass-fed lamb
Lamb contains zinc, an essential micronutrient with many roles involved in the development of depression, such as cell growth, cell death, and metabolism. The highest levels of zinc are found in the brain, especially the hippocampus.
Zinc plays a critical role in the brain and body’s response to stress. Low levels are seen in those who suffer depression, and deficiency can also lead to poor learning and memory.
Brain inflammation can cause brain fog and may show up as depression and/or poor concentration, memory, and learning. Zinc is an antioxidant effective in reducing inflammation and protects the brain cells against damage caused by free radicals.
Where else can we find Zinc ?
• Grass-fed beef
• Pumpkin seeds
The best zinc source is meat. It gives you the boost you need in comparison to the vegetable substitutions. However, if you don’t want to eat meat, go to a Pharmacy and ask for supplements.
6. Organic eggs
Eggs are a good source of tryptophan, an essential amino acid required for serotonin production. Diets lacking tryptophan and low levels of serotonin in the brain contribute to anxiety and depression.
Tryptophan is processed properly in the brain when consumed with a small amount of low glycemic index (GI) carbohydrates such as vegetables and nuts and foods rich in vitamin B6 such as eggplant, sunflower seeds, pistachio nuts, kangaroo, pasture-raised chicken, turkey, and wild salmon.
Where else can we find Tryptophan ?
It can also be found in:
• Seeds (sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, cashews)
• Grass-fed beef and
• Pasture-raised poultry
• Green peas, and
• Wild-caught fish (salmon and cod).
7. Curries with saffron and turmeric
Crocin, a carotenoid found in saffron, has antidepressant properties due to its influence on serotonin production and has antioxidant, anti-inflammatory, and neuroprotective properties, as well.
Saffron could be as effective as some antidepressants in the treatment of mild to moderate depression.
Curcumin, a natural anti-inflammatory compound found in turmeric, has antidepressant-like activity, protects neurons, and improves neuroplasticity (or the ability to create new neural pathways in the brain).
It also protects against oxidative stress, mitochondrial damage, and leaky gut, all of which are compromised in depression.
As a supplement, curcumin (BCM-95) is found to be more effective than some conventional formulas.
What we eat has the power to send positive information from the gut to the brain, which goes on to affect our mood and behavior. Knowing this, wouldn’t it make sense to fuel the body with ingredients that stoke the fire of happiness?
I encourage you to send glorious information to that brain of yours and flood the body with those natural chemicals that you’re designed to produce.
But don’t forget, what we eat is only ONE part of happiness creation. Happiness is a collaboration of information you gather from movement, mindfulness, social interaction, and connection to self.