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PostHeaderIcon Food for Thought: Eat Right for Health

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Nutrition is a vital part of your physical well-being, however, there’s more to it than just following the food pyramid or eating your spinach. Studies have shown that how, when and what you eat, can actually change your brain function and improve your mood, impact your appetite and stabilize your blood sugar, sleep habits and behavior.

The most prominent offender in our diet is refined sugar in various forms, as an average American consumes 158 pounds of sugar annually or equal to about 50 teaspoons per day.

Dr. Michael Lara, Belmont psychiatrist, psycho-pharmacologist and lecturer (at right) is recognized for his use of evidence-based theories to treat the whole person, including a lifestyle defining approach that incorporates the role of nutrition. 

Dr. Lara was inspired by Jack LaLanne, the late fitness guru who at age 41 swam 1.5 miles from Alcatraz to Fisherman’s Wharf in San Francisco while handcuffed. During his 80 years as a fitness guru came to believe that the country’s health depends on the overall health of its population. 

He had a simple yet profound message: take responsibility for your own life through exercise and nutrition.

Understanding how food works in your body is a first step in making food work for you.
The three major neurotransmitters, internal messengers in communication with mood, memory, appetite and the sleep/wake cycle, are made up of amino acids, essential proteins in dietary food sources. 

Serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates the sense of well-being, happiness, sleep and appetite, is synthesized within the body from the amino acid, tryptophan, and is only obtained in the diet.   Some natural serotonin boosting foods are those rich in vitamin B:  whole grains, brown rice, green leafy vegetables, avocados, mushrooms, tomatoes, legumes, nuts, meat, eggs, bananas, papaya and dates.

When serotonin is low, it can cause depression, carbohydrate cravings and lack of impulse control.  

Omega 3 fatty acids, found in fish such as salmon and tuna, play a significant role in enhancing the production of serotonin along with exercise and meditation for stress reduction. Long-term stress and sleep deprivation are known to deplete serotonin levels as will chronic consumption of stimulants, caffeine, alcohol, tobacco, refined carbohydrates and sugar. Skipping meals leads to mood swings.

Good news prevails:  chocolate in moderation serves as an emergency rescue food when a quick pickup is needed for a feel-good mood. The food rich in tryptophan, which has been found to regulate “melatonin” in the body, for restful sleep, is turkey.

A second neurotransmitter, dopamine, triggers pleasure and reward sensations, signals goal attainments, and acts as a driving force in extroversion, mania and psychosis at high levels. Low levels of the neuro-chemical are associated with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), Parkinson’s, depression, addictions and introspective behavior patterns. 

A balance is needed for harmony, like the instruments in a synchronous symphony. 

Dietary sources of note include fish, chicken, turkey, almonds, avocados, cheeses, yogurt and pumpkin seeds. Benefits of a healthy balance are found during physical performance, periods of stress or sleep shortage and when there is a need for sharp cognition.

The neurotransmitter, norepinephrine (NE) requires dopamine as a precursor, and like adrenaline, is part of the sympathetic nervous system, serving multiple functions as a hormone as well. 

Activated during the “fight or flight response,” it triggers the release of glucose from the body stores and increases oxygen supply to the brain.  NE acts as an endogenous anti-inflammatory agent, mediates alertness, long-term memory, decision processing and dreams.  Like dopamine, NE has a role in ADHD and when in excess in the body causes anxiety, fears, aggression and schizophrenia.

The complex interaction of the neuro-regulatory system to enhance or impair virtually all body and mind functions is on a continuum of ebb and flow, mediated by stimuli to that part of the body’s nervous system that reacts with automatic reflexes

Endogenous opiates, endorphins, developed within the body, are released during exercise, eating, sex, excitement and pain.  The sensation known as “Runner’s high”,  is well-known as an addictive sensation of well-being that is produced during strenuous exercise. Conversely, the stress hormone, Cortisol, chronically released during adverse conditions, is responsible for elevated blood sugar leading to Type II Diabetes, a compromised immune system, increased cravings for sweet or fatty foods and the accumulation of visceral fat, deposited around the abdominal organs and belly. 

The rationale for the presence of high levels of Cortisol may be related to loss of sleep, excessive exercise, psychological stress or restrictive dieting.  Anti-stress nutrients are an option in regulating the effects on mental health and brain function, making proactive choices and taking control.
Chronic inflammation as a connection to mood disorders, from depression to Alzheimer’s disease, has been identified as pertinent to various kinds of plaque formation within the body and inflammatory signals from stress-related mid-line fat.   Refined sugar and other inflammatory foods are:  processed and refined white flour, pasta, rice and pastries.  Healthy selections for body and mind are natural foods, whole grains, fruits, vegetables, soy and lean protein.

The key to optimizing mental health, sleep and awareness is found in a nutrient balance that provides for anti-inflammatory foods, Omega 3’s, green tea, spices such as ginseng, garlic, turmeric, cumin, with red wine and chocolate in moderation.
For further interest, contact: This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .-- KRB

Karen Balch is a retired nurse, freelance writer and expert on staying healthy in all stages of life. She is a regular contributror to allnewsnoblues.com.  Reach her at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it .

Last Updated (Thursday, 17 May 2012 22:26)


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