How we think, feel and behave on a day-to-day basis is very much dependent on the process of ‘neurotransmission’. When this process is working well, it enables us to interact positively with our environment, and recent advances in scientific research have discovered the importance of gut bacteria in influencing these interactions. The ‘gut-brain-axis’ is the biochemical signalling that takes place between the gastro-intestinal tract and the central nervous system. The gut flora is the complex community of microorganisms that live in our digestive tracts. Changes in the composition of gut flora due to diet, drugs or disease correlate with changes in brain function. The gut flora releases molecules that can directly activate the vagus nerve, which transmits information about the state of the intestines to the brain. Gut microorganisms are involved in the production of serotonin (our happy hormone) and GABA (a calming neurotransmitter), and studies have shown that people with anxiety and mood disorders tend to have digestive problems.
So that’s the science bit! Let’s talk about how to eat for balanced brain chemistry. Some typical signs and symptoms of brain chemistry imbalances include; addiction, sugar cravings, poor sleep, low mood, depression and anxiety.
What to Eat for a Happy Brain
Focus on a low glycaemic load diet. Glucose is the primary source of fuel for the brain, but the supply needs to be kept balanced throughout the day. This can be done by building your diet around whole foods, with plenty of vegetables, pulses, seeds, nuts, fish, lean meat, some wholegrains and fruit, and reducing, or even better, removing, processed foods.
Many of us opt for sugar, alcohol and caffeine for a temporary lift, but you need to eat the right foods that contain the raw materials for making the neurotransmitters:
Dopamine is a very important chemical that is responsible for controlling the pleasure centres in the brain. To make dopamine, you need the amino acid tyrosine. Good sources include eggs, poultry, dairy, fish and seeds.
Serotonin, our happy hormone, is made from the amino acid tryptophan, which can be found in eggs, turkey, walnuts, fish and pumpkin and sesame seeds.
Glutamate plays a very important role in brain development, memory and learning. A great source of glutamate is bone broth, and it can also be found in protein-rich foods such as meat, fish, dairy products, walnuts, mushrooms and seaweeds.
As well as foods that increase the above neurotransmitters, it is essential to include nutrients that fuel the enzymes involved in their production. The best way to ensure you are getting the necessary nutrients is to include a wide variety of fruit and veg (eat a rainbow!).
If you want to increase your levels of dopamine or serotonin, it is essential to get plenty of sleep. Failing to get sufficient sleep will reduce the levels of dopamine in your brain, which can increase symptoms of anxiety and depression.
If you want to increase your mood naturally, routine exercise helps to increase both serotonin and dopamine. Take a walk, try some yoga, or join a gym. By doing this, it will help to balance your brain chemicals, which in turn will improve your mood and help with restful sleep.
It is essential to balance your stress. Mindfulness, 4-7 breathing (in through the nose for a count of 4, and out through the mouth for a count of 7), regular exercise and eating well may make a positive difference to your emotions.
If you would like any more information, email firstname.lastname@example.org. Very best wishes, Deirdre Swede Nutrition.