Depression and Cravings
Depression and Cravings: Understanding the Food-Mood Connection
When it comes to food, most of us would agree that what and when we eat can directly affect how we feel. After a heavy meal, we may feel tired and bloated. If we wait too long to eat, we may feel light headed and spacey or we may get angry and be easily agitated. But did you that it also works the other way, which how we feel about ourselves, our lives, the particular day, can also have a significant effect on what we choose to eat?
If you have struggled with staying on a healthy eating plan, but find that sooner or later you are back to eating your favorite junk food, the good news is that it’s not your fault. Food addiction is now known to be caused by brain chemistry imbalances that are at least as powerful as those known to cause alcohol and drug addictions. Cookies, ice cream, and candy addict us by raising levels of both of our most potent appetite and mood-regulating neurotransmitters: endorphin, our pleasure-producing natural opiate, and serotonin, our soothing natural antidepressant. In addition, they give us that rush of high blood sugar that no drug can equal.
The key to understanding this connection lies in learning a little about how the brain functions. Food affects mood via biochemical messengers in the brain called neurotransmitters. The foods we consume affect the formation of neurotransmitters, and some diet-related neurotransmitters have a significant effect on our mood, our appetite and our cravings. This in turn causes the brain to communicate in the form of an impulse (craving for certain foods) the need for certain neurotransmitters that it requires to restore balance.
While many other factors influence the level of these chemicals, such as hormones, heredity, drugs, and alcohol, three neurotransmitters—specifically serotonin, dopamine, and norepinephrine—have been studied in relation to food, and this research has shown that neurotransmitters are produced in the brain from components of certain foods, and are also the most sensitive to diet and influential in affecting mood. Research from the University of California, Berkeley suggests that people who suffer from depression have low amount of serotonin, norepinephrine and dopamine in their brains.1
The Sugar/Carb Addiction Cycle
Sufficient quantities of non-foods like refined sugar, refined flours, high-fructose corn syrup, artificial sweeteners, artificial colors, preservatives, caffeine, alcohol and chocolate (otherwise known as the Standard American Diet) all interfere with proper brain functioning, leading to depression, anxiety, the inability to fall or stay asleep, lack of energy, apathy, or hyperactivity. Additionally, a diet composed of refined and processed foods also results in weight gain, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Depression, apathy, and even hopelessness can set in, driving us try to balance the neurotransmitter imbalances we are experiencing through the only way we know how we will instantly feel better : through the readily available and famously marketed “comfort foods”- high starch and sugar items like doughnuts, cookies, cakes, ice cream, pasta and potatoes. Thus the vicious cycle of sugar/carb addiction is completed, over and over and over, trapping millions in a life of depression, anxiety, obesity, diabetes, and heart disease- and most certainly a shortened life.
The Amazing Effects of Amino Acid Therapy
So what can be done? How can we break free of this vicious cycle that destroys every aspect of our lives? Julia Moss MA, a clinical psychotherapist for over 25 years, discovered that through the short-term use of specific amino acids neurotransmitter balance can be restored, greatly alleviating the symptoms of depression, anxiety and apathy that keep us trapped in the cycle of sugar addiction. In her book The Diet Cure, Julia shows through her work with thousands of clients, that once balance is restored in the brain, feelings of well-being return and cravings disappear. Finally, healthier food choices become feasible and adopting a long-term “healthy lifestyle” can become a reality.2
In addition to using specific amino acids to break free of a sugar addiction, a healthy, balanced diet rich in whole “natural” and unprocessed foods is ESSENTIAL to maintaining proper neurotransmitter function and reversing chronic depression, anxiety, ADD or ADHD without incurring BOTH the financial costs AND the many physical costs of pharmaceutical drugs. It is also ESSENTIAL in repairing and rebuilding organs, glands and tissues that have been damaged through years of sugar addiction, allowing you to reverse obesity, diabetes, and heart disease and regain a properly functioning metabolism.
Serotonin is a calming and relaxing chemical that eases feelings of tension and anxiety while creating an overall sense of well-being. It is an important part of the brain's reward system, as it produces feelings of pleasure. High levels of serotonin can make you feel drowsy or sluggish, while low levels tend to leave you feeling anxious and irritable. This often causes intense food cravings, most frequently for sweets and carbohydrates.
In general, serotonin levels are increased by a diet that is rich in tryptophan: protein, green vegetables, omega-3 fatty acids, and saturated fats. Eat more of these foods if you are feeling anxious and irritable and wish to be more relaxed:
- High-tryptophan protein (turkey, lamb, milk, cheese, and eggs)
- Fish- and plant-based sources rich in omega-3 fatty acids (anchovies, bluefish, carp, catfish, halibut, herring, lake trout, mackerel, pompano, salmon, striped sea bass, albacore tuna, whitefish, walnuts, and flaxseed oil).
- Green, yellow, red and leafy vegetables
- Nuts (almonds, walnuts, pecans, pistachios, cashews and peanuts)
- Root vegetables (carrots, beets, potatoes, yams, onions, turnips, squash and pumpkin)
- Beans and legumes
- Whole grains (brown rice, quinoa, oatmeal)
Catecholamines (dopamine and norepinephrine) are alertness-making or energizing chemicals. When we have optimal levels of these neurotransmitters in our brain, we tend to have better attention spans, think more clearly, react more quickly and feel more motivated. Dopamine and norepinephrine are also associated with voluntary movement and emotional arousal. Therefore, people with Parkinson's disease may have lower or damaged levels of these chemicals, causing tremors and loss of balance, while those with schizophrenia may have an excess. When our body has enough dopamine we're blessed with feelings of bliss and pleasure, euphoric, appetite control, controlled motor movements, and we feel focused. When we are low in dopamine we feel no pleasure, our world looks colorless, we have an inability to "love", and we have no remorse about personal behavior.
Catecholamine (Dopamine and Norepinephrine) Enhancing Foods
Tyrosine is the amino acid neurons turn into norepinephrine and dopamine. Norepinephrine and dopamine are excitatory neurotransmitters that are important in motivation, alertness, concentration and memory, as feelings of well-being and pleasure.
- Grass-fed beef, hormone-free milk, cheese, and eggs, and wild-caught fish and other seafood are very healthy, high-protein, dopamine-and-norepinephrine-boosting foods.
- Plant foods, such as fruits, vegetables, grains, beans, seeds and nuts. Fruits are vegetables are rich in fiber, vitamins, minerals, antioxidants that protect the body cells from damaging. They also help raise serotonin levels in the brain.
- Apples: A compound found in apples called "quercetin' is an antioxidant that studies have shown may not only help in the prevention of cancer but may also play an important role in the prevention of neurodegenerative disorders. There may be something to that old saying, "An apple a day keeps the doctor away . . ."
- Banana: A banana is a good source of tyrosine.
- Beets: Betaine, an amino acid naturally present in certain vegetables, particularly beetroot (beets), is an antidepressant of the first order. Betaine acts as a stimulant for the production of SAM-e (S-adenoslmethionine). The body cannot do without SAM-e, which it produces. SAM-e is directly related to the production of certain hormones, such as dopamine and serotonin.
- Chicken: Chicken, like eggs, contains complete protein that increases levels of the excitatory neurotransmitters norepinephrine and dopamine. Chicken is also a good source of co-enzyme Q10 (Co Q10), which increases the energy generating potential of neurons.
- Cheese: Cheese is a well-known protein food . . . Protein provides amino acids, which help produce dopamine and norepinephrine.
- Eggs: A great natural anti-depressant is to increase dopamine by eating protein-rich foods such as eggs. They are not just versatile in how you can cook and serve them, but eggs will often appeal to people who choose not to eat meat.
- Fish: Omega-3 fatty acids are found in seafood, especially mackerel, salmon, striped bass, rainbow trout, halibut, tuna, and sardines. These fatty acids may have many jobs in the body, including a possible role in the production of neurotransmitters. Wild-caught fish have easily digestible protein, many trace nutrients, and high quality essential fatty acids.
- Watermelon: Watermelon juice is loaded with vitamins A, B6, and C! Vitamin B6 is used by the body to manufacture neurotransmitters such as serotonin, melatonin, and dopamine. Vitamin C also enhances the immune system while protecting the body from free radicals.
- Wheat Germ: Wheat Germ is a good source of Phenylalanine. Phenylalanine is an essential amino acid found in the brain and blood plasma that can convert in the body to tyrosine, which in turn is used to synthesize dopamine.
- Beans and legumes are rich in protein and are healthful boosters of both dopamine and norepinephrine.
The most important thing to understand is that overeating is not a character defect. Because food addiction is a biological imperative, willpower, counseling and health coaching can fail even the most determined and dedicated dieters. Even diabetics, whose lives are at stake, are powerless over their carb cravings. But through the use of specific brain-targeted nutrients called amino acids, we can quickly restore our levels of endorphin, serotonin, and other potent appetite regulators. These nutrients and their benefits have been researched and verified in the treatment of alcohol, drug, and food addiction, and are available at every health food store and on-line. This means freedom from carb cravings and emotional overeating, allowing former food addicts to pass up their favorite sweets and carbs without feeling deprived or starving themselves with a low-calorie diet. Finally, being able to truly enjoy whole foods that nourish and support both brain and body becomes long-term, sustainable lifestyle.
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2. The Diet Cure, Julia Ross, MA, http://www.dietcure.com/aminoacids.html