How to improve mood through diet

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Is there a connection between food and mood? Psychiatrist Dr. Henry Emmons explains how dietary changes can benefit women with mood disorders.

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  • Dr. Henry Emmons M.D.

    Dr. Henry Emmons M.D. Psychiatrist Dr. Henry Emmons is a psychiatrist who integrates mind-body and natural therapies, mindfulness and allied Buddhist therapeutics, and psychotherapeutic caring and insight in his clinical work. He practices general and holistic psychiatry. more about this expert »

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Transcript Diet makes a huge difference with mood disorders because the brain is part of the body and the brain, in order to stay healthy and to keep a good balance of neurotransmitters, the only root way it can really do that is to get the right ingredients. We know heart disease and heart health is influenced by diet. It only stands to reason that the same would be true for the brain. So diet, I think it’s one of the very best ways that we have of turning off the genes, the genetic expression that has an influence on who gets mood disorders and who doesn’t. I mean, you might have genes for these illnesses but, unless those genes are activated by lifestyle issues, stresses, environment, you may never get depressed. But once its activated we got to think about how do we turn it off again? How can we shut down that gene expression for an illness like depression? One of the best ways to do that I think is through diet, through nutrients. So I am not somebody who believes that everyone should eat exactly the same diet, a lot of people do but if you did, if you had to eat just one way I think a modified Mediterranean diet is the way to go. But I believe that people have different body types, different mind-body or emotional types and that diet should vary a little from person-to-person. So for example somebody who is primarily anxious, who has lot of stress-related symptoms, can’t sleep, feelings of insecurity, what I call an anxious depression, they are a little better off focusing more on foods that help boost tryptophan and boost serotonin and are calming. So that’s a diet that’s a little, you can have a little more focus on complex carbohydrates because those are the foods that help the brain really utilize tryptophan and they are generally calming. But it’s important that they are complex carbs and not refined carbs because refined carbs, while they have a great appeal, if someone is really stressed or depressed, they will make things worse. They will almost always make things worse. The complex carbs which still have fiber will almost always help. They help stabilize the blood sugar. They help the brain absorb and utilize tryptophan and they are generally, over time, they are generally calming. But somebody who has the opposite kind of depression who is really sluggish, who wants to sleep all the time, somebody who just has no motivation, can’t focus, they may not do as well eating that way. I mean still they should have some complex carbs with every meal every time they eat, but they should focus a little more on protein. So, a little higher protein diet, really good quality lean meats and proteins. I tell people to think about how they would eat in the summer when they are…when it’s hot. So you don’t want to eat a lot of food, you don’t want to eat a lot of heavy food at that time. So think about eating light, a lot of fresh fruits and veggies and just some lean protein sources. And then, also eating foods that are not inflammatory. Inflammation plays a very big role in depression. It’s one of the reasons why fish oil or omega-3s are so helpful. But also taking out foods that tend to promote inflammation like sometimes overdoing red meat or overdoing white sugar, white flour, refined products - that will aggravate inflammatory conditions. And also, really being conscious of diets that seem to promote insulin sensitivity or insulin resistance. And those are things very similar, diets that contain too much simple carbs, refined sugars, high fructose corn syrup – those are the kinds of foods that cause weight gain in the middle, in the mid section of the body and that’s just really, really hard on the brain. Most people aren’t aware of this but that adipose tissue, the fat tissue that tends to congregate around the belly, the center of the body very often produces hormones, produces more stress hormones, which just perpetuates the problem of depression. And also many people without knowing it are eating foods every day that their body is sensitive to, that they are reacting to. It’s not exactly an allergy but it’s still the body is kind of rejecting that particular food and you don’t know because you never go without it. You eat it all the time and so you feel badly every day but you don’t tie up with your food. So the common examples for those are wheat and corn, for some people dairy. For some people it’s the nightshade vegetables like eggplant, peppers, tomatoes, potatoes. But it’s worth trying to find out by doing some kind of modified elimination diet, working with a good nutritionist to see if your body is reacting against something that you are just eating all the time.

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