Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Tryptophan: It’s Not Just for Turkeys Anymore!

Falling asleep after the big Thanksgiving meal is a holiday tradition. Every Thanksgiving, the news will report how the tryptophan found in turkey promotes sleep. But most people don’t know what tryptophan is, why it promotes sleep, and what other benefits it may offer. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that everyone needs for physical and mental wellness. It is noted as essential because our bodies cannot make this amino acid and we must obtain it from our diet.

Tryptophan may be converted into Niacin; a B vitamin associated with heart health, repair DNA, and hormone production. Tryptophan is the precursor to the neurotransmitter Serotonin. Serotonin regulates our mood, appetite, and is associated with learning and memory. In fact, many psychotropic medications such as antidepressants or anti-psychotic medications increase Serotonin. For many individuals when their Serotonin levels are increased, they feel more at peace and happier. Serotonin is also converted into Melatonin. Melatonin is our sleep hormone that helps regulate our awake and sleep patterns.

But do you know if you are getting enough Tryptophan from your diet in order to maintain your mental health? You may be low in tryptophan, if you are experiencing symptoms such as:

Sleep difficulties
Sugar or carbohydrate cravings
Difficulty concentrating
Obsessive-compulsive tendencies

Now you may be asking what food contains tryptophan? Try tuna, chicken, red meat, shrimp, milk, mozzarella cheese, cottage cheese, soybeans, beans, lentils, peanuts, pumpkin seeds, asparagus, bananas, broccoli, apricots, and spinach. These are just some of the sources of tryptophan. In honor of the big holiday tomorrow: I recommend TURKEY or TOFURKEY!

Happy Thanksgiving!

Wednesday, March 30, 2011

B Positive

Do you want to improve your mood? Many individuals report that negative emotions like sadness or irritability interfere with their interpersonal relationships and inhibit them from being productive at work. If this sounds like you, try monitoring your intake of B vitamins. B vitamins including: B1  (thiamine), B2 (riboflavin), B3 (niacin or niacinamide), B5 (pantothenic acid), B6 (pyridoxine, pyridoxal, or pyridoxamine, or pyridoxine hydrochloride), B7 (biotin), B9 (folic acid), and B12 (various cobalamins; commonly cyanocobalamin in supplements) are important in many bodily and mental functions. They help with the functioning of our nervous system, increase energy levels, support cognitive functioning, increase mental acuity, help with the creation of neurotransmitters associated with mood, and help with the regulation of our emotions. In fact, many individuals with a B6, B9 or B12 deficiencies experience depressive symptoms and increased anxiety.  This suggests the vital role these vitamins provide in maintaining positive emotions. Simple changes in our life, like monitoring our food intake can make a significant change in our attitude and mood. If you are looking to increase any of these vitamins in your diet, reach for a handful of peanuts, bananas, spinach, or scrambled eggs.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Your Brain is a Gas Guzzling SUV

Your brain is constantly in action and exerting energy. Your brain weighs about three pounds; yet, it consumes about 20-30% of your total calories burned in a day.  Just like our cars need gas, our brains also need fuel to operate. To get that fuel, our bodies break down the foods we eat into glucose. Glucose is the fuel used by our brains when our neurons fire and when our neurotransmitters are released. We get our glucose from carbohydrates. In fact, 40% of our carbohydrate intake is devoted to fueling our brains. It is better for our bodies to ingest glucose from complex carbohydrates, fruits, and vegetables. Even though glucose is a type of sugar, if we feed our brains simple carbohydrates like white sugar (sucrose) or white flour, we are actually only giving our brains a short supply of energy that will then cause us to crash. I am sure you are familiar with a sugar crash.  Our brains do it, too.  Sucrose (white sugar) may temporarily raise certain neurotransmitter levels, like serotonin. For many people when they crave sugar they are actually low in serotonin. Serotonin is associated with moods and most antidepressant medications work by stimulating serotonin levels. However, when we give our bodies sugar, it will temporarily increase serotonin, but cause a crash, too. This is why when people are sad, they might turn to chocolate cake, yet, after about a half hour feel worse and more depressed than they did prior to consuming the cake. In order to improve your mood and fuel your brain, give your brain a consistent source of energy like complex carbohydrates. Avoid simple carbohydrates because they will only make you feel worse in the long run.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Hey Fathead!

Did you know your brain is 60% fat? This fat helps to protect your brain and helps your neurons in your brain send messages to one another quickly. Your brain needs DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) omega three fatty acids. The kind of fat found in fish and algae. Your brain also prefers any of the omega three fatty acids including EPA (eicosapentaenoic acid) and ALA (α-linolenic acid). But, often, your body has to convert the EPA and ALA fats to DHA because your body needs a lot of the DHA fat. You might be wondering why you want this type of fat. The omega three fatty acids are malleable and flexible, whereas, saturated fats and trans fats are more rigid. The type of fat in your brain is dependent upon your diet. When your diet is high in trans fats and saturated fats, like from what is often found in animal products or processed foods, these stiff fats will be prominent in your brain.  You know what happens when these types of fats are more prominent in your brain? You might not think as clearly, you might have more difficulty recalling information, and you might suffer from mental illness. Deficiency in omega three fatty acids has been associated with dementia, depression, schizophrenia, anxiety disorders, ADHD, and bipolar disorder. In fact, in many clinical studies, individuals suffering with these mental disorders experienced significant symptom improvements by taking DHA omega three fatty acids pills.  If you are concerned about your fat intake, your physician can run a test to determine if you have enough DHA fat in your diet. 

Monday, February 28, 2011

Brain Chemistry 101

 I wanted to give everyone some background information about brain chemistry or neurochemistry. As you might remember from health class, amino acids are the building blocks of our bodies. Protein is composed of amino acids. So when you eat protein you are helping to restore your body. When I say amino acids are the building blocks of our bodies or more specifically our cells, this also translates to our brains. Our brains also need protein to function. Just like our bodies are composed of cells, so our brains. Our brain cells are called neurons. Our neurons are so important they need cells (glial cells) to support them. We have an estimated 100 billion neurons. All of these neurons need to communicate to one another, so our neurons are connected to one another through a synapse. Because our neurons need to talk to more than one neuron, we have an estimated 100-500 trillion synapses. When our neurons communicate with one another they do it through a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are the chemical messengers in our brains.  When we are thinking, feeling, or engaging in any behavior, even sleep, our brains are active. Our brains produce electrical activity. This electrical activity is our neurons firing and our neurotransmitters sending messages to other neurons. Have you seen the commercials talking about serotonin, dopamine, or norepinephrine? These are all different types of neurotransmitters and each different type of neurotransmitter has a different function.  And guess what? These neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (among other things), too. The moral of the story is: MAKE SURE YOU EAT YOUR PROTEIN!!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Welcome to Nature's Prozac

Hello everyone and welcome to Nature’s Prozac. This blog is dedicated to looking for all natural alternatives to promoting your mental health. My name is Dr. Dixie Meyer, PhD and I am a counselor and clinical mental health counseling professor. The concept behind this blog grew out of conversations I regularly have with friends and family.  I prefer to live a healthy lifestyle including eating healthy, nutrient rich foods and I rarely turn to medications for health benefits. Therefore, often my conversations with friends and family involve them describing aliments to me where I suggest foods that could help alleviate their symptoms. This, also, transfers to my counseling practice. I am a proponent for holistic counseling and having all of my clients maintain a healthy lifestyle. Often times, when clients start treating their bodies right, their mood improves. Witnessing these transformations was the impetus for my research in neuroscience and more specifically, neurochemistry. What you will read here in this blog will be empirically supported. I will provide information about specific nutrients or activities that positively influence your brain chemistry. There will be no promises or outlandish claims, only information about how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.  It will then be your decision if you need and want to incorporate the research into your own life.

I am dedicating this blog to wellness and giving everyone the tools they need to take control of their own mental health.