Nutrients Affect on Emotional Wellbeing and the Brain
In 2012 I attended a continuing education course on the affects of specific nutrients in relation to mental health and brain functions. I was pleasantly surprised to see those who attended were varied in professions from doctors, nurses, trainers, massage therapist, chiropractors and mental health counselors like me. My first impression was there must be factual and scientific evidence to support this topic or there would not be such a wide array of professions (those professions who help people with their physical and emotional problems daily). I was ready to learn as much as I could. What I will attempt to do is convey briefly some of the valuable information I absorbed in six hours of this course. I hope it will be as eye opening and life changing for you as it was for me. If nothing else, I hope you gain such an interest that you do further study and research which will help you and others around you.
As a mental health counselor, I counsel many people with varied issues. I am convinced healthy emotional wellness is maintained by a healthy balance of good nutrition, exercise, and emotional healing and stability. Our physical body interacts and affects our emotional stability and vice versa. Both are affected by the other and if one is off balance, the other will be affected negatively. Exercise and good nutrition will help maintain the proper level and function of your neurotransmitters, which are chemicals released allowing signals to be passed from one neuron to the next. Memory, appetite, mental function, mood, movement and the wake-sleep cycle are all nerve functions which neurotransmitters regulate. The specific neurotransmitters I want to mention are serotonin, dopamine, endorphin, and norepinephrine. With the proper nutrients and exercise, neurotransmitters will function at the capacity they were created to function and will directly affect our emotional wellness. Nutrients high in B vitamins, vitamin C and E, iron, selenium and magnesium are involved in production of neurotransmitters. Moods are regulated by serotonin, therefore it is important to eat food which support the balance of serotonin such as nuts, milk, dates, papayas, and bananas. Dopamine production helps regulate the flow of information in the brain, playing a role in memory, attention and problem solving. Dopamine is associated with reward mechanisms which involves things that “feel good.” Dopamine is stored in nerve cells and requires a protein-rich meal. With the help of vitamin C, dopamine is then converted to norepinephrine causing increased feelings of alertness and energy. Endorphins are always associated with “happy” state of mind. Endorphins are sometimes described as morphine-like neurotransmitters and are produced through moderately intense physical activity including biking, running, swimming, or yoga. Neurotransmitters play such an important role and healthy emotional state of mind and are maintained through the proper nutrients and exercise.
Although several disorders were discussed during the course and the affects certain nutrients have on helping to improve them, anxiety is the one I would like to concentrate on in this article. Others mentioned were mood disorders, depression, ADHD, and Alzheimer’s. Allergies, food cravings, stress related eating and appetite, sleep and awareness were some physical issues discussed and what nutrients were needed to help regulate them.
Anxiety affects close to 40 million people in the United States. Anxiety is a fear based manifestation of a deeper problem, increasing acute awareness of potential threats, or heightened fear of past events that lay dormant in the subconscious upon which a present event triggers the emotion of fear/anxiety to surface. People with anxiety most likely have a shortage of the neurotransmitter serotonin during stress. Anxiety of course causes a negative mood and sometimes a craving for sweets. A healthy nutritional approach to anxiety would include supplementation with magnesium, passionflower, and L-theanine (amino acid) found in tea (increases brain dopamine and alpha-wave activity). A healthy physical approach would include moderate but regular exercise which will regulate your neurotransmitters (particularly produce dopamine and endorphins). The intense build up of stress (cortisol) from anxiety needs a physical release as well as an emotional release. Remember balance is the key to maintaining healthy emotional stability; balance with good nutrition, exercise and processing of emotions in a healthy way!
Georgia Smith is in private practice as a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Texas. She provides counseling for children, adolescents, adults, marriage and family in the Dallas area. She is also the mother of three grown children, two daughter-in-laws and a grandson who also reside in Texas. Georgia has a BA degree in Economics from the University of North Texas and an MA degree in Counseling from Amberton University. As an author and counselor, she has a passion for writing, counseling, and public speaking to encourage others to become all they were created to be. She has written and published one book called You Are My Beloved, Now Believe It, with a supplemental devotional study guide. She is starting her second book called Mercy Falls Like Rain, which she hopes to have finished by Spring of 2016.