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14-11-2018

Science proves it’s possible to ‘nourish’ creativity and positive mood

positive mood

Apple founder Steve Jobs once swore that his fruit-heavy diet helped fuel his creativity and positive mood. Sceptical, the journalist interviewing him construed his remark to be a form of modesty, but science supports the late but brilliant CEO. Not only do the nutrients we consume affect our mood, but they also influence our desires and behaviour. And for a considerable period of time.

The notion that certain foods have a positive effect on mood is nothing new. As far back as the Middle Ages, people believed that different foods had specific effects on behaviour. Fruits such as quince, dates and elderberries were associated with improving mood, while lettuce, chicory and purslane were valued for their tranquillising effects (1). While it’s unlikely that this folklore wholly reflects scientific reality, it has to be said that the general principle is sound. Behind it lie at least two well-substantiated theories which are entirely compatible with each other.

The serotonin theory: why foods that promote its production elevate mood

One of the most convincing theories behind the mood/diet connection is the serotonin theory (2). Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter produced in the brain, synthesis of which depends on the availability of tryptophan. It plays a role in controlling sleep, appetite, impulsiveness and in particular, mood: scientists have shown that high circulating levels of serotonin correlate with improvements in mood. Logic would therefore suggest that to improve mood, we should prioritise serotonin-containing foods in our diet such as bananas, and foods rich in tryptophan (the serotonin precursor) such as chicken and eggs. But the logic is wrong. And it’s often erroneously propagated by the authors of poorly-researched articles in the general press and certain health blogs.


In reality, it is completely unrealistic to rely on dietary sources of serotonin for this purpose inasmuch as it cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. Neither can you hope to boost your serotonin levels by eating copious amounts of tryptophan-rich foods: it’s not the amount of tryptophan that’s the issue here but the ratio between tryptophan and the other amino acids. To clarify, eating chicken will certainly increase your intake of tryptophan, but it will also increase that of all the other amino acids. This results in fierce competition between these amino acids for use of the body’s transporters. Specific to amino acids, these transporters are very important: they provide access to the body’s various tissues. Without them, tryptophan cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and is thus unable to influence serotonin synthesis.


The problem is that of all the amino acids, tryptophan is probably the least abundant in animal protein sources. While such foods may contain a reasonable amount of tryptophan, they will contain even higher levels of leucine, lysine, methionine and threonine. In competition with all these other amino acids, tryptophan therefore struggles to get access to the transporters. This is why a protein-rich diet decreases the availability of tryptophan to the brain and actually ends up reducing serotonin synthesis.


To get round this problem, it’s advisable to choose dietary sources that contain a reasonable amount of tryptophan but which are low in amino acids in general (3). And such foods are readily available: they’re the foods that most hunter-gatherers used to eat throughout the day: fruits and vegetables. Thus the entrepreneur Steve Jobs was absolutely right: there is indeed a correlation between consumption of fruit and vegetables and mood (4-9). Fruits – and even more so, vegetables – contain complex carbohydrates which gradually raise blood sugar levels. This sharp influx of carbohydrates triggers the release of the well-known hormone insulin, which in turn, encourages muscle tissues to take up the amino acids circulating in the blood vessels. But they make an exception with tryptophan which, with its competitors ‘out of the frame’, is free to bind to the transporters.


This well-substantiated theory is consistent with the observations of scientists and the results of clinical trials conducted over recent years. Researchers have noted that eating large amounts of foods high in complex carbohydrates and low in protein helps improve mood, particularly in people suffering from chronic stress, seasonal blues, low mood, and obvious depression. In a study of young adults in New Zealand, researchers found that a diet high in fruit and vegetables made the participants calmer, happier and in better shape in their daily life (10). The study lasted 21 days: each evening, the subjects were asked to record their state of mind in a journal with the aid of a grid of positive and negative adjectives. The researchers then identified relationships between the participants’ mood and the foods they had eaten during the day. How did they know whether the subjects had eaten fruits and vegetables because they felt happy or whether eating those foods had made them happy? In other words, which came first? To be certain, the scientists cross-referenced the data and found that the volunteers’ mood tended to improve the day after they had eaten meals high in fruit and vegetables. The foods had therefore caused the improvement in their mood and had triggered a virtuous circle.


Note: it’s important not to confuse complex carbohydrates with simple carbohydrates! Foods high in simple carbs such as refined cereals, white rice, sweet biscuits or fruit juices, trigger a sudden glycaemic response which is always accompanied by a spike in adrenaline (11), known as the ‘stress hormone’. In the long term, eating such foods leads to a worse response to stress and a deterioration in mood.


The best tryptophan-rich fruits and vegetables to eat in order to improve your mood are:

  1. Cooked soya beans (85g) 0.13 g
  2. Cooked white beans (65g) 0.048 g
  3. Avocado (140g) 0.035g
  4. Cooked spinach (85g) 0.034 g
  5. Fresh peas 0.031g
  6. Broccoli (85g) 0.029g
  7. Fresh asparagus (85g) 0.025 g
  8. Raw sprouted mung beans (65g) 0.024g
  9. Brussels sprouts (85g) 0.024g
  10. Kiwi (140 g) 0.021g
  11. Mushrooms (85g) 0.02 g
  12. Kale (85g) 0.02g

Other tips to stimulate serotonin production:


  • Reduce your consumption of caffeinated drinks: caffeine inhibits serotonin.
  • Take a tryptophan supplement.
  • Exercise regularly – it increases the availability of tryptophan.
  • Make sure you get daily exposure to natural light: the sun’s rays promote serotonin synthesis.
  • Try to lower your stress levels: periods of chronic stress reduce tryptophan reserves and disrupt serotonin production.

The anti-inflammatory theory: how eating oily fish improves your state of mind

The second theory is based on the role played by omega-3 fatty acids in the body: this is the anti-inflammatory theory. It’s well-established that these valuable fatty acids are able to prevent cardiovascular disease due to their anti-inflammatory properties (12). What is less well-known is that they also have a beneficial effect on mental health (13-15). Researchers have demonstrated a link between low levels of omega-3 fatty acids and mood disorders, including depression and risk of suicide (16-18).


Some years ago, scientists studying the positive effects of omega-3 in lowering cardiovascular risk noticed that participants also benefited from elevated mood. Researchers later realised that mood problems and cardiovascular diseases shared certain pathophysiological mechanisms, in particular, abnormally high production of pro-inflammatory cytokines and critical homocysteine plasma levels (19). But there are other explanations for these observations. We also know that omega-3 fatty acids, including ALA, EPA and DHA, play an active role in the structure of brain cell membranes. When intake of these fatty acids is too low (which is most of the time nowadays), we see changes in brain development, impaired composition of nerve endings, and physiological, neurosensory and behavioural irregularities. Studies on experimental models have shown that a lack of omega-3 leads to cognitive deficiencies, particularly learning (20-22), and abnormal metabolism of certain neurotransmitters involved in mood (23-24) (especially melatonin). These deficiencies can be corrected through diet or appropriate supplementation (25).


A number of studies support this hypothesis. In a cohort of 4644 New Zealand subjects aged 15+, personal perception of improved mental and physical state was found to be proportional to consumption of fish, and thus omega-3 fatty acids, which are therefore considered to be mood-stabilisers (26). Research also shows omega-3 concentrations in red blood cell membranes to be low in depressed individuals, while other studies confirm the efficacy of DHA for mild depression (27), post-partum depression (28), and winter depression (29), with measurable morphological changes (30) (decreased volume of lateral ventricles).


According to one Australian study author (31), it is therefore possible to improve your mood by regularly including omega-3 fatty acids in your diet, particularly at breakfast.


Plant sources (1.5g ALA)

  • Half a teaspoon of linseed oil.
  • 2 teaspoons of ground linseeds.
  • 2 teaspoons of chia seeds.
  • 1 tablespoon of rapeseed oil.
  • a handful of walnuts.
  • 1 tablespoon of soybean oil.
  • 10g hemp seeds

Marine sources (1.5g of EPA + DHA)

  • 50g of mackerel.
  • 70g of salmon.
  • 80g of herring ????.
  • 130g of tuna.
  • 130g of sardines.
  • 200g of bass.

As eating more than two portions of oily fish a week is not recommended, omega-3 supplements (natural-source EPA and DHA) offer a useful alternative for obtaining a regular amount of omega-3 every day.

Note: make sure you reduce your intake of omega-6 if you’re consuming omega-3. In excess, omega 6 fatty acids can counteract the beneficial effects of omega-3 by monopolising the enzymes required for their metabolism. The richest sources of omega-6 are primarily processed foods and certain oils (safflower oil, grapeseed oil, sesame oil, sunflower oil and corn oil).

Other tips for improving mood and creativity

Omega-3 and tryptophan are excellent options for rapidly and durably improving your mood. But scientists have also discovered additional – and complementary – ways of doing this.

Nowadays, we tend to rush to our smartphones as soon as we have a free moment, but in so doing so, we deprive the brain of rest. We mistakenly regard such moments as useless but they’re actually valuable ‘archiving’ time. When we are doing nothing, we are in fact processing information. That’s when we have our most creative ideas.” Theo Compernolle, neuropsychiatrist.

  • Establish a virtuous circle: people in a good mood tend to choose more nutritious food, and the reverse is equally true (32-33). In other words, the hardest part is getting started!
  • Give free rein to your thoughts: when we’re too busy, stressed or anxious, the frontal cortex becomes over-activated and is not good at performing creative tasks. In contrast, daydreaming produces an increase in the theta waves associated with creativity and our mood improves.
  • Eat mindfully: rooted in Buddhist philosophy, mindfulness encourages you to slow down when you’re eating, to pay attention to colour, texture, and aroma, to chew slowly and be aware of the sensations produced by the food.
  • Focus on getting good quality sleep: research has shown that the more often you wake up in the night, the more likely you are to be in a bad mood the following day. It is not always the quantity of sleep that counts but the quality, particularly that of the deep sleep phase.
  • Take care of your gut flora: you can improve your gut flora by consuming dietary fibre and taking certain probiotics. This not only helps to reduce systemic inflammation in the body but also improves mood! This is actually one of the most exciting discoveries of the last few years: gut bacteria are able to communicate with the brain via the vagus nerve (this is called the microbiome-gut-brain axis) (34-35). Even more amazingly they can produce neurotransmitters identical to those found in the brain, particularly serotonin (36). Offering the full benefits of these effects, a probiotic formulation based on the latest advances in neuroscience has recently been developed: it is called Lactoxira and contains seven strains of bacteria selected on the basis of clinical trials on mood and gut flora

You should give up bad moods whatever your age”, declared the writer Jean-Edern Hallier. Wise words indeed, particularly as the latest research shows that being in a bad mood gradually damages the immune system (34), which we already know declines with age …



Certain individuals may benefit from re-reading this article:

  • those who often experience bad moods;
  • those who suffer frequent mood swings;
  • those who want to rediscover desire and motivation on waking;
  • those who are looking to improve their daily life through diet.

Key points to take away:

  • Fruits and vegetables rich in tryptophan improve mood.
  • Omega-3 fatty acids support optimal synthesis of the neurotransmitters involved in mood.
  • Being in a bad mood negatively affects the immune system.

References

  1. Prasad, C. (1998). Food, mood and health: a neurobiological outlook. Brazilian Journal of Medical and Biological Research, 31(12), 1517–1527.
  2. Hopf, S. M. (2013). You are what you eat: How food affects your mood. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Retrieved from http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/you-are-what-you- eat-how-foodaffects-your-mood#.U- l88J0yUm
  3. Markus, C., Firk, C., Gerhardt, C., Kloek, J., Smolders, G., 2008. Effect of different tryptophan sources on amino acids availability to the brain and mood in healthy volunteers. Psychopharmacology 201, 107–114.
  4. Hopf, S. M. (2013). You are what you eat: How food affects your mood. Dartmouth Undergraduate Journal of Science. Retrieved from http://dujs.dartmouth.edu/fall-2010/you-are-what-you- eat-how-foodaffects-your-mood#.U- l88J0yUm
  5. White, B. A., Horwath, C. C., & Conner, T. S. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(4), 782–798
  6. Canli, T., Congdon, E., Todd Constable, R., Lesch, K.P., 2008. Additive effects of serotonin transporter and tryptophan hydroxylase-2 gene variation on neural correlates of affective processing. Biol. Psychol. 79, 118–125.
  7. Cools, R., Nakamura, K., Daw, N.D., 2011. Serotonin and dopamine: unifying affective, activational, and decision functions. Neuropsychopharmacology 36, 98–113.
  8. Macoveanu, J., Rowe, J.B., Hornboll, B., Elliott, R., Paulson, O.B., Knudsen, G.M., Siebner, H.R., 2012. Playing it safe but losing anyway—serotonergic signaling of negative outcomes in dorsomedial prefrontal cortex in the context of risk-aversion. Eur. Neuropsychopharmacol.
  9. Markus, C., 2008. Dietary amino acids and brain serotonin function; implications for stress-related affective changes. Neruomol. Med. 10, 247–258
  10. White, B. A., Horwath, C. C., & Conner, T. S. (2013). Many apples a day keep the blues away – Daily experiences of negative and positive affect and food consumption in young adults. British Journal of Health Psychology, 18(4), 782–798
  11. Aubrey, A. (2014). Food-mood connection: How you eat can amp up or tamp down stress. National Public Radio. Retrieved from http://www.npr.org/blogs/ thesalt/2014/07/14/329529110/food-mood-connection-how-you-eat-canamp-up-or-tamp-down-stress
  12. Grosso, G., Pajak, A., Marventano, S., Castellano, S., Galvano, F., Bucolo, C., et al. (2014). Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: A comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLOS ONE, 9(5), e96905
  13. Hennebelle, M., Champeil-Potokar, G., Lavialle, M., Vancassel S., & Denis I. (2014). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and chronic stress-induced modulations of glutamatergic neurotransmission in the hippocampus. Nutrition Review, 72(2), 99–112.
  14. Lewis, M. D., Hibbeln, J. R., Johnson, J. E., Lin, Y. H., Hyun, D. Y., & Loewke, J. D. (2011). Suicide deaths of active duty U.S. military and omega-3 fatty acid status: A case control comparison. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(12), 1585–1590
  15. Mischoulon, D. (2011). The impact of omega-3 fatty acids on depressive disorders and suicidality. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(12), 1574–1576
  16. Grosso, G., Pajak, A., Marventano, S., Castellano, S., Galvano, F., Bucolo, C., et al. (2014). Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: A comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLOS ONE, 9(5), e96905.
  17. Hennebelle, M., Champeil-Potokar, G., Lavialle, M., Vancassel S., & Denis I. (2014). Omega-3 polyunsaturated fatty acids and chronic stress-induced modulations of glutamatergic neurotransmission in the hippocampus. Nutrition Review, 72(2), 99–112
  18. Lewis, M. D., Hibbeln, J. R., Johnson, J. E., Lin, Y. H., Hyun, D. Y., & Loewke, J. D. (2011). Suicide deaths of active duty U.S. military and omega-3 fatty acid status: A case control comparison. Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 72(12), 1585–1590
  19. Grosso, G., Pajak, A., Marventano, S., Castellano, S., Galvano, F., Bucolo, C., et al. (2014). Role of omega-3 fatty acids in the treatment of depressive disorders: A comprehensive meta-analysis of randomized clinical trials. PLOS ONE, 9(5), e96905.
  20. YAMAMOTO N, OKANIWA Y, MORI S, NOMURA M, OKUYAMA H. Effects of a high-linoleate and a high-alpha-linolenate diet on the learning ability of aged rats. Evidence against an autoxidationrelated lipid peroxide theory of aging. J Gerontol 1991 ; 46 : B17-B22.
  21. SALEM N, MORIGUCHI T, GREINER RS, et al. Alterations in brain function after loss of docosahexaenoate due to dietary restriction of n-3 fatty acids. J Mol Neurosci 2001 ; 16 : 299-307.
  22. WAINWRIGHT PE. Dietary essential fatty acids and brain function : a developmental perspective on mechanisms. Proc Nutr Soc 2002 ; 61 : 61-9.
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  24. KODAS E, PAGE G, ZIMMER L, et al. Neither the density nor function of striatal dopamine transporters were influenced by chronic n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency in rodents. Neurosci Lett 2002 ; 321 : 95-9.
  25. CARRIE I, CLEMENT M, De JAVEL D, FRANCES H, BOURRE JM. Specific phospholipid fatty acid composition of brain regions in mice. Effects of n-3 polyunsaturated fatty acid deficiency and phospholipid supplementation. J Lipid Res 2000 ; 41 : 465-72.
  26. SILVERS KM, SCOTT KM. Fish consumption and self-reported physical and mental health status. Public Health Nutr 2002 ; 5 : 427-31
  27. MISCHOULON D, FAVA M. Docosahexanoic acid and omega-3 fatty acids in depression. Psychiatr Clin North Am 2000 ; 23 : 785-94
  28. CHIU CC, HUANG SY, SHEN WW, SU KP. Omega-3 fatty acids for depression in pregnancy. Am J Psychiatry 2003 ; 160 : 385.
  29. ZAOUALI-AJINA M, GHARIB A, DURAND G, et al. Dietary docosahexaenoic acid-enriched phospholipids normalize urinary melatonin excretion in adult (n-3) polyunsaturated fatty aciddeficient rats. J Nutr 1999 ; 129 : 2074-80.
  30. PURI BK, COUNSELL SJ, HAMILTON G, RICHARDSON AJ, HORROBIN DF. Eicosapentaenoic acid in treatment-resistant depression associated with symptom remission, structural brain changes and reduced neuronal phospholipid turnover. Int J Clin Pract 2001 ; 55 : 560-3.
  31. LLORENTE AM, JENSEN CL, VOIGT RG, FRALEY JK, BERRETTA MC, HEIRD WC. Effect of maternal docosahexaenoic acid supplementation on postpartum depression and information processing. Am J Obstet Gynecol 2003 ; 188 : 1348-53.
  32. Macht, M. (2008). How emotions affect eating: A five-way model. Appetite, 50, 1e11.
  33. Gardner, M. P., Wansink, B., Kim, J., & Park, S. (2014). Better moods for better eating?: How mood influences food choice. Journal of Consumer Psychology, 24, 320e335.
  34. Dash S, Clarke G, Berk M, et al: The gut microbiome and diet in psychiatry: focus on depression. Curr Opin Psychiatry 2015; 28:1–6
  35. Wang, H., Lee, I. S., Braun, C., & Enck, P. (2016, October). Effect of probiotics on central nervous system functions in animals and humans: A systematic review. Journal of Neurogastroenterology and Motility, 22(4), 589–605. doi:10.5056/jnm16018
  36. Desbonnet L., Garrett L., Clarke G., Bienenstock J., Dinan T.G. The probiotic Bifidobacteria infantis: An assessment of potential antidepressant properties in the rat. J. Psychiatr. Res. 2008;43:164–174. doi: 10.1016/j.jpsychires.2008.03.009.
  37. Natural amines inhibit activation of human plasmacytoid dendritic cells through CXCR4 engagement, Nikaïa Smith, Nicolas Pietrancosta, Sophia Davidson et al. Nature Communications, 2017 Feb 9 ;8:14253. doi : 10.1038/ncomms14253
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