CAN NUTRI­TION CHANGE YOUR PER­SON­AL­ITY?

Re­search sug­gests it’s pos­si­ble to re­duce anger, anx­i­ety, de­pres­sion, ad­dic­tive be­hav­iors, and more with foods and sup­ple­ments

Better Nutrition - - FRONT PAGE - By Kat James

We’ve all heard the ex­pres­sion “You are what you eat.” But if emerg­ing re­search is any in­di­ca­tion, it might be more ac­cu­rate to say, “Who we are is what we eat.” It turns out, what we take in— whether food, liq­uid, or sup­ple­ment— is a fac­tor in both our mo­ment- to- mo­ment moods and even our long- term self- per­cep­tions and re­la­tion­ships with oth­ers. It can en­cour­age ( or pre­vent) the play­ing- out of in­her­ited pre­dis­po­si­tions such as mo­ti­va­tion, out­go­ing­ness, over- sen­si­tiv­ity, and com­pul­sive­ness. Be­cause nutri­tion dom­i­nates neu­ro­log­i­cal and hor­monal infl uences on the brain, it can aff ect count­less be­hav­ior pat­terns that most view as char­ac­ter- driven.

Is Your Per­son­al­ity Un­der Siege?

Life is full of emo­tional re­sponses to real cir­cum­stances. But if feel­ings or be­hav­iors such as low moods or neg­a­tive re­ac­tions to stress be­come in­creas­ingly com­mon, pro­longed, or mag­nifi ed, there may be more at play. Over time, poor nutri­tion can cause emo­tional and phys­i­cal changes that can come to defi ne your per­son­al­ity and even your suc­cess in life.

I re­mem­ber liv­ing un­der a con­stant black cloud of de­bil­i­tat­ing mood swings that started in my teens, soon af­ter I be­gan re­strict­ing calo­ries in re­sponse to weight gain at pu­berty. This led to my fi rst binge, and what I thought was purely “emo­tional eat­ing.” But no mat­ter how much progress I made with my “emo­tional trig­gers,” my de­sire to binge over­pow­ered my willpower each day for the next 12 years— un­til my liver be­gan to fail. The rea­son I’m alive to­day and have been com­pletely free of this un­healthy cy­cle of be­hav­ior for 25 years is not be­cause I fi nally mus­tered eter­nal willpower and com­pletely con­quered my past “is­sues” ( and there were many). It was con­quer­ing my bio­chem­istry by adopt­ing a diet that re­stored my in­ner peace af­ter all else failed. I now teach clients the nutri­tion pro­to­col that helped me get my life back.

You needn’t have an ad­dic­tion like mine to ex­pe­ri­ence free­dom from count­less other forms of mood and be­hav­ior “im­posters” pos­ing as who you are. Th­ese im­posters may in­clude feel­ing more chron­i­cally stressed, dis­tracted, ob­sessed, or bored than in the past, or thoughts that are more fo­cused on food, drink, drugs, shop­ping, or gam­bling for a “lift” or to re­lax or sleep. Could pre­vent­ing un­wel­come be­hav­iors be as sim­ple as chang­ing your diet and tak­ing strate­gic sup­ple­ments?

Nutri­tion and Neu­ro­chem­i­cals

Ev­ery mood— even if it’s in re­sponse to a real sit­u­a­tion— is mod­er­ated by neu­ro­trans­mit­ters in­clud­ing ep­i­neph­rine, nor­ep­i­neph­rine, sero­tonin, and dopamine. All are pro­foundly infl uenced by nutri­tion.

In the 1980s, neu­ro­sci­en­tist Ken­neth Blum and his re­search team iden­tifi ed what they called re­ward defi ciency syn­drome ( RDS). In RDS, low lev­els of “plea­sure” neu­ro­trans­mit­ters such as dopamine drive com­pul­sive be­hav­iors, de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, sleep­less­ness, and an­ti­so­cial, ad­dic­tive, and even crim­i­nal be­hav­iors — and can infl uence food, drink, and other choices. RDS is ge­net­i­cally infl uenced, but Blum’s stud­ies found that nutri­tion is also a fac­tor. Blum iden­tifi ed amino acids, B vi­ta­mins, and other nu­tri­ents that help re­store “short cir­cuits” in brain func­tion, of­ten nor­mal­iz­ing mood and cog­ni­tive is­sues, and re­liev­ing the drive to use su­gar, al­co­hol, caff eine, painkillers, or other Band- aid fi xes. It was a stroke of luck 25 years ago when I picked up the amino acid L- ty­ro­sine to help my thy­roid, along with some pro­bi­otics and fi sh oil for my eczema ( not know­ing they would also help heal my own RDS and trans­form my moods).

Su­gar and Mood

Su­gar is every­where. It’s a le­gal drug that can cre­ate life­long ad­dicts out of healthy chil­dren and cause myr­iad be­hav­ioral is­sues ( not to men­tion equally dis­tress­ing health de­cline).

Re­ac­tive hy­po­glycemia refers to the clas­sic “su­gar crash” ( low blood su­gar that oc­curs af­ter a “su­gar high”). This re­ac­tion has been cor­re­lated with low sero­tonin ( a key neu­ro­trans­mit­ter linked to well- be­ing), and shown to bring on symp­toms in­clud­ing de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety, ir­ri­tabil­ity, con­fu­sion, and ex­haus­tion.

On the more se­ri­ous end of the spec­trum, hy­po­glycemia has been linked to pho­bias, self- iso­la­tion, sui­ci­dal thoughts, rage, and vi­o­lence.

Al­co­hol can have the same eff ect. Low blood su­gar fol­low­ing al­co­hol con­sump­tion has been cor­re­lated with vi­o­lent crimes. Many ad­dicts are hy­po­glycemic. In­ter­est­ingly, when hy­po­glycemia was treated nu­tri­tion­ally in one study, 71 per­cent of al­co­holics be­came sober.

The Mi­cro­biome and Mood

The mi­cro­biome is the in­ner bac­te­rial ecosys­tem within each of us. Our bac­te­ria out­num­ber our own hu­man cells nearly ten­fold. In ad­di­tion to the well- known di­ges­tive and im­mune- sta­bi­liz­ing im­pacts of healthy gut fl ora bal­ance, we’re just be­gin­ning to un­der­stand its eff ects on mood and be­hav­ior. The Na­tional In­sti­tutes of Health’s Hu­man Mi­cro­biome Project, launched in 2007, has re­sulted in game- chang­ing fi nd­ings about bac­te­rial im­pacts on hu­man psy­chol­ogy. Most in­cred­i­bly, it was dis­cov­ered that bac­te­ria not only syn­the­size the same neu­ro­chem­i­cals that drive our thoughts and be­hav­iors, such as sero­tonin and dopamine, but they also com­mu­ni­cate with the brain via those chem­i­cals.

A re­cent fl urry of stud­ies, mostly on ro­dents, show benefi cial bac­te­ria’s ther­a­peu­tic eff ects on de­pres­sion, autism, repet­i­tive be­hav­iors, anx­i­ety, and more. One of the most fas­ci­nat­ing of th­ese stud­ies showed that calm mice that were fed fe­cally- de­rived bac­te­ria from anx­ious mice be­came anx­ious. Want to guess what hap­pened when anx­ious mice were fed bac­te­ria from calm mice? You guessed it: they turned into calm mice. A bit sur­real isn’t it?

There are al­ready pow­er­ful ther­a­pies for our mi­cro­biome on health food store

shelves— pre- and pro­bi­otics. Fer­mented foods are also a source of good bac­te­ria. In­ter­est­ingly, the bac­te­ria from sauer­kraut have been found to pro­duce the re­lax­ing neu­ro­trans­mit­ter GABA.

Even those mood- desta­bi­liz­ing blood su­gar swings can be infl uenced by our mi­cro­biome, ac­cord­ing to nutritionist Mar­tie Whit­tekin, CCN, who cites in her new book, The Pro­bi­otic Cure, that

a re­cent re­view of 12 stud­ies found that the use of mul­ti­strain pro­bi­otics may help glycemic con­trol.

The Right Kinds of Fat

Fat makes up 60 per­cent of our brains, and omega- 3 fats, choles­terol, and sat­u­rated fats are key brain builders. DHA and EPA fatty acid defi cien­cies cause brain cell com­mu­ni­ca­tion fail­ures and infl am­ma­tion,

af­fect­ing vir­tu­ally all mood dis­or­ders. Low- sat­u­rated- fat and low- choles­terol di­ets are linked with higher rates of de­pres­sion, in­fer­til­ity, and de­men­tia.

Think of this be­fore or­der­ing your next egg white omelet: choles­terol is the raw ma­te­rial, not only for the body’s pro­duc­tion of vi­ta­min D, but for our sex hor­mones, bol­ster­ing li­bido and fer­til­ity.

Another im­por­tant brain nutri­ent for mem­ory and cog­ni­tion, also found in egg yolk, is choline. So you might be crazy to keep or­der­ing egg white omelets. Lit­er­ally.

Why Lep­tin Is Key

One of the un­ex­pected side benefi ts of the low- su­gar, high- fat diet I ad­vo­cate is re­stored lep­tin sen­si­tiv­ity. The proper func­tion­ing of the hor­mone lep­tin is known to infl uence sati­ety sig­nals in the body. Per­son­ally, lep­tin bal­ance has been my great­est key to es­cap­ing my “mood and food prison.” Be­yond in­creas­ing feel­ings of sat­is­fac­tion af­ter eat­ing, lep­tin aff ects per­son­al­ity in myr­iad ways.

This hor­mone has been shown to heal dopamine path­ways ( of­ten re­solv­ing ad­dic­tion); bal­ance the sym­pa­thetic and parasym­pa­thetic ner­vous sys­tems ( restor­ing calm­ness, clear think­ing, deep sleep, and di­ges­tion); re­store thy­roid, adrenal, and sex hor­mone func­tion ( re­viv­ing en­ergy, li­bido, and count­less other hap­pi­ness-boost­ers); re­duce body- wide infl am­ma­tion ( re­duc­ing a known con­trib­u­tor to de­pres­sion as well as all kinds of pain); and ac­tu­ally grow the cere­bral cor­tex ( our self- con­trol cen­ter).

And in­ter­est­ingly, lep­tin was re­cently shown to have a di­rect infl uence on the com­po­si­tion of gut bac­te­ria.

So do I be­lieve mood and be­hav­iors— in essence, your per­son­al­ity— can re­ally be al­tered by chang­ing your diet and tak­ing cer­tain sup­ple­ments? My own trans­for­ma­tional ex­pe­ri­ence— and the ones that I have ob­served in my clients over nearly two decades— have con­vinced me that it

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