CAN NUTRITION CHANGE YOUR PERSONALITY?
Research suggests it’s possible to reduce anger, anxiety, depression, addictive behaviors, and more with foods and supplements
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