UN­DER­STAND­ING NEU­RO­TRANS­MIT­TERS

There are nu­mer­ous neu­ro­trans­mit­ters (NTs) send­ing mes­sages in the body that con­trol mood. Here are the four ma­jor NTs and how they af­fect you.

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SERO­TONIN:

Calm­ing. Sero­tonin helps con­trol mood, ap­petite and sleep. Peo­ple who suf­fer from de­pres­sion of­ten have lower lev­els of sero­tonin. Nine­ty­five per­cent of your body’s sero­tonin is pro­duced by your gut bac­te­ria. Sero­tonin is made from the amino acid tryp­to­phan, found in chicken, tur­key and eggs. To con­vert tryp­to­phan to sero­tonin, you need iron (from meat and leafy green veg­eta­bles), zinc (from lamb, pump­kin seeds and chick­peas), vi­ta­min B3 (from tur­key, chicken, peanuts and tuna), vi­ta­min B6 (from tur­key, beef, tuna and sweet pota­toes) and vi­ta­min C (from citrus and bell pep­pers).

NOREPINEPHRINE (NE):

Alert­ness, con­cen­tra­tion, mo­ti­va­tion; helps con­vert mem­o­ries to long-term stor­age. Low lev­els of norepinephrine are associated with de­pres­sion. It is made from ty­ro­sine, which gets con­verted to dopamine and then to NE. Ty­ro­sine is found in dairy, ba­nanas, avo­cado, al­monds, sesame seeds, pump­kin seeds, lima beans and fish. Cop­per (from beef liver, sun­flower seeds, al­monds and lentils) and vi­ta­mins B6 and C are also im­por­tant for these con­ver­sions to take place.

DOPAMINE:

Stim­u­lat­ing, alert­ing, plea­sure rec­og­niz­ing. Dopamine is re­spon­si­ble for con­trol­ling move­ment and the flow of in­for­ma­tion to the part of the brain linked to thought and emo­tion. It is also con­nected to the brain’s re­ward sys­tems. Many foods and drugs, as well as thrilling ex­pe­ri­ences, stim­u­late the re­lease of dopamine, which gives you a eu­phoric feel­ing. When dopamine lev­els fall, the urge to seek out more of the same food or be­hav­ior spikes in an ef­fort to keep the level of dopamine high. Dopamine is made from the amino acid ty­ro­sine with the help of magnesium (from leafy green veg­eta­bles, pump­kin seeds, al­monds, yo­gurt and ke­fir), fo­late (from leafy green veg­eta­bles, as­para­gus and avo­cado), vi­ta­min B6 and zinc. Dopamine is eas­ily ox­i­dized, so eat plenty of an­tiox­i­dant foods to help pro­tect your dopamine-us­ing neu­rons.

Gamma-aminobu­tyric Acid (GABA):

Calm­ing, fo­cus. Too lit­tle GABA is linked to anx­i­ety dis­or­ders. Glu­tamine is the pri­mary build­ing block of GABA and can be found in hal­ibut, legumes, brown rice and spinach. Vi­ta­mins B3, B6 and B12 (from sar­dines, beef and tuna) help glu­tamine con­vert to GABA. Green tea is rich in L-thea­nine, an amino acid that in­creases GABA ac­tiv­ity.

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