Whether you feel angry, depressed, or even madly in love you can thank for that the most powerful pharmacologist in the universe – your brain. In the previous post “When Foods Attack – Can Your Dinner Make you Angry” I shared with you some diet items to avoid if you are trying to cope with anger issues.
Your wisdom would be incomplete if you weren’t aware of one simple fact – there are foods that can actually cool your temper and even make you happier. If you ever experimented with any of the night club scene pills or read neuro-science literature then you may already be familiar with a naturally occurring happy drug in our bodies – the almighty father of all bliss – serotonin.
Happiness has always been the true antidote for misery but what’s super interesting is that a recent study from Britain’s Cambridge University found that when serotonin levels are low, it may be more difficult for the brain to control emotional responses to anger:
The research revealed that low brain serotonin made communications between specific brain regions of the emotional limbic system of the brain (a structure called the amygdala) and the frontal lobes weaker compared to those present under normal levels of serotonin. The findings suggest that when serotonin levels are low, it may be more difficult for the prefrontal cortex to control emotional responses to anger that are generated within the amygdala.
Basically what this means is that a prolonged stress, poor diet and certain stimulants (caffeine, refined carbohydrates, chocolate, alcohol, street drugs or diet pills, tobacco) lower serotonin levels and inhibit our abilities to control our emotions. On the other hand, anything that actually increases our serotonin levels will brings us closer to our goal of self-mastery.
What’s on the Anger Free Menu?
Mirror, mirror on the wall, where in hell do we get as much serotonin as possible?! The secret answer (that is not a secret) is fish baby! Lots of fatty fish and everything else that is rich in Omega 3s and 6s (essential fatty acids). There’s plenty of proof from the gurus too: Dr. Barry Sears writes in “Diet, Stress, & Emotions: The Mind-Body-Diet Connection” that one key for controlling runaway emotions is to increase fish oil in the diet. Stephen Mihm, from the University of Georgia says that a diet rich in Omega-3 decreases violence. In Mihm’s article, “Fish Is Anger Management Food,” he claims that Omega-3 fatty acids encourages neuron growth in the frontal lobe, which is the part of the brain that manages impulsive behaviors like anger.
When you hear Omega 3′s think fish oils in mackerel, salmon, sardine, tuna; walnut oil, flax oil and when you hear Omega 6′s, think canola oil, chicken, eggs, flax, grape seed oil, safflower oil, sunflower oil, turkey, wheat germ oil.
Besides the healthy fats, other diet choices that help with serotonin production include foods high in B-vitamins (brown rice, chicken, corn ,eggs, green leafs, legumes, meat, nuts, peas, sunflower seeds, nutritional yeast), Calcium (almonds, brewer’s yeast, green leafs and cruciferous vegetables, fish with bones, sesame seeds, tofu), Magnesium (green leafs, brown rice, sesame seeds, shrimp, salmon) and Tryptophan (turkey, soy foods, peanuts, almonds).
Basically, you are aiming for Mediterranean style diet – lots of vegetables, fruits, fish, nuts, whole grains and olive oil. According to the recent study on foods that have a positive impact on our moods:
Spanish scientists from the Universities of Las Palmas and Navarra studied a group of 10,094 individuals over four years, and found that those who followed a classic Mediterranean diet were 30 per cent less likely to develop depression. Researchers from University College, London, who studied 3,486 civil servants over five years, also came up with exactly the same figure: Mediterranean-style eaters were 30 per cent less likely to develop depression. It is thought that while different aspects of the diet may have specific benefits, it may be the combined effect that has a big impact on mood.
Anger Buster? Exercise is King
To further enhance your anger management skills make sure to add some basic aerobic exercise to your routine. A moderate aerobic exercise done just 30 minutes a day, three times a week, can reduce or eliminate symptoms of mild-to-moderate depression and can help with severe depression. According to the Deepak Chopra:
It’s well known that exercise stimulates the release of endorphins, the “feel-good” chemicals (which function as neurotransmitters). Less well known is the startling effect of exercise on the structure of your brain. Exercise stimulates the creation of new nerve cells in the hippocampus, your brain’s center of learning and memory, so that it actually increases in size. This is especially relevant because depression, unless countered with effective therapy, causes the hippocampus to shrink in size. Exercise has also been shown to raise levels of serotonin and norepinephrine and to multiply the number of dendrite connections in neurons.
Interestingly enough, a recent scientific paper even suggests that there’s a link between serotonin levels and how one perceives fairness. “This research might shed light on the possible role of serotonin in the perceived “unfairness” and anger we often see accompanying depression.”
Obviously eating happy foods is not a total solution to one’s anger issues but if you’ve been reading this blog then you know my mantra - use your body to help the mind and use your mind to help the body. Anger free mind is a happy mind, if foods can help, then why not?