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Brain Foods and Tryptophan

This month’s Brain Food is L-tryptophan (tryptophan).

BRAIN FOODS is an ongoing educational tool for integrative and holistic resources for mental well-being. This tool is designed to share research on how food and holistic lifestyle practices have the potential to boost your mood, combat fatigue and insomnia, reduce your stress, and improve your memory and concentration.

BRAIN FOODS has explored topics such as the impact of gut health on your mental health and how dietary deficiencies in omega-3 fatty acids can increase depression, anxiety and an ability to handle stress. No single post in this series is intended to be viewed in isolation or to provide direct medical advice, rather the series covers a wide variety of non-pharmaceutical approaches designed to educate you on a wide-variety of factors that may contribute to mental health.

Brain Foods and Tryptophan

 What is L- Tryptophan?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is a precursor to the brain neurotransmitter serotonin, which regulates mood. It is an essential amino acid because the body can't make it on its own; it must be acquired via food or supplementation. The synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan is a two-step process with the rate of serotonin synthesis dependent on tryptophan concentrations in the brain (source).

Low-levels of tryptophan can reduce serotonin production in the brain and can lead to depression, anxiety, insomnia, and poor memory and concentration.

mental health tryptophan

Tryptophan, Mood, and Anxiety

Several studies have consistently shown depressed individuals may have depleted tryptophan levels (source). In a meta-analysis of studies from 1966 through 2006, tryptophan depletion showed decreased mood states in participants with major depressive disorders, a family history of depressive disorders, or with major depressive disorders in remission (source). In another study, there was significant improvement in the mood states of individuals who had experienced depression and received a product containing tryptophan compared to those who received the placebo (source).

Other research has examined the effects of low-levels of tryptophan on anxiety and stress levels. One such study exposed 15 healthy adults to a stressful environment twice — once when they had normal tryptophan blood levels and once when they had low levels (source). The researchers found that anxiety, tension and feelings of nervousness were higher when the participants had low tryptophan levels.

It can be difficult to change plasma tryptophan levels through diet alone; therefore, most studies have focused on tryptophan supplementation. However, one study of 25 healthy young adults found that participants’ mood indicated significantly more positive affect scores after consuming a high tryptophan diet as compared to a low tryptophan diet (source). The same study found that consuming more dietary tryptophan resulted in less depressive symptoms and decreased anxiety.

 Tryptophan and Sleep

Research also shows that tryptophan plays are role in improving sleep. One study found that increasing tryptophan in the blood directly increases both serotonin and melatonin (source).

Another study found that a tryptophan-rich breakfast combined with daytime light exposure improved melatonin secretion and sleep quality (source).

Review of Existing Research

For the purpose on this blog post, mostly due to length, I’ve chosen to highlight a number positive study outcomes in both supplementation and increased dietary intake of tryptophan as this data is important. The findings here however are not an exhaustive view of all available research data. Current research results on tryptophan’s role in improving mental health are mixed. Research is more conclusive in the impact tryptophan depletion has on mood; yet, produces mixed results on how to improve tryptophan level, with most studies showing positive results with supplementation.

Foods containing the amino acid tryptophan are whole, unprocessed foods; and the general population is typically encouraged to consume these foods as a part of a healthy, well-rounded diet. For this reason (as well as some positive study outcomes on dietary interventions as noted above), I’ve chosen to highlight foods that contain tryptophan along with supplementation options.

tryptophan and mood, anxiety and depression

Sources of Tryptophan

Turkey likely comes to mind first when you think of tryptophan, but this brain nutrient also can be consumed via other food sources along with supplements. Quality sources of tryptophan include:

Spinach

Dark green leafy vegetables, such as spinach, are a source of tryptophan.
Spinach is also a good source of iron. Iron helps the body to make healthy red blood cells. A lack of iron in the diet can lead to anemia, low energy, or difficulty breathing (source).

Poultry

Poultry is one of the best sources. A serving of poultry is also a rich source of complete protein, supplying about half your recommended daily intake. No matter what type of poultry you like to eat, you’ll get 250 to 310 milligrams of tryptophan in a 3-ounce serving (source).

Supplementation

The Terra Origin Sleep supplement contains a mix of powerful and effective herbs and ancient remedies to prepare your system for deep, restorative sleep. Key ingredients including L-tryptophan, passionflower, chamomile, melatonin and GABA to promote relaxation and higher sleep quality. Terra Origin products are inspired by the ancient practice of Ayurveda, are scientifically supported and do not contain any empty fillers or confusing preservatives.

While developing good sleep hygiene is important for ongoing quality sleep, I personally tested this product during finals last semester as a way to reduce stress and ensure I was getting a good night’s sleep during a short-term busy time period. I loved how I could use this product intermittently during a short-term high stress period to get a restful night sleep without feeling groggy the next day.

Seaweed

Veggies like kelp, seaweed, and spirulina are all good sources of tryptophan, that ever-essential amino acid. These veggies contain about 3 percent of daily tryptophan value (source).

Thank You Terra Origin for sponsoring this post and thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible. As always, opinions are my own. 

An important message 
The entire Brain Food Series is designed to be a guide, to share educational information that empowers you in your own wellness journey. The information in this series in not designed to take the place of a medical doctor and nor is this series designed for you to act on every single topic I share each month. Some topics may be more relevant for you than others. Lastly, the field of nutrition and nutritional psychiatry are a rapidly evolving fields, with research updated frequently.

All information is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider. Readers should consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.
Omega-3 fatty acids recipes

From salmon to walnuts, hemp and ghee, here are two recipes that are rich with Omega-3 fatty acids and brain boosting powers. Both recipes are gluten-free and lactose-free. Skip to the recipe.

Omega-3s are polyunsaturated fatty acids your body needs to function and are some of the most well research nutrients when it comes to foods linked to better brainpower.

Omega 3 salmon Recipe

Just about everyone could benefit from eating more of omega-3s as they’re thought to reduce the risk of heart disease, fight inflammation, and lessen symptoms of depression. More specifically when it comes to mental health, omega-3 fatty acids play important roles in brain function and development. Low levels of omega-3 fatty acids have been linked to depression, anxiety, memory loss, inability to handle stress and even suicide. You can read more about how omega-3 fatty acids can boost your mood, calm your mind and improve your focus in my previous BRAIN FOODS post here.

Omega 3 walnut butter cups

For the most part, we can only get this essential nutrient through food. Omega-3 fats are found in fatty fish like salmon, tuna and sardines. You can also find them in plant foods like flaxseeds, walnuts, hemp seeds and ghee.

walnuts omega 3's

Add omega-3 fatty acids to your diet with these two delicious recipes to give your overall health and mood a boost.

Read more BRAIN FOODS here.

Brain Boosting Omega-3 Recipes

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lemon walnut crusted gluten free salmon

Lemon Walnut Hemp Crusted Salmon

  • Author: Kerri Axelrod
  • Prep Time: 15 minutes
  • Cook Time: 15 minutes
  • Total Time: 30 minutes
  • Yield: 2 servings 1x
  • Category: Dinner

Description

This recipe is healthy, nourishing and incredibly easy to make. It is gluten and lactose free and packed with omega-3 rich foods including walnuts, hemp hearts, ghee and salmon for brain boosting power.


Ingredients

Scale

2 tbls Manitoba Hemp Hearts
3 tbls walnuts
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
1 lemon, halved
1 6-ounce wild caught salmon (discount code “KAMA19” at check out for $25 off your Sitka Salmon Shares order- good through 5/31/2019)
3 tsp Bulletproof ghee, divided


Instructions

1.) Pre-heat oven to 400 degrees and pulse walnuts in a food processor until finely ground
2.) In a small bowl combine pulsed walnuts, hemp hearts and salt and pepper
3.) Place the salmon on a piece of parchment paper and squeeze half a lemon over the top; melt 1 tsp ghee and drizzle on top
4.) Sprinkle the hemp hearts and walnut mixture onto the salmon and press it down to form a crust
5.) In a cast-iron skillet, melt about 2 tsp ghee; add skin-on salmon fillet with the skin side down
6.) Cook for 3 minutes over high heat to brown the skin, spooning some of the melted ghee over the top of the fish as it cooks
7.) Transfer the pan to oven; roast until fish is just cooked through (approximately 8 to 10 minutes)



Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 3 ounces

Keywords: omega-3, salmon, hemp seeds, walnuts

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Omega-3 rich walnut butter cup recipe

Brain Boosting Walnut Butter Cups

  • Author: Kerri Axelrod
  • Prep Time: 20 minutes
  • Cook Time: 30 minutes
  • Total Time: 50 minutes
  • Yield: 15 (approx) 1x
  • Category: Dessert

Description

A healthier take on a peanut butter cup, these dairy-free and gluten-free homemade dark chocolate walnut butter cups are quick, easy, delicious, and full of brain boosting ingredients including omega-3 fatty acids and Bulletproof Brain Octane.


Ingredients

Scale

3 tbls Bulletproof Brain Octane oil
1 ¼  cup walnut butter (note: only use 100% nut butter; do not use a product that contains palm oil or it will not freeze properly)
1 tbls coconut sugar
¼ cup walnuts, chopped
7 oz unsweetened dairy-free, sugar-free baking chocolate
1 tbls Manitoba Harvest Hemp Hearts
Frozen pitted cherries, defrosted
Pinch of sea salt


Instructions

1.) Line 24-cup mini muffin tin
2.) In a bowl mix, 2 tbls of Bulletproof Brain Octane , coconut sugar, walnut butter and walnuts
3.) Spoon mixture into muffin tin, filling approximately ½ to ¾ of each cup; use a knife to even out the top
4.) Melt chocolate and add 1 tbls of Bulletproof Brain Octane  in a saucepan on very low until just melted; continually stir (be mindful not to burn the chocolate)
5.) Spoon melted chocolate over walnut butter mixture.
6.) Top each cup with Manitoba Harvest Hemp Seeds, cherry and sea salt
7.) Chill in the freezer for about 30 minutes to set; store in freezer



Nutrition

  • Serving Size: 1

Keywords: omega-3 fatty acids, MCT oil, hemp seeds, walnuts, Bulletproof, Brain Octane

Thank You to BulletProof, Manitoba Harvest and California Walnuts for sponsoring this post and thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible. As always, opinions are my own.

Kerri Axelrod omega 3 fatty acids and brain health

This month’s Brain Food is omega-3 fatty acids. Research shows that the majority of Americans are deficient in Omega-3 fatty acids. This deficiency has been link to mood disorders such as depression, anxiety and even suicide. 

If you’re new to Brain Foods, read the first installment in the series that breaks down how your gut health can affect your brain health: part 1 and part 2. I recommend reading these two posts first before diving into this month’s feature.

What are omega-3 fatty acids?

Omega-3 fatty acids are a family of essential fatty acids that play an important role in your health. There are three main types of omega-3 fatty acids: alpha-linolenic acid (ALA), eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

ALA is found mainly in plant sources such as nuts and seeds like walnuts and hemp seeds as well as plant oils such as flaxseed. DHA and EPA are found in oily fish such as salmon and mackerel as well as other seafood. Vegetarian sources of DHA and EPA include pastured eggs and grass-fed, full-fat dairy products, especially ghee (source).

ALA is an essential fatty acid—meaning that your body can’t make it on its own—so you must get it from the foods you consume. Your body can convert a small percentage of ALA into EPA and then to DHA; however, this amount is insufficient so you must also get EPA and DHA from foods to increase the levels of these omega-3 fatty acids in your body. ALA may also play a role in reducing the risk of cardiovascular disease as does marine-derived omega-3s EPA and DHA. (source).

Kerri Axelrod Brain Food Omega-3 Fatty Acids

Why are omega-3 fatty acids important your health?

Omega-3 fatty acids play a critical role in your health—effecting everything from cognitive development, Alzheimer's disease and mental illness to metabolism, immune strength, inflammatory function, pregnancy and heart disease.

Research published in the Journal of the American Heart Association of one of the largest clinical trials to date found that both plant and marine-based sources of omega-3s have complementary effects against mortality in a population with high seafood consumption. The study found that consuming omega-3s from plant-based sources may reduce the risk of all-cause mortality and marine-derived omega-3s, from fatty fish, may reduce the risk of heart-related fatalities. It’s important to note that the study found that the greatest protective effects from total mortality were observed in diets that included both plant-based and marine-derived omega-3s, as they appear to act synergistically (source). Read on below for both plant-based and marine sources of omega-3s.

Majority of Americans are currently deficient in omega-3 fatty acids

Previously, the human diet was high in omega-3 fatty acids; however, during the last 100 years, there has been a marked increase in consumption of omega-6 fatty acids (found in animal foods, refined foods and vegetable oils) and a decrease in the consumption of omega-3 fatty acids (source). Today about 90 percent of Americans are deficient in omega-3s. We’re eating too many omega-6s and not enough omega-3s (source).

Omega-6 fatty acids are an important essential fatty acid and are primarily used for energy in the body; however, one type of omega-6 fatty acid known as arachidonic acid (AA) produces the hormone eicosanoids. Too much consumption can increase inflammation in the body and inflammatory disease (source). Omega-3s and omega-6s exist in a ratio to one another. There’s a cap on the total amount of the two that the body can use, so they end up competing for space. The recommended ratio of omega-6 to omega-3 fatty acids in the diet is 4:1 or less (source); however, the Western diet has a ratio between 10:1 and 50:1 (source).

Omega 3-fatty acids and mood

There are number of studies which show that omega-3 fatty acids are proving to be effective against the treatment of depression and anxiety as well as boosting your mood and ability to handle day-to-day stress.

Research has focused on the role EPA omega-3 plays in the efficacy of reducing depression and anxiety (source).  One study found that when these patients were given a high dose of EPA (greater than 2 grams of EPA per day), there was a statistically significant reduction in both anxiety and depression compared to those receiving the placebo. The degree of anxiety reduced was highly correlated to the decrease of the ratio of AA (omega-6) to EPA in the blood (source). Additionally, other studies of individuals without clinical depression or anxiety, showed an increased intake of EPA improved their ability to handle stress and generated significant improvements in mood (source).

In another epidemiological study of over 26,000 individuals using data on walnut consumption and depression from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES), a team of scientists at the University of California, Los Angeles, found that depression scores were 26% percent lower for walnut consumers, compared to non-nut consumers (source).

It is important to note in this discussion that the data regarding the efficacy of omega-3 fatty acids in mental health is not 100 percent conclusive—as few nutritional studies provide this level of certainty. Additionally, some studies on omega-3 fatty acids and mood examined high dosage supplementation among participants rather than traditional dietary intake. As always, I recommend speaking with your doctor, or finding a nutritional psychiatrist, to discuss your individuals needs to determine if supplementation is necessary.

Kerri Axelrod Brain Food Walnuts, Salmon, Hemp Seeds Ghee

Foods containing omega 3 fatty-acids

Ghee

Ghee is an ancient ayurvedic food used for thousands of years both for cooking and herbal remedies.  Grass-fed ghee vs ghee from conventional cows is comprised of full spectrum short, medium and long chain fatty acids, both unsaturated and saturated. Ghee contains omega-3 fatty acids along with vitamins A, D, E and K. Ghee has little to no casein or lactose, meaning even very dairy-sensitive people can usually eat it and is great for cooking due to its high smoke point.  Smoke point determines how hot you can cook a fat before it oxidizes and ghee smoke point is 485°F, making it ideal for pan-frying or baking.

One of my favorite brands of Ghee is from Bulletproof. It’s naturally sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO.  Order it here.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp Hearts (or shelled hemp seeds) are a versatile seed and will add two times more protein, 70 percent more iron and 25 percent more omega-3 and omega-6 fatty acids than flax seeds.

Launching later this month as part two on Omega-3 Brains Foods, I am using Manitoba Harvest Hemp Heartsin two recipes, one sweet and one savory. These hemp hearts are also just as easy to sprinkle onto a salad, cereal, in yogurt or throw them into a smoothie. In fact, I keep a small package of these hemp hearts in my lunch bag and throw them on my salad when at school.

Salmon

The American Heart Association recommends eating fish (particularly fatty fish) at least two times (two servings) a week. Salmon contains more than 1,500 mg of omega-3 fatty acids per 3-oz serving of fish (source).

I recently tried Sitka Salmon Sharesfor wild-caught salmon after product was sent to me and I cannot say enough good things about this incredible company.  If you’re interested in trying Sitka Salmon Shares, I have a discount code to share. Use code “KAMA19” at check out for $25 off your order (good through 5/31/2019).

Walnuts

Walnuts contain 2,500 mg of ALA omega-3s per 1 ounce, which is more than any other nut. Walnuts are rich in numerous phytochemicals, including high amounts of polyunsaturated fatty acids, and offer potential benefits to brain health. Polyphenolic compounds found in walnuts not only reduce the oxidant and inflammatory load on brain cells but also improve interneuronal signaling, increase neurogenesis, and enhance sequestration of insoluble toxic protein aggregates. (source).

Mackerel

Mackerel are small, fatty fish. Mackerel are incredibly rich in nutrients — a 3.5-ounce (100-gram) serving packs 200% of the Reference Daily Intake (RDI) for vitamin B12 and 100% for selenium. There are 4,107 mg of omega-3 fatty acids in one piece of salted mackerel (source).

Thank You to BulletProof, Manitoba Harvest and California Walnuts for sponsoring this post and thank you for supporting the brands that make this blog possible. As always, opinions are my own.

An important message: The entire Brain Food Series is designed to be a guide, to share educational information that empowers you in your own wellness journey. The information in this series in not designed to take the place of a medical doctor and nor is this series designed for you to act on every single topic I share each month. Some topics may be more relevant for you than others. Lastly, the field of nutrition and nutritional psychiatry are a rapidly evolving fields, with research updated frequently.

All information is intended to motivate readers to make their own nutrition and health decisions after consulting with their health care provider. Readers should consult a doctor before making any health changes, especially any changes related to a specific diagnosis or condition. No information on this site should be relied upon to determine diet, make a medical diagnosis, or determine treatment for a medical condition. The information on this website is not intended to replace a one-on-one relationship with a qualified health care professional and is not intended as medical advice. No information on this site should be used to diagnose, treat, prevent or cure any disease or condition.