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Is the Food on Your Plate Making You Cranky?

by Dr. Krystosik

Are you feeling cranky or in the mood to pick a fight? If so, then you may be experiencing depression from a low-carb diet.  An estimated 17 million Americans suffer with depression and are taking antidepressant medications. Is it possible that these individuals need a dose of carbs instead of a dose of Prozac? Researchers at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) may have uncovered the answer. Dr. Judith Wurtman and her colleagues at MIT have discovered that carbs stimulate the production of a brain chemical called serotonin. This important brain chemical controls appetite, regulates sleep, sensitivity to pain, and keeps us happy.

Antidepressant medications regulate moods by making serotonin levels in the brain more active for longer periods of time. However, like all medications, antidepressant medications come with harmful side effects. On the other hand, carbs raise serotonin levels naturally. Wouldn't it make good sense to take advantage of the natural tranquilizing effects of carbs before grabbing a drug?

But here's the catch. In order for carbs to stimulate the production of serotonin, carbs must be eaten with little or no protein. So a meal like whole-wheat pasta or a snack like popcorn will raise serotonin levels. However, a plate of pasta and meatballs, or even worse, a low-carb meal like bacon and eggs will actually block the production of serotonin. Isn't that surprising! Remember, low-carb = low serotonin levels.

No wonder even the positive research studies on the Atkins diet revealed that a significant percentage of Atkins dieters experience irritability and depression while on the diet. Dr. Wurtman, as well as other researchers at several major universities, found that low levels of serotonin in the brain is directly linked to depression. According to Dr. Wurtman, "When you take away the carbohydrates, it's like taking away water from someone hiking in the desert."

On the other hand, when you provide the body with the right carbs, such as whole grain breads and cereals, beans and legumes, they will not only make you happy, they'll also help you lose weight.  "You have to feed more than your stomach," Wurtman says. "You have to feed your muscles and your brain. To do that, you should eat the way nature intended you to...healthy complex carbohydrates. Why? Well for one reason healthy carbs will curb your appetite." Dr. Wurtman explains, "When serotonin is made and becomes active in your brain, its effect on your appetite is to make you feel full before your stomach is stuffed and stretched."

Now for the take home message. Our bodies not only require carbs for fuel, it also needs carbs to keep us trim and happy. Obviously, restricting carbs is not a good idea, especially if you’re a female. Researchers have found that restricting carbs may have a greater negative impact on women than men. Apparently, women have much lower serotonin levels in the brain. So the next time you’re on edge and crave a piece of bread or a plate of pasta, you may not need more will power. Instead, your body may be giving you a signal that you need to snack on a good carb. I want to put an emphasis on the word "good." Make sure you reach for a plate of 100% whole-wheat pasta or a piece of 100% whole wheat bread.

White pasta made with refined wheat flour or white bread made with refined flour act just like white sugar inside the body. These carbs from hell are problematic; they send your blood sugar soaring off the chart, only to come crashing down within an hour. Next, you become ravenous and often cranky while searching for another quick fix with more high-calorie, nutrient-poor refined carbs. To prevent that, make sure you reach for whole grain carbs, like whole-wheat pasta or whole wheat bread. But make sure you hold the meatballs or the lunch meat. Instead top your pasta with marinara sauce or your bread with a 100% fruit jelly. Remember, serotonin = carbs - protein.

In addition, don’t try taking yourself off Prozac or any other antidepressant medication without first consulting your physician. Before your next doctor’s appointment, pick up a copy of the book Potatoes not Prozac, by Kathleen DesMaisons PhD., and show it to your doctor. I'm "Dr. Good Carb," and I'm here to help you make informed health care choices.

Food and Drug Administration, FDA Consumer Magazine, (July-
August, 1998)
Lieberman H., Wurtman J. Chew B. (1986). Changes in mood after carbohydrate consumption among obese individuals.

American Journal of Clinical Nutrition,
-- Dr. James D. Krystosik

Dr. James Krystosik
Northfield Chiropractor | The Other Side of Medicine Health Center | 440-519-1766
163 E. Aurora Road
Northfield, OH 44067

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