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A Neuroscientist Explains How Diet Can Influence Mood, Behavior and More

What we eat matters, and having just the right amount of essential nutrients is key to our overall health.

During the lengthy seafaring voyages of the 15th and 16th centuries, a period that is known as the Age of Discovery, sailors experienced visions of sublime foods and verdant fields. The discovery that these were nothing more than hallucinations after months at sea was excruciating. While some sailors wept in longing, others threw themselves overboard.

It was suspected that the cure for these harrowing mirages would be a concoction of complex chemicals. However, it turned out that the antidote was quite simple: lemon juice. These sailors suffered from scurvy, a disease caused by vitamin C deficiency, Vitamin C is an essential micronutrient that people acquire from eating fruits and vegetables.

Vitamin C is important for the production and release of neurotransmitters, the chemical messengers used by the brain. Without it, brain cells do not communicate effectively with one another, which can lead to hallucinations.

As this famous example of early explorers illustrates, there is a close connection between food and the brain, one that scientists like myself are working to unravel. As a scientist who studies the neuroscience of nutrition at the University of Michigan, I am primarily interested in how components of food and their breakdown products can modify the genetic instructions that control our physiology.

Beyond that, another goal of my research is understanding how food can influence our thoughts, moods, and behaviors. While we can’t yet prevent or treat brain conditions with diet, scientists such as myself are learning a great deal about the role that nutrition plays in the everyday brain processes that make us who we are.

Perhaps not surprisingly, a delicate balance of nutrients is key for brain health: Deficiencies or excesses in vitamins, sugars, fats, and amino acids<div class="cell text-container large-6 small-order-0 large-order-1">
<div class="text-wrapper"><br />Amino acids are a set of organic compounds used to build proteins. There are about 500 naturally occurring known amino acids, though only 20 appear in the genetic code. Proteins consist of one or more chains of amino acids called polypeptides. The sequence of the amino acid chain causes the polypeptide to fold into a shape that is biologically active. The amino acid sequences of proteins are encoded in the genes. Nine proteinogenic amino acids are called "essential" for humans because they cannot be produced from other compounds by the human body and so must be taken in as food.<br /></div>
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can influence brain and behavior in either beneficial or detrimental ways.

Source: SciTechDaily