We all know that a balanced life that combines regular exercise, a healthy diet (and the odd indulgence!) promotes a happy body and a happy mind. Research has also shown that there are specific nutrients that are particularly good at boosting our mental state including omega 3's, selenium, vitamin D, folic acid and magnesium. However a more recent study has found that dietary patterns that lift mood in younger adults appears to be different to those in older adults.
If you're over 30 eat more antioxidants!
The study, published in the journal Nutritional Neuroscience, suggests that the mood of young adults (18-29 yrs old) is influenced by both diet and lifestyle factors that increase certain neurotransmitter precursors in the brain. Scientists suggests that a diet high in meat and regular exercise could be responsible for this.
In adults over 30 yrs old, the crucial factors in determining mood were the availability of antioxidants and the avoidance of foods that stimulate the sympathetic nervous system (sympathetic nervous system activates what is often termed the fight or flight response). This includes coffee, high glycaemic index carbohydrates and skipping breakfast.
The author of the paper, an assistant professor of health and wellness at the State University of New York, wrote:
"One of the major findings of this paper is that diet and dietary practices deferentially affect mental health in young adults versus mature adults"
"Another noteworthy finding is that young adult mood appears to be sensitive to build-up of brain chemicals, Regular consumption of meat leads to build-up of two brain chemicals (serotonin and dopamine) known to promote mood. Regular exercise lads to build-up of these and other neurotransmitters as well."
"In other words, young adult mood seems to be more sensitive to regular consumption of sources of antioxidants and abstinence of that appropriately activates the innate fight or flight response (commonly known as the stress response), With ageing, there is an increase in free radical formation (oxidants) so our need for antioxidants increases."
"Free radicals cause disturbances in the brain, which increases the risk for mental distress. Also, our ability to regulate stress decreases, so if we consume food that activates the stress response (such as coffee and too much carbohydrates), we are more likely to experience mental distress."
The scientists propose the reason for the age dependent response to difference types of diet might be explained by the maturity of the brain. Dietary factors alter brain chemistry and because the brain may not fully mature until the age of 30 it might explain how they influence mental health differently in these two populations.
Foods rich in antioxidants
You could try including the following antioxidant rich food into your diet or include a convenient supplement in your daily regime.
- Dark chocolate
- Pecan nuts
- Goji berries