Saturday, 3 September 2011

foods to optimise recovery

At the recent ANZAED conference a gp from Queensland named Leanne Barron gave a very interesting presentation on how she uses a basic explanation of the serotonin synthesis pathway to help eating disorder patients 'justify' making basic food choices. She has found that this kind of advice can motivate patients to incorporate essential nutrients into their meal plans.

Interestingly my own dietician (who was also at the conference) did not particularly like this idea.

She felt that it was placing a skewed emphasis on the role of food: that we should 'only' eat it for specific nutrients. And not because we like it or want it.

I can see her point. But then I can also see mine! I majored in biochemistry. This is right up my alley. And at this point in my recovery I find making food choices very difficult and if this understanding can motivate me, because I can intellectually see how it will make me feel better, then great! The rest can come later.

So here's the info - and you can take it or leave it, depending on your way of thinking.

At each stage of the synthesis pathway she identified particular foods which are high in that chemical:
Tryptophan: turkey, peas, warm milk

Nutrients that facilitate the conversion of tryptophan to 5HT: iron (red meat, eggs), calcium (dairy, salmon with bones), folic acid (leafy green vegetables)

* the transport of tryptophan across the blood brain barrier also requires carbohydrate*

Nutrients that facilitate conversion of 5HT to serotonin: zinc (oysters, pumpkin seeds, nuts), B6 (peanuts, chicken, tuna), Vit C (fruit, tomatoes, capsicum), magnesium (cashews, cocoa)

Nutrients that facilitate conversion of serotonin to melatonin (essential for sleep): B12 (meat, fish, eggs), B6, folic acid, B5 (avocado, sweet potato, mushrooms)

You'll notice there is also a double arrow from serotonin to B3 - this is because this pathway is the preferred pathway. Serotonin would prefer to convert to B3 not melatonin. So in order to allow it to convert to melatonin you need to not be deficient in B3 (almonds, chicken, eggs, salmon, sunflower seeds).

Barron also recommended a book called "Nutrient Bible" by Osiecki, which provides a much larger variety of food choices for all nutrient groups.

Now if you've made it this far you must be very keen (or a big geek like me!). So hopefully you have found this information useful - I did. It works with the 'food is medicine' principle that I like. But I do concede that this is not the only place for food in our lives, but it does help to remind me that there are nutrients in all foods.  
Food is not the enemy. It is our lifeline.

published by PJ at


HikerRD said...

You weren't expecting this to pass without comment, were you?

So much to say, so I'll try to summarize:

-re your RDs perspective. Point well taken, but realist that I am, I vote for whatever works. It's no less distorted an approach than what I do every day--I encourage my anorexic pts to eat to increase their low metabolic rate. Talk about twisted! It's appealing to them because increased metabolic rate = weight loss in their mind! But if it enables them to start eating AND that helps them with their thinking, I'm all for it.
-re the foods for increasing the pathway to ultimately increase serotonin (and for clarification--the purpose of this is to induce calmness, just like those SSRI antidepressants everyone is on (ok, not EVERYone!) Just we end up encouraging turkey, and dairy, and legumes and then carbs of any kind (just, even pure sugar helps increase serotonin levels.)
-even simply increasing carbs helps this process (check out research by the Wurtman duo at MIT on PMS, cravings and carb and sugar intake.

Great post. Thanks for sharing with us. You saved me some major travel expenses!

HikerRD said...

Well, PJ, I guess it's just us two geeks! Great piece!

PJ said...

awww, that's alright! It's had over 70 page views - it's a really shy audience :-)