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How nutrition impacts brain health

Melissa Kirkwood is a Bold trainer, certified nutrition coach, and wellness specialist. Meli’s classes and workshops integrate movement and eating for better aging. In her talk at the Bold Summit, Meli discussed the gut-brain axis, and how what you eat can impact your brain health and mood.

What are neurotransmitters?

Neurotransmitters dispatch information from cell to cell throughout your body. Meli discusses how the foods you eat can impact the levels of different neurotransmitters in your body.

What’s the gut-brain axis?

Meli talks about how the gut has even more neurotransmitters than the brain. Research shows that there are proven links between digestion and mood. Meli says: “we have nerve endings in our whole gut and have 100 million of them that go from our esophagus to rectum. Our gut is our second brain, and whatever we put in our body is going to affect our anxiety and how you feel.”

According to Meli, here are 3 key neurotransmitters that are impacted by what you eat:

  1. Dopamine

    • Function: Meli explains that dopamine in the body is “ a reward… It has to do with if you did something good and positive effects we have. Dopamine has a relationship with the contraction of the colon, and is super important to help with Parkinson’s disease. It has been proven that levels of Parkinson’s is linked to the amount of dopamine in our systems and our foods.”
    • Foods that can boost your dopamine levels: parmesan, cheddar, chicken, beef steak, organ meat, soybeans, peanuts, chia seeds, almonds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  2. Serotonin

    • Function: Serotonin determines the level of happiness and motivation we feel on a daily basis. It’s also related to regular bowel function and appetite. It has been shown that having an irregular bowel function, may be due to a lack of serotonin.
    • Foods that can boost your serotonin levels: chia seeds, whole milk, sesame seeds, yogurt, pumpkin seeds
  3. GABA and glutamate

    • Function: Meli explains that GABA and glutamate are neurotransmitters related to focus, relaxation, and sleep. 90% of all brain synapses (where neurons connect with each other) are primed to release glutamate and cause you to spring into action. GABA, on the other hand, is a major neurotransmitter of the nervous system, helps us to feel calm.
    • Foods that can boost your GABA and glutamate levels: spring onion, turnips, rutabaga, dried apricots, kiwi fruit, grapes, onions, whole-wheat bread and other glucose-rich natural foods

To hear all of Meli’s talk, visit the Bold Explore page.