Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Comfort Food

Even though the media and the medical commmunity have generally been skeptical of the low-carb lifestyle, many people now know that low-carbing is a healthy way to live and an excellent way to lose weight.

But what about people who know that low-carbing is a healthy lifestyle and DON'T choose to follow it, even though the consequences are significant? Why would they go ahead and indulge in food that is high in carbohydrate and low in nutrition instead of being careful about their food choices? Specifically, how can a person deliberately choose:

  • Comfort food plus diabetic retinopathy (i.e.,blindness)?

  • Comfort food plus erectile dysfunction?

  • Comfort food plus a lifetime of diabetes medication?

  • Comfort food plus death from heart disease?

  • Comfort food plus a degree of obesity that puts their livelihood in jeopardy?

People who understand low-carbing, understand that low-carbing has a good track record of improving all of those health conditions. In light of that, why do so many of them either not follow or stop following the low-carb lifestyle? The answer could be serotonin. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, or signaling molecule, found in the brain. It has many actions, but one of them is modulation of mood. If we don't have enough serotonin, one result is that we can become depressed.

Serotonin is manufactured in our bodies from a large neutral amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is one of the amino acids found in the protein we eat. So if we're depressed, why can't we just eat more tryptophan to drive the production of more serotonin?

As you might expect, it is not that simple. Tryptophan is too large to diffuse into the cells in our brain by itself. For our brain cells to take it up, tryptophan must be carried into the cells by means of a transporter. The problem is, tryptophan has to compete for transport with the other large neutral amino acids--phenylalanine, tyrosine, isoleucine, leucine and valine. Tryptophan tends to get lost in the shuffle.

How, then, can we get extra tryptophan into our brain? Amazingly, the answer is insulin. If we eat a meal or a food high in carbohydrate, insulin will be released and will sweep the other large neutral amino acids out of the blood and into our muscles. However, tryptophan is different. It will tend to stay behind and bind to albumin in the blood. But once the albumin-bound tryptophan reaches the capillaries of the brain, the transporters there will be ready to take up the tryptophan, increase the brain concentration of it, and drive the synthesis of serotonin. The result? A pervasive feeling of sleepiness and contentment.

For people who are anxious or depressed, this is a hard feeling to walk away from. What if we knew that a temporary fix for our bad feelings was right inside the freezer or refrigerator or cupboard? No prescription necessary. The comfort food found in our pantries might not be the best choice for us in the long run, but we have to realize that sometimes our eyes won't stay focused on the long run. The bad feelings will come. The comfort foods will always be available. Recognizing that, this might be a time for all of us good low-carbers to sit down and plan a strategy that provides comfort when we need it, but doesn't rely on comfort food.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you for this post...I have never read the clinical reason "why" food makes us feel so good. Thanks for the info.