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Foods and food constituents that affect the brain and human behaviorUntil recently, it was generally believed that brain function was usually independent of day-to-day metabolic changes associated with consumption of food. Although it was acknowledged that peripheral metabolic changes associated with hunger or satiety might affect brain function, other effects of foods on the brain were considered unlikely. However, in 1971, Fernstrom and Wurtman discovered that under certain conditions, the protein-to-carbohydrate ratio of a meal could affect the concentration of a particular brain neurotransmitter. That neurotransmitter, serotonin, participates in the regulation of a variety of central nervous system (CNS) functions including sleep, pain sensitivity, aggression, and patterns of nutrient selection. The activity of other neurotransmitter systems has also been shown to be, under certain conditions, affected by dietary constituents which are given either as ordinary foods or in purified form. For example, the CNS turnover of two catecholamine neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine, can be altered by ingestion of their amino acid precursor, tyrosine, when neurons that release these monoamines are firing frequently. Similarly, lecithin, a dietary source of choline, and choline itself have been shown to increase the synthesis of acetylcholine when cholinergic neurons are very active. It is possible that other neurotransmitters could also be affected by precursor availability or other, as yet undiscovered peripheral factors governed by food consumption. The effects of food on neurotransmitters and behavior are discussed.
Document ID
Document Type
Reprint (Version printed in journal)
Lieberman, Harris R. (Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. Cambridge, MA, United States)
Wurtman, Richard J. (Massachusetts Inst. of Tech. Cambridge, MA, United States)
Date Acquired
August 16, 2013
Publication Date
January 1, 1986
Subject Category
Report/Patent Number
NAS 1.26:192873
Funding Number(s)
Distribution Limits
Public Use Permitted.
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