Positive Moods and Stress Reduction

Another group of chemicals that can influence mood and appetite are the endorphins. These are the body's natural opiate-like chemicals that produce a positive mood state, decreased pain sensitivity, and reduced stress. En-dorphins are released when a person is in pain, during starvation, and during exercise—resulting in what is known as a "runner's high." Researchers are now looking at ways to utilize this response to alleviate chronic pain. Studies have shown that acupuncture may relieve pain by stimulating the release of endorphins.

A food substance related to endorphins is phenylethylamine, which is found in chocolate. Chocolate has always been a highly valued commodity in many cultures, and there is some evidence that chocolate may improve mood temporarily due to its high levels of sugar and fat, phenylethylamine, and caffeine. The sugar in chocolate is associated with a release of the neurotransmitter serotonin, and the fat and phenylethylamine are associated with an endorphin release. This combination produces an effect that has been called "optimal brain happiness." The caffeine in chocolate adds a temporary stimulant effect.

If changing one's diet does not produce a desired improvement in mood, or if feelings of sadness or disinterest occur much of the time, it is important to be evaluated for depression. In people who are depressed, brain serotonin levels are significantly lowered, and treatment usually involves a medication that can elevate serotonin levels to the normal range. Although food can provide a temporary lift, it does not provide enough serotonin to alleviate depression or changes in neurotransmitters associated with eating disorders.

Research on the food-mood connection has been aimed at understanding the effects of eating particular foods during particular mood states, as well as how foods can help to achieve a particular mood state. Future research will focus on the application of this research, such as to what degree food choices can influence worker productivity or affect circadian rhythm in cases of jet lag or lack of sleep. see also Addiction, Food; Cravings; Eating Habits.

Catherine Christie


Mitchell, Susan, and Christie, Catherine (1998). I'd Kill for a Cookie. New York: Dut-ton.

Wurtman, J. (1989) "Carbohydrate Craving, Mood Changes, and Obesity." Journal of Clinical Psychiatry 49 (Suppl.) 37-39.

Wurtman, R. J., et. al. (1986) "Carbohydrate Cravings, Obesity and Brain Serotonin." Appetite 7 (Suppl.): 99-103.

Wurtman, R. J., and J. J. Wurtman (1989) "Carbohydrates and Depression." Scientific American (January): 68-75.

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