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Archive of ‘neuroprotective’ category

Flaxseeds: single most important food for mental health?


by R. Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken

Flaxseed helps lower cholesterol, lowers blood pressure, is anti-inflammatory, has good anti-oxidants, and fiber.  It is the single most neuroprotective food; oh yes, then there is the omega-3 content.

There is no doubt that this food is an excellent source of essential omega-3 fats in the form of alpha-linolenic acid, the basic building block to other omega-3s – eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid. Omega-3, and a proper omega-3 to omega-6 ratio, is important in mental wellness and recovery from psychiatric disorders.

But flaxseed offers more than just the ideal omega-3 source; it contains many polyphenolic compounds such as phenolic acids[1], flavonoids and lignans along with vitamins C and E[2].  One study found that flaxseed significantly decreased chronic stress (cortisol) levels, indicating a possible synergistic effect between omega-3 fatty acid and polyphenols[3].  Other components such as a flaxseed lignan (a phytoestrogen compound called secoisolariciresinol) has been shown to have possible applications in post-menopausal depression[4].

Studies of flaxseed oil supplementation have indicated a good tolerance even in the pediatric population where one study indicated its effectiveness in child bipolar disorder[5].

I recommend a daily intake of one to three tablespoons of ground flax, each tablespoon of which contains about 30 calories, 2.5 grams fat, 2 grams fiber, and 1.5 grams protein[6]. Be sure to grind the flaxseeds as the fine seeds with their hard shell will likely just pass on through the gut otherwise. Flaxseeds can be ground in a coffee bean grinder and the ground powder added to grains, salads, beans – practically any dish for a little texture.

Note that the shelf life of the oily seeds is limited unless kept in an airtight container in the fridge or freezer.  Ground flaxseeds or flax meal should be kept in the freezer; at room temperature and exposed to air, use the ground seeds within one week. Smell the flax – if it has a strong odor such as fishy smell, it may be rancid.  A taste test should reveal a mild nutty flavor – if bitter or sour that also may be a signal that it is rancid.

For these reasons, chia seeds, rich in antioxidants and omega-3 PUFAs may be preferable to some.


[1] Oomah, B. D., Kenaschuk, E. O., & Mazza, G. (1995). Phenolic Acids in Flaxseed. J. Agric. Food Chem. Journal of Agricultural and Food Chemistry, 43(8), 2016-2019. doi:10.1021/jf00056a011.

[2] Bidlack, W. W. (1999). Functional Foods: Biochemical and Processing Aspects, G. Mazza, ed. Lancaster, PA: Technomic Publishing Co., Inc., 437 pp, 1998. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 18(6), 640-641. doi:10.1080/07315724.1999.10718899.

[3] Naveen, S., Siddalingaswamy, M., Singsit, D., & Khanum, F. (2013). Anti-depressive effect of polyphenols and omega-3 fatty acid from pomegranate peel and flax seed in mice exposed to chronic mild stress. Psychiatry Clin Neurosci Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 67(7), 501-508. doi:10.1111/pcn.12100.

[4] Wang, Y., Xu, Z., Yang, D., Yao, H., Ku, B., Ma, X., . . . Cai, S. (2012). The antidepressant effect of secoisolariciresinol, a lignan-type phytoestrogen constituent of flaxseed, on ovariectomized mice. Journal of Natural Medicines,67(1), 222-227. doi:10.1007/s11418-012-0655-x.

[5] Gracious, B. L., Chirieac, M. C., Costescu, S., Finucane, T. L., Youngstrom, E. A., & Hibbeln, J. R. (2010). Randomized, placebo-controlled trial of flax oil in pediatric bipolar disorder. Bipolar Disorders, 12(2), 142-154. doi:10.1111/j.1399-5618.2010.00799.x.

[6] A very convenient way to have ground flax ready to serve is provided by Carrington Farms Organic Ground Milled Flax Seeds, two tablespoon packets sealed and lasting without refrigeration about one year.

Ground peppercorns for cognitive function, mood, and bioavailability.


by Aiken MD PhD @rcaiken

Black pepper has an ancient history of being a highly desirable but expensive spice.  It has even been used as a currency.

Piperine is a simple and pungent alkaloid found in the seeds of black pepper. Piperine is commonly known as a bioavailability enhancer for a number of nutraceuticals, including antioxidants[1] and anti-inflammatories[2], as well as for its neuroprotective activity[3]. The Journal of Food and Chemical Toxicology reported that the compound piperine in black pepper increases the cognitive function of the brain and helps mood disorder.

Piperine helps the body absorb curcumin and therefore enhances curcumin’s antidepressant effect long-term. There may be similar absorption assistance given to selenium, vitamin B12, and beta-carotene.

Piperine has shown multiple mechanisms of action, including inhibition of MAO enzymes, elevation of brain serotonin (5-HT) brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF) levels, and modulation of HPA axis[4].

Because of its intense taste in small quantities, it is typically used as just a few “pinches” into turmeric recipes.

Typically 2.5 mg/ kg is used so for a 70 kg person that would equal 175 mg; a teaspoon of black pepper weighs about 2000 mg, so this is less than 10% of a teaspoon – otherwise known as a “pinch” or two.


[1] Johnson, J. J., Nihal, M., Siddiqui, I. A., Scarlett, C. O., Bailey, H. H., Mukhtar, H., & Ahmad, N. (2011). Enhancing the bioavailability of resveratrol by combining it with piperine. Molecular Nutrition & Food Research Mol. Nutr. Food Res., 55(8), 1169-1176. doi:10.1002/mnfr.201100117.

[2] Ying, X., Yu, K., Chen, X., Chen, H., Hong, J., Cheng, S., & Peng, L. (2013). Piperine inhibits LPS induced expression of inflammatory mediators in RAW 264.7 cells. Cellular Immunology, 285(1-2), 49-54. doi:10.1016/j.cellimm.2013.09.001.

[3] Shrivastava, P., Vaibhav, K., Tabassum, R., Khan, A., Ishrat, T., Khan, M. M., . . . Islam, F. (2013). Anti-apoptotic and Anti-inflammatory effect of Piperine on 6-OHDA induced Parkinson’s Rat model. The Journal of Nutritional Biochemistry,24(4), 680-687. doi:10.1016/ j.jnutbio.2012.03.018

[4] Mao, Q.Q., Xian, Y.F., Ip, S.P., and Che, C.T. (2011). Involvement of serotonergic system in the antidepressant-like effect of piperine. Prog. Neuropsychopharmacol. Biol. Psychiatry 35, 1144–1147