Magazine article Science News

Stress-Prone? Altering the Diet May Help

Magazine article Science News

Stress-Prone? Altering the Diet May Help

Article excerpt

Some people undertake seemingly impossible tasks without frustration, while others become anxious or depressed. A new Dutch study finds that the latter individuals might cope with pressure better if they tailored their diet to fuel the brain with more tryptophan.

The brain uses this essential amino acid, a building block of many proteins, to fashion serotonin, a mood-enhancing neurotransmitter.

Neuropsychologist C. Rob Markus of the TNO Nutrition and Food Research Institute in Zeist, the Netherlands, and his colleagues identified a milk-derived protein--alpha-lactalbumin--that is unusually rich in tryptophan. Moreover, this protein is low in amino acids that compete with tryptophan for absorption by the brain. For their tests, the researchers enriched a chocolate drink with either this protein or with casein, the primary protein in milk. Casein possesses a low ratio of tryptophan to those competing amino acids.

On each of two days, 58 men and women drank one or the other of these drinks both with breakfast and as a late-morning snack. Half the volunteers had a history of deteriorating mood when subjected to acute stress.

Around lunchtime, against a backdrop of loud industrial noise, each volunteer spent 20 minutes at a computer screen calculating math sums. The better the volunteer's problem-solving skills, the more challenging--to even insoluble--were the problems given.

"Not everyone got stressed" by the tests, as measured by mood and biochemical changes, notes Markus. …

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