By now, you have probably already noticed a change in your adolescent’s mood as they entered puberty? Science has explained to us that the adolescent brain goes through a huge burst of development.
Because the brain develops from the back to the front, the part of their brain with a major responsibility for emotions is more developed at the beginning of puberty than the part of their brain that puts the brakes on emotions. This leads to unpredictable and often times unexplained emotional swings. The emotional up and downs have often been blamed on puberty hormones, but we are learning that it is actually brain development that is responsible for most of what adolescent’s feel and express.
Changes in mood as a result of brain development makes sense, but have you noticed that your own mood can change after you eat different types of foods? My adult daughter is very sensitive to high fructose corn syrup. Her mood quickly shifts from happy to sad within minutes. I found that hard to believe until one day we were shopping and having fun together when she ordered a blended beverage at a coffee place. Within a few minutes, she was sad and wanted to go home.
The “Second Brain”
Now we know that the lining of the digestive tract contains more brain cells, called neurons, than there are in the entire spinal cord. For this reason, the digestive tract is called the “second brain.” Somehow, what was happening in my daughter’s digestive tract was changing her mood in her brain. The research in this area is exciting and we are learning more every day about the gut-brain connection.
All of these new insights make me wonder what might be going on in the adolescent gut. Certainly, we know that adolescents can be impulsive and have sudden mood shifts. Maybe as we struggle to understand emotional changes in our child, we should consider the possibility that what they are eating might be affecting their mood as well.
Steer Them Toward Better Choices (When Possible)
Although you have tried very hard while raising your child to steer them away from fast food, sugar, and high fat foods, as adolescents they seem to be more drawn to these foods than ever before. I realize you might have limited influence now that they are venturing out of the house and are on their own more, but when at home, plan ahead to provide as many healthy choices as you can. One simple suggestion is to pair protein and carbs together whenever possible.
I don’t completely understand the link between nutrition and mood. But in full disclosure, I have done some of my own research and I have found that homemade chocolate chip cookies are also mood changers… they always bring on a smile.
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