The Carbohydrate Connection

The carbohydrate connection to more upbeat moods is not news. There are plenty of edibles besides sugary sweets, caffeine and alcohol that are capable of producing positive shifts in our mood, mental function and overall energy levels without compromising well-being over the long haul.

Healthy carbohydrates like fruits, vegetables and grains that  provide poverful nutrients instead of empty calories can lift your sagging spirits for longer periods of time than sweet treats.

Research on the effects of serotonin levels (a chemical messenger in the brain that causes positive changes in attitude and behavior) suggests that both simple carbohydrates (candy, cookies, honey) and complex carbs (whole grains and most of the vegetables) can relieve tension, anger and fatigue.

Higher serotonin levels can increase feelings of calmness or drowsiness, improve sleep patterns, increase pain tolerance, and reduce cravings for other carbohydrate rich foods.

Serotonin is involved in regulating physical functions such as eating and energy balance, and emotional functions like mood and energy levels.  These phenomena vary across the seasons and the molecular background for why this happens was previously unknown.  For this study, Dr. Jeffrey Meyer and his team used a world-leading positron emission tomography (PET) technology (originally created at CAMH by Dr. Alan Wilson) to detect these seasonal variations in serotonin transporter binding (the process that removes serotonin) in the living human brain and correlations between serotonin binding and duration of daily sunshine.

As Dr. Meyer explains, this is “an important lead in understanding how season changes serotonin levels.   This offers an explanation for why some healthy people experience low mood and energy in the winter, and why there is a regular reoccurrence of depressive episodes in fall and winter in some vulnerable individuals. The next steps will be to understand what causes this change and how to interfere with it.”


  • "Food and Mood" - by Elizabeth Somer, M.A., R.D.
  • "Fluctuations in Serotonin Transport May Explain Winter Blues" - Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH)

Carbohydrates (literally hydrates of carbon) are chemical compounds which act as the primary biological means of storing or consuming energy; other forms being via fat and protein. Relatively complex carboyhydrates are known as polysaccharides.

The simplest carbohydrates are monosaccharides, which are small straight-chain aldehydes &  ketones with many hydroxyl groups added, usually one on each carbon except the functional group.

Other carbohydrates are composed of monosaccharide units, and break down under hydrolysis. These may be classified as disaccharides, oligosaccharides, or polysaccharides, depending on whether they have 2, several, or many monosaccharide units.

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