• Contents
  • Key Takeaways
  • Protocols
  • Source
  • Full Notes
  • Support the Podcast
Mental Health
3 Min Read
Last Updated: 12.06.23

How Foods and Nutrients Control Our Moods

Dr. Huberman explores the brain-​​body connections of food, discussing how it impacts mood and motivation. Topics include the vagus nerve, dopamine and serotonin release, Omega‑3 fatty acids, and the gut microbiome. Actionable tools like fasting, diets, probiotics, and supplements are covered. Behavioral effects and beliefs are also discussed.

Key Takeaways

High level takeaways from the episode.

Ingesting certain nutrients (macronutrients and micronutrients) can impact the chemicals in our brain that give rise to emotions

Neurons in the stomach sense the presence of sugary foods independent of taste. Sends information to the brain via the vagus nerve, releases dopamine, creating a craving for more sugar.

Experiments show that people crave sugar even when they can’t taste it, due to sensors in the gut that detect sugar.

Vagus nerve can be activated in specific ways to improve mood and well-being

  • Digestion starts in the mouth – Vagus nerve senses what’s in the gut and sends information to the brain. People eat until the brain perceives adequate intake of amino acids

Dietary L‑tyrosine supports healthy production of dopamine, elevates mood and motivation. Can be ingested through foods or supplementation, but overconsumption can lead to a crash and brain fog. People with preexisting hyperdopaminergic conditions should avoid L‑tyrosine

  • Drugs that increase L‑tyrosine and dopamine can have addictive properties. i.e. methamphetamine and cocaine.

Hidden sugars in foods can disrupt dopamine systems.

Serotonin in the gut impacts serotonin in the brain. Carbohydrate-​​rich foods and foods containing tryptophan can promote serotonin release, helping with sleep and relaxation. Examples: white meat, turkey, starchy carbohydrates

High protein, moderate fat, low carb meals promote dopamine, acetylcholine, and epinephrine production, leading to alertness

5‑HTP can increase serotonin levels, with side effects: notable decrease in appetite, decrease in body weight, increase in cortisol (minor effect).

Mucuna pruriens (velvet bean): contains L‑DOPA, precursor to dopamine. Effects: increase in sperm quality, decrease in symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, increase in subjective well-​​being, increase in testosterone, reduction in prolactin.

Nerves in the gut sense nutrient content and influence mood and cravings. Blood-​​brain barrier (BBB) prevents direct access to the brain, requiring ingestion and metabolism of substances to affect mood and emotions.

Individuals who are anxious and wired may not want to lean on the dopamine-​​adrenaline pathway any further.

1000mg of EPA (high in Omega‑3) was as effective as 20mg of fluoxetine (Prozac) in reducing depressive symptoms in humans. Combination of EPA and fluoxetine had a synergistic effect in lowering depressive symptoms.

L‑Carnitine is most prevalent in meat, especially beef; also available in non-​​meat sources. Involved in mitochondrial activation of long-​​chain fatty acids. Effects on depression, autism, and alcohol dependence. Can reduce symptoms of fibromyalgia and migraines

Gut microbiome impacts neurotransmitters and neurons in the gut, which signal to the brain and affect dopamine and serotonin. Supporting a healthy gut microbiome is good for mood, digestion, and immune system function.

Healthy gut microbiota can improve symptoms of certain psychiatric illnesses and conditions along the autism spectrum. Effects are likely due to improved immune system function and conditions in which neurons sense nutrients and convey information to the brain.

Study in Nature showed that saccharine (artificial sweetener) can disrupt the gut microbiome, increasing inflammatory cytokines. Saccharine doesn’t kill the microbiome, but shifts it, making the environment more favorable to harmful bacteria. Aspartame, sucralose, stevia, and monk fruit may have lower or no negative effects. 

Some people’s microbiome and mucosal lining improve with meat-​​based diets, while others do better on plant-​​based diets. Likely influenced by genetic makeup and early life experiences.

Replenishing the microbiome after fasting may lead to higher levels than before. Gradual transition back to consuming nutrients is recommended.

2 studies showed that belief about food impacts the impact it had on their physiology. Beliefs about substances, foods, and nutrients can have a profound effect on their impact.


Science-​​based tools and supplements that push the needle.

Avoid Saccharine for Microbiome Health


Fasting – Gradual Return for Microbiome Health



We recommend using this distillation as a supplemental resource to the source material.

  • How Foods and Nutrients Control Our Moods

    Huberman Lab #11

    Dr. Huberman explores food’s impact on mood and motivation, discussing the brain-​​body connections, neurotransmitters, and actionable tools for mental health.

Full Notes

Support the Podcast