Serotonin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter produced by the brain and the intestines. Neurotransmitters are chemical messengers that allows communication between cells. Serotonin plays a big part in the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract, and it is also used for bone metabolism, liver regeneration, and cell division, and muscle contractions.
Something important to note about serotonin: what is made in the brain stays in the brain and what is made in the intestines stays. About 90% or more of our serotonin is made in the gut, which is used for gut regulation. The remainder of our serotonin, then, is made in the brain. This, in turn, is used for the central nervous systems, which we know effects many functions in the body. However, the serotonin that is created in the gut does not make its way up to the brain.
When you have low amount of serotonin you can notice issues with mood swings, depression, appetite, digestion, lower libido, memory, sleep and healing. One thing to understand is that low serotonin is not always the cause of depression, but it can have a hand in it. It is always best to deal with a doctor when you think you have an issue like depression. That being said, there is a lot of stuff you can test out that to help with your low serotonin levels.
There is such a thing as too much serotonin for your own good. When you take multiple prescriptions for a serotonin issue, you can get an overabundance of serotonin, which is actually toxic. When you have too much serotonin in your system then you could experience high blood pressure, aggression issues, confusion or other psychosis. If you are bringing your serotonin levels up through means of nutrition and exercise, it is very difficult to overdo it. This is one reason it is good to work with a doctor when possible instead of guessing.
Eating Habits that Effect Serotonin
Tryptophan is how our bodies create serotonin. So to get more serotonin in your diet you should increase some foods that are higher in tryptophan. Some of these foods include:
- Dairy products. A couple good choices are cottage cheese for all the great protein you will get and yogurt since it also has probiotics that can have some good health benefits. If you are going to do yogurt then get a plain yogurt and add some fresh fruit instead of the pre-made yogurts that have way too much sugar added.
- Good quality protein such as turkey, chicken, lean beef, salmon, tuna, shrimp, etc.
- Coco powder is quite high in tryptophan. Be careful not to just go hog wild on regular super sweet chocolate, though. The downside in this out weights the positives. Instead, make your own creations with a healthier sweetener.
- Walnuts, sesame seeds and pumpkin seeds. When eating nuts, it is best to go with raw. You get more nutritional value for your buck that way.
- Brown rice
- Chick peas
- Soy. Although soy has a good amount of tryptophan, it would be best to do a tempeh since it is a fermented soy verses tofu.
Remember that just because something is high in tryptophan does not mean that you should eat that one thing and ignore a healthy, balanced diet. As you see in the list above, brown rice and oats have good amounts of tryptophan in them, but you would still want to pair that up with some protein so that you are not eating just a carb-laden meal. You want to make sure and have some carbs with your meals to help with the uptake of serotonin, but you want it to be high-quality carbs. But don’t overdo it. Depending on your individual needs, 1/4-1 cup of brown rice, oats, potatoes, yams or some squash can do the trick. No doubt you’ve heard to get rid of refined foods in your diet, right? There are many good reasons to do this. The number one reason that seems to go across the board is that it is hard on your body and creates a stress response, which, in turn, affects your hormones. So keep carbs in your diet, but make sure they are good-quality, complex carbs.
Exercise has been shown to have an effect with increasing the serotonin in the brain. To start with, just do something that gets your heart pumping – something that you enjoy. This way you will be getting a great exercise in and not even think of how hard you are working. As a result, you will not only stick with your newfound routine, but you’ll also look forward to exercising each day.
There is a hypothesis that exercise that leaves you fatigued is connected with an elevation of brain tryptophan and serotonin synthesis. In layman terms, if you are getting no happy boost from your casual walks, try kicking it up a notch.
There are many supplements that may help in a variety of ways. Some common ones that are used are:
- Vitamin D supplement
- 5-HTP (5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan)
- St. John’s Wort
- Sam E
- B Complex
Again, keep in mind that the dosage you would use with supplements like this vary depending on your need. You can talk to your doctor about what would be a good option.
Other things to look at with serotonin....
Low serotonin can have an effect on mood and vice versa, so it is good to start seeing what you can change at this time to give yourself a boost.
Reduce your Stress. Stress can have a negative impact on just about every aspect of our health. A small amount of stress or going through some stressful times is inevitable, and it is generally when we get the most growth. But if you are dealing with chronic stress, you are harming your health in many ways. When you are stressed out you will have an influx of cortisol, which could affect your serotonin. Find ways to reduce your stress.
Get more Vitamin D. Our bodies use sunlight to create serotonin in the body. When that’s not present, it can cause havoc on your body. If you are in an area where sunlight is scarce during different times of the year then you may want to look into sunlight bulbs for your indoor lamps. Of course indoor daylight bulbs will not be as good as natural sunlight, but it can help.
As you can see, most of the things we have talked about that will help with serotonin levels are actually basics for a healthy lifestyle. Eat right, exercise, get outside and reduce your stress. You may see an improvement in many areas of your health just by living this healthy lifestyle.