Sero Who?

What the heck is serotonin, what are serotonin levels and why should you care? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger, found primarily in the central nervous system, blood, and gastrointestinal tract. It affects many brain and bodily functions, among them, mood. Serotonin stabilizes and regulates mood by curbing anxiety, helping you feel focused yet relaxed, and boosting energy. Thus, its reputation as a “feel good” hormone.Too much serotonin can cause aggression, high blood pressure, nausea, diarrhea, and stroke, whereas too little can cause anxiety, insomnia, and violent behavior (while serotonin deficiency has long been thought to cause depression, research over the past few years has called that assumption into question). Generally speaking, optimal serotonin levels can improve moods, sleep, and appetite control.

I Want to Feel Good. Where Do I Sign Up?

First, a word to the wise: playing hard and fast with our body chemistry is risky business, not to mention an inexact science. Everyone’s body chemistry varies, so everyone’s body will respond differently to the same medication, activity, or food. There are no guarantees you’ll achieve the result you desire. Within reason, though, you may be able to increase your serotonin levels safely and somewhat predictably by eating certain combinations of particular foods. Possibly improving your mood, energy, and sleep quality.

Before you think, “please pass the serotonin-packed snacks,” think again. Serotonin is not present in any food. What IS present in many foods is tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that gets a lot of press around Thanksgiving. You know that old chestnut that you nod off in front of the big game or the Golden Girls marathon because turkey contains tryptophan? That’s a myth. It’s not the turkey that makes you sleepy, or even the slow game or the fact that you’ve already seen the “Yes, We Have No Havanas” episode three times. It’s the fact that you ate a carbohydrate after you ate the tryptophan-laced turkey.

It’s that combination—eating a food that contains tryptophan and then eating a carbohydrate–that might make you sleepy. Why? Because tryptophan + carbohydrate = increased levels of serotonin in your body. To produce serotonin, our bodies require tryptophan. Our bodies don’t produce tryptophan, and the only way to get it is by eating certain foods. So forget the serotonin-packed snacks and pass the tryptophan-full foods plus carbs.

What Foods Are Most Likely to Increase My Serotonin Levels?

The following foods, in no particular order, contain abundant tryptophan (foods high in iron, protein, vitamin B6, and riboflavin tend to be high in tryptophan too). Try eating them with a healthful carbohydrate such as oatmeal, rice, or whole-grain bread or pasta; you can replace the healthful carbohydrate with a sweet for a similar effect, but it won’t do your teeth, blood sugar, or waistline any favors, and the effect won’t last as long as with more healthful fare. And to avoid suppressing serotonin levels, limit your coffee intake.Serotonin Levels

  • Salmon
  • Eggs
  • Turkey
  • Cheese
  • Milk
  • Nuts and Seeds
  • Tofu
  • Chocolate
  • Pineapple

As stated above, everybody is different, so you may need to experiment with food combinations. Find what works best for you in light of any dietary needs, preferences, and restrictions. Also, keep in mind that food is just one of several factors that affect serotonin levels, such as mood, sleep quality, and appetite control. How much you exercise, your exposure to sunshine, your stress level, and your medications can affect serotonin levels AND your body’s reaction to your attempts to hack that level with food.

When it comes to mood, sleep, and weight control, the most important thing is to eat moderate portions of healthful food. If you experience consistently low moods for more than two weeks, insomnia, or problems controlling your appetite, please see a doctor or mental health care provider.  For any additional questions or to meet with Philip call 813-651-1221.