You may have heard of serotonin, the happiness molecule, but do you know what it really does?
Serotonin is a chemical produced in your body, mostly in your gut, but some is produced in your brain. It is a neurotransmitter, which means it helps with nerve signaling, and is involved in sleep, memory, learning, healing and is the chemical that promotes calmness and contentment. People with healthy levels of this are generally happy.
In order to make serotonin, your body needs all the necessary components. Magnesium is needed, but the most important component is the essential amino acid, tryptophan, which comes from various foods, a little from bread, pasta, corn, bananas, and cookies, but the most abundant sources of tryptophan are high protein foods like tuna, dairy products, turkey, beef, pork, chicken, and eggs.
It is easy to get too little of this essential amino acid because if you drink diet sweetened foods or caffeinated drinks, or you are not getting enough healthy fats such as butter, olive oil, and animal fats then your tryptophan levels can be depleted. Tryptophan levels can also be depleted by stress, lack of natural light, low calorie diets, skipped meals or by lack of exercise. While coffee will stimulate dopamine (the pleasure molecule), it will suppress serotonin (the happiness molecule) over time.
In USA in 1989, the FDA called for a voluntary ban on tryptophan supplements due to a faulty contaminated batch and these only became available again without prescription in USA in 2000. In other countries it has continued to be available, while in USA many doctors switched to prescribing Prozac.
All this means is that if you want to be happy, calm and contented, then your diet really matters as does exercise and getting sufficient natural light. This is especially important for women because females typically generate about one third less serotonin than males. For vegetarians or vegans this is even more difficult as the tryptophan level in their diet is usually very low.
This might be much more important than just a happy feeling. People, who have low levels of serotonin can suffer from anxiety, lack of confidence, panic attacks, depression, obsessive behavior and sleep disorders. It seems that the psychology profession is just beginning to realize the importance of this diet and mental health linkage.
The new field of nutrition psychology is gaining traction fast with psychologists now realizing that poor diet is a major factor in many of the conditions patients present with, and often these conditions can be assisted or even corrected by changing the patients diet. Central to these changes is increasing the level of animal protein while reducing grains and sugar.
Unfortunately, I hear that many people on bad diets often don’t know this and never realize their health problems are caused by their diet. It is only after they make major diet changes and begin to feel hugely better that they realize just how sick their diet was making them. This is particularly a problem for those who are very committed to their diet because their beliefs make them reluctant to even test whether a diet change could help.
So to pull all this together, if you suffer from anxiety, worry easily, have panic attacks, have a tendency to be negative, get edgy or irritable easily, have difficulty sleeping, suffer from jaw pain, or can be a bit obsessive or forgetful, then low serotonin might be a factor. Take a hard look at your diet or try a tryptophan supplement. I read that for many people results can be almost immediate.
As always, for more information you can view my blog at www.takebackyrhealth.com
You will find a link to my book “Take Back Your Health”
Good Health, George Elder.