Firstly we need to answer the question – What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger, stored in the nerve cells of the body.
Neurotransmitters transmit information between neurons and other cells in the body to influence a number of different physiological processes.RELATED: RECOMMENDED PLANS FOR YOU
What is its role?
Serotonin plays a role in the regulation of signal intensity (often working in conjunction with other neurotransmitters) mood and appetite, sleeping patterns, temperature regulation, pain perception, blood vessel tone and gastrointestinal muscle function.
Many people are aware of serotonin because of widespread use of SSRIs (selected serotonin reuptake inhibitors) as a treatment for depression, which may be caused by serotonin deficiency.
Digestive upsets and cravings, especially for carbohydrates may also result from inadequate serotonin in the diet.
High levels of cortisol may also deplete serotonin levels.
Seratonin is also a precursor to melatonin, which is a super antioxidant made by the pineal gland which regulates the circadian rhythm, the so called body-clock, in conjunction with cortisol.
Can we find serotonin in food?
Serotonin isn’t found directly in foods. Instead, we have to look for foods containing tryptophan.
Tryptophan is an essential amino acid required for the production of serotonin.
Tryptophan produces 5-hydroxy-tryptophan which increases serotonin within the central nervous system.
Food sources include: bananas, fish, beef, legumes, oats, peanuts, pumpkin seeds soy and sesame seeds.
Eating a high tryptophan diet isn’t the solution to boosting serotonin levels as amino acids compete with each other for absorption.
It’s important to make sure you are eating adequate sources of good quality protein and foods which contain nutritional co-factors to ensure correct production of serotonin.
Nutritional co-factors which are important in the production of serotonin include:
– Niacin (vitamin B3): required for healthy nervous system function and may play a role in headache prevention. It may also indirectly increase serotonin levels.
Food sources of niacin include: eggs, chicken, almonds, sunflower seeds, salmon and sardines.
– Pyrdioxal 5-Phosphate (vitamin B6): the active form of B6 and plays a crucial role in the synthesis and formation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin, GABA, noradrenalin and adrenalin.
Food sources include: chicken, egg yolk, legumes, walnuts, tuna, salmon, oatmeal and brewer’s yeast.
Inositol (colloquially known as vitamin B8) is present in a broad range of plant and animal foods and plays a key role in improving the activity of serotonin in the brain by acting as a secondary messenger, meaning it ensures information is relayed to the cells.
If inositol levels are low, this could also disrupt serotonin function and result in some mood imbalance.
Herbs which may have sertrogenic activity include St John’s Wort, which has been demonstrated in studies to be as effective as Fluoxetine (Prozac) and 5-HTP (a serotonin precursor taken in supplement form) for mild to moderate depression.
Make sure you eat a rich variety of foods containing good quality protein and B vitamins.
Sunlight and exercise also help to promote optimal serotonin production, so as much as you might not want to leave the house, wrap up warm get outside and go for a nice long Sunday walk on a sunny winter’s day!
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