The neurotransmitter serotonin is one of the main ‘feel good’ chemical messengers within our brain.
It is released by neurons in the pineal gland, but can affect structures all over the body. Serotonin is made from the protein tryptophan, which is found in foods such as turkey, raw milk and bananas.
Exercise and sleep also have an effect on serotonin levels in the body
Serotonin affects a variety of cognitive functions including mood, decision-making, social behaviour, impulsive behaviour, and social decision making. 80-90% of the body’s serotonin is found in the gut and it plays a key role in creating the contractions, which the digestive systems needs so that it can push the food we eat, through the system.
So for example, if you eat something that upsets your stomach, the cells of the gut release copious amounts of serotonin. This flood of the neurotransmitter causes the gut to empty, leading to diarrhoea.
This is why diet and lifestyle factors can have a major effect on serotonin levels, which in turn can have a major effect on how we feel.
Here are 5 tips to help increase serotonin levels
1) Eat the right foods. Adding tryptophan-rich foods, like turkey and raw milk that I mentioned earlier in the article should raise serotonin levels.
Vitamin D3, which we get from the sun or by taking vitamin D supplements, and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be found in food such as chia seeds, walnuts, seafood, fermented cod liver oil, and spinach, both help to regulate the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
2) Eating carbohydrates alone – with no protein – especially in the evening according to strength and conditioning coach Charles Poliquin, allows tryptophan to enter your brain and boost serotonin levels there. For example eating a dinner of vegetables with wild rice can be helpful.
3) Reduce Stress Levels with Meditation. If stress levels are not managed adequately, cortisol levels (the stress hormone) will increase which in turn breaks down tryptophan leaving less to make serotonin.
Apart from having an effect on your mood, serotonin helps you to regulate your body temperature, your memory and your appetite. When any one of these things becomes irregular due to a lack of serotonin, it can create even more stress and perpetuate the cycle.
4) Regular Exercise. In a study published in Neuropsychopharmacology showed that exercise increases brain serotonin. Firstly, by increasing the rate and frequency at which serotonin is “fired” within the brain, resulting in an increase in both the production and release of it.
Secondly, it increases the level of tryptophan in the brain, which as I’ve already mentioned is what serotonin is produced from.
5) Get Plenty of Sleep – While serotonin levels are lower in sleep than while awake, they are at their lowest during REM sleep, also known as dreaming sleep.
Melatonin, the hormone that lets us know that it’s time to go to sleep is produced from serotonin. When serotonin levels drop, the neurotransmitter acetylcholine rises in the brain, which is important for us to have deeper REM sleep, where we dream. So adding foods such as eggs, seafood, beans, broccoli, and nuts into your daily routine can be helpful to balancing acetylcholine levels in the body.
Connect here with WatchFit Expert Dean Griffiths