Master Mood Regulator
In addition to hormones, as pointed out in last couple of corners, there are also neurotransmitters that keep us functioning properly. Neurotransmitters are basically the body’s chemical messengers that enable communication within the nervous system, and between the nervous system, and the rest of the body. Serotonin is a very important neurotransmitter that is the master of our moods! If there happens to be a physiological block that alters its availability to our brain, then some very undesirable effects can come about: Depression, sadness, lethargy, sleepiness and in extreme cases suicidal thoughts or actions.
Serotonin works with receptors in the brain to elevate mood with feelings of happiness and well-being, sharpen memory, and promote healthy sleep habits. It is produced in the brain and all along the digestive tract. The precursor to serotonin is tryptophan. This amino acid is commonly found in high-protein foods like turkey, eggs, and cheese. But you need to eat these foods with some carbohydrates, to get through the blood-brain barrier, the protective sheath around the brain, which decides what gets in. Basically, it is a bit of an amino acid battle as many of these high protein foods are also high in other amino acids and more abundant so they will get through first. So, tryptophan needs some help from carbohydrates to work its way in. Carbohydrates cause your body to release insulin, which removes all amino acids—except tryptophan—from your blood, leaving tryptophan without competition to enter the brain easily and boosting serotonin levels.
There are plant and dairy based proteins along with carbohydrates to get serotonin in too!
- Bananas (contains tryptophan and carbs)
- Cereal and Milk (choose cereal that is whole-grain, low-sugar)
- Milk = tryptophan + cereal = carb
- Crackers and Cheese
- Cheese = tryptophan + crackers = carb
- A fun fact is gram for gram, cheddar cheese contains more tryptophan than turkey!
- Hummus on a pita
- Chickpeas (garbanzo beans) = tryptophan + pita bread = carb
- Peanut Butter and toast (choose a high fiber whole grain bread)
- Peanut butter = tryptophan + toast = carb
- Pumpkin Seeds and small fruit
- Pumpkin seeds = tryptophan + fruit = carb
There is evidence to suggest a relationship between serotonin and appetite. Healthy levels of serotonin may help your body recognize when it is full and prevent overeating. Serotonin can also minimize cravings for sweet and starchy foods.
Not only the foods you eat and their combination increases serotonin, exercise is also key to increasing function of serotonin in your brain. Exercise has been shown to increase both serotonin production and release. In particular, aerobic exercises, like running, dancing, aerobic classes and biking, are best to boost serotonin. However, any exercise will help, even meditative like yoga. Interestingly, if you try to do too much exercise, or forced into doing it, it may not have the right effect as below.
- Choosing to exercise vs being forced into it, makes a difference. For example, being chased by a wild animal or having to deal with a major incident, that needs immediate attention. This changes the neurochemical effect, as again, one is a flight or fight response, the other is for intentional well being.
- The bigger problem is not feeling like exercising and not doing it at all. This is a vicious cycle because the reason for not wanting to exercise is due to low serotonin activity. Yet exercising will increase serotonin activity. To help combat this, it is best to start making exercise a habit even if not wanting too. It doesn’t have to be hard to start with. As serotonin function increases – so does better mood and good feelings, thus altering the vicious cycle.