Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is released after the digestion of certain types of foods. It is not actually found in food, but is produced by the body after certain chemicals are released into the bloodstream. According to Dr. Peter Kopko, D.C., the amino acid L-Tryptophan can help the body produce more serotonin so you feel relaxed, calm and happy.
Serotonin is the chemical that regulates emotion, and researchers at Washington University in St. Louis believe that low serotonin may be the root cause of anxiety and depression. Natural serotonin levels can be depleted by stress in the environment, poor health, or emotional stressors, so making some dietary and lifestyle changes can improve mood and health overall. According to Health Information News.com, organic, unprocessed foods that naturally contain high levels of the amino acid L-Tryptophan, as well as complex carbohydrates, may increase the body's natural levels of serotonin.
Simple carbohydrates such as white flour, candy and pastries have the most significant serotonin-boosting effects, but the effects only last for about two hours. Complex carbohydrates such as potatoes, rice and pasta have the longest-lasting serotonin-increasing properties, and are among the healthiest options. Foods that contain L-Tryptophan can also alter mood and increase serotonin level. L-Tryptophan is a building block for muscle and tissue formation, and is turned into serotonin by the brain. Foods high in L-Trytophan include bananas, eggs, fish, hazelnuts, heated milk, hummus, lentils, kelp, red meat, Swiss cheese, shellfish, sunflower seeds, tofu, turkey and yoghurt. Foods that contain omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin B6 have also been linked to increased serotonin levels. Omega-3 fatty acids can be found in fish oil supplements, and fatty tuna, fatty salmon and sardines. Sources of vitamin B6 include avocado, cooked spinach, baked potato, brown rice, green peas and collard greens.
Some of the effects of eating serotonin-increasing foods include: improved mood; reduced cravings for carbohydrates; more energy; feelings of calm; improved attention span; better sleep; reduction of PMS symptoms; reduced anxiety; and elimination of headaches. The effects can last between one and three hours or more after consumption of the serotonin-boosting meal, and some people experience more pronounced effects than others based on body composition, health and nutritional needs.
Researchers and therapists such as Kristen McClure LCSW have been studying the effects of serotonin-inducing foods and depression, anxiety and ADD for several years. Eating foods that boost serotonin may reduce the effects of panic attacks, eating disorders, excessive anxiety, nervous system problems, tension headaches and memory problems. Healthy serotonin levels can improve concentration and memory, regulate the central nervous system, improve sleep patterns and ward off depression.
PsychCentral.com reports that eating too many foods that trigger the production of serotonin can be harmful to your health. A condition known as "serotonin syndrome" occurs when too much serotonin is released in the brain. Symptoms include loss of coordination, restlessness, hallucinations, increased body temperature, overactive reflexes, diarrhoea, nausea and vomiting. The symptoms can occur within minutes of eating too many foods or taking supplements that raise serotonin levels, and may not subside for a few hours. The condition can be life-threatening, and is most common in people taking antidepressants and SSRI inhibitors. Serotonin levels can be lowered by taking muscle relaxants, decreasing the dosage of prescription antidepressants and SSRI inhibitors, and reducing the consumption of foods that increase serotonin levels naturally.