Are you down in the dumps: depressed or anxious? If so, your serotonin levels may be low. Serotonin is one of the most amazing and important substances in your body, and when it gets low problems develop.
What is it? It’s a neurotransmitter that helps transmit messages along the neurons from one region of your brain to another. Not only do low levels lead to depression and anxiety, but they can also cause other problems such as insomnia, loss of appetite and memory loss, to name only a few. So it’s in your best interest to make sure it stays high.
Several foods contain serotonin, but they aren’t of much help, as serotonin can’t be absorbed directly into your brain. Eating the right foods, however, is the correct approach. What you want to eat are foods that contain tryptophan; it is one of 20 amino acids in your body (amino acids are the building blocks of the protein in your body). But simply eating foods containing tryptophan isn’t enough. The problem is that the tryptophan has to pass from your blood into your brain for it to be helpful, and under normal circumstances it can’t get through. The reason is that there are 20 different amino acids in your blood at any time (they come from the protein you eat) and they’re all trying to get into your brain. Some are relatively large, and with such a large number trying to get in at once, the tryptophan gets blocked. You can think of the entrance to your brain as a door with a large number of people all trying to squeeze in at the same time. If you are in this group, your chances of getting in are relatively small. The same goes for tryptophan, and as a result, very little gets into your brain — even though there may be a good supply in your blood.
You, therefore, need to reduce the competition, and you can do this by eating carbohydrates. The carbohydrates produce insulin, and this insulin sends the amino acids in your blood into your body– all except for the tryptophan. When the tryptophan finds that it no longer has any competition, it rushes into the brain where it is converted to serotonin
Your first step, therefore, is to eat foods that contain tryptophan. Some of the best are;
Turkey: .37 gms per quarter cup
Chicken: .28 gms per quarter cup
Cottage cheese: .4 gms per cup
Wheat germ: .4 gms per cup
Eggs: .1 gm each
Other excellent sources are dairy products, soy, walnuts, and bananas.
Once you have a good supply of tryptophan in your blood, you should eat carbohydrates. They will allow your brain to absorb the tryptophan. Some of the best carbohydrates for this are:
Whole wheat cereal
Whole wheat bread and crackers
It is important, however, to eat complex carbohydrates and avoid simple carbohydrates such as cookies, candy and chips. In addition, you should allow some time between the tryptophan foods and the carbohydrates, if possible. Carbohydrate snacks after the main meal can be used. It is also important to make sure you don’t load yourself up with protein at the main meal.
This should keep your serotonin levels sufficiently high and help you feel good. Food, however, is not the only thing that helps keep serotonin level high. Some of the others are:
- Getting enough sunlight
- Meditation and relaxation
- Regular hours of sleep
An excellent way of raising serotonin levels is to exercise regularly every day, but you don’t have to overdo it. Thirty to forty minutes of exercise a day is sufficient. Do both aerobics and weights. Studies have shown that serotonin levels stay high for several days after a good exercise session. Walking, jogging and bike riding are all good.
Several vitamins are also helpful in creating good serotonin levels. They include B6 (100-300 mg/day), calcium (1000-1200 mg/day), magnesium (300 mg/day) and folic acid (200 mg/day).
Getting enough sunlight is also important. When you wake up in the morning, your body begin to create serotonin. The amount it creates depends on how much sunlight you are exposed to, so try to get outside for a while each day — particularly in the morning.
Serotonin is depleted by stress and tension, so try to relax during the day. Meditation is particularly good, as is listening to relaxing music. Laughter also helps.
Finally, try to sleep regular hours. There’s a catch 22 here, though. You need healthy serotonin levels to sleep well, but if you don’t sleep, it affects your levels.
Following this will help make you feel better and be more cheerful and happy. But be careful: too much serotonin will make you sleepy.