Ever wonder what factors determine your mood? The answer largely involves serotonin, a chemical you probably have never heard of. Despite its relative obscurity, serotonin is an essential ingredient for a happy personality. The mind reacts poorly when its supply of serotonin dips to abnormally low levels, leading to the development of many common mental health issues. Given this relationship between serotonin and your overall disposition, it is very beneficial to your health to keep body’s production of serotonin at a high level.
A Key Tool for Your Brain – and Gut
Serotonin is classified as a hormone, meaning that it is a chemical tasked with transmitting messages from glands to cells. Hormones are also responsible for keeping the amount of chemicals in your body at a stable level. Serotonin is produced in two distinct areas in the body – the brain and the intestine. In fact, 95 percent of the serotonin in your body resides in your digestive tract. This intestinal serotonin never enters your brain’s tissues thanks to the brain-blood barrier, which insulates the brain from toxins and other foreign substances. The serotonin in your gut is assigned a number of roles by your body; it determines the speeds at which food passes through your intestines, controls the production of intestinal fluids and dictates how sensitive your intestines are to various sensations.
In the brain, serotonin likewise has several responsibilities, including the regulation of your appetite and sleeping patterns. As mentioned earlier, this hormone has considerable sway over your mood. When you have an abundant amount of serotonin coursing through your brain tissues, you should feel relatively happy and content. In contrast, a depleted supply of serotonin often precedes feelings of depression, anxiety, low-self esteem and social isolation. Furthermore, serotonin hormones are essential for a healthy sex drive and normal energy level. If the body is unable to produce a sufficient amount of serotonin, the afflicted person will often experience nagging fatigue and lose interest in sex.
Boosting Serotonin through Food and Diet
A decline in serotonin levels is hardly an irreversible trend. Like so many other chemicals in the body, serotonin can be increased by leading a healthier lifestyle. Below are some practical tips for upping your body’s production of this crucial hormone.
Pass on Processed Foods – You probably have come across the term “processed foods” before, perhaps in another Natural Knowledge 24/7 article. In short, processed foods are items that have been prepared in such a manner as to change them from their original state. Though it has a poor reputation, food processing isn’t inherently bad. The milk resting in your refrigerator, for example, has undergone pasteurization in order to rid it of harmful bacteria.
Unfortunately, processed foods often contain large amounts of sugar and sodium. Such unhealthy fare can be hard to avoid at the grocery store, as white bread, bagels, muffins and sugary cereals all qualify as processed products. Once inside the body, these items actually spike your levels of serotonin, but this boost is short-lived. After this temporary increase, the body’s supply of serotonin takes a nosedive, taking your mood and energy levels down with it.
Focus On Slow-to-Digest Carbs – It might sound odd, but carbohydrates that take their time in your digestive system increase your amount of serotonin. These carbs accomplish this objective in a fairly indirect manner, as they first cause the release of insulin into your bloodstream. This additional insulin allows an amino acid known as tryptophan to flow into the brain.
Why is this important, you may ask? Well, your body uses tryptophan to produce new serotonin. Examples of slow-to-digest cards include oatmeal, beans, lentils and whole grains.
Get Enough Sleep – Failing to get enough sleep doesn’t just rob you of energy. While sleeping, your body sets about replenishing its supplies of serotonin. Fewer hours of sleep, of course, translates into less serotonin in your body. Aim for seven to nine hours of sleep each night.
Avoid Artificial Sweeteners – Many consumers pour artificial sweeteners into their coffees and teas, believing them to be a healthier alternative to sugar. The problem is that artificial sweeteners are not without drawbacks. These sugar substitutes can interfere with the production of certain hormones, including serotonin.
Add More Calcium and Magnesium to Your Diet – Calcium is usually associated with bone health, whereas magnesium really isn’t associated with much of anything. Both nutrients, however, enable your body to produce greater amounts of serotonin. Calcium and magnesium are found together in several healthy foods, such as almonds (25% daily value of calcium, 64% DV magnesium in 1 cup), soybeans (18% DV of calcium, 37% DV magnesium in 1 cup) and halibut (10% DV of calcium, 43% DV magnesium in ½ fillet).
Look For Foods with Vitamin B6 – Calcium and magnesium aren’t the only nutrients that facilitate serotonin production. Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) is also a serotonin-booster, and can be found in abundance in walnuts, whole grains, brown rice, cauliflower, avocadoes and bananas.