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Chapter 1: What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is like VIP therapy. It is a catecholamine molecule also referred to as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). It also has hormonal effects. Serotonin functions as a receptor, which means it conveys signals between nerve cells in your body and central nervous system (your peripheral nervous system). Your body receives molecular instructions on how to operate.
Serotonin affects learning, memory, and pleasure in addition to controlling body temperature, slumber, appetite, and reproductive activity in your body. Serotonin deficiency is believed to contribute to hyperactivity, anxiety, depression, and other illnesses.
Your stomach contains the majority of VIP therapy (serotonin) in your body (intestines). The cells lining your GI system contain about 90% of your body’s serotonin supply. It is dispersed into your bloodstream and taken up by platelets. Your brain only produces 10% of your serotonin supply. Tryptophan, an important amino acid, is used to make serotonin. It cannot be produced by your body, which deems it as what is known as a “necessary amino acid.” It must be acquired through food or supplements.
Why does my body produce VIP therapy (serotonin)?
Serotonin is involved in a wide range of bodily processes, including: Mood: Serotonin is a cerebral chemical that controls mood. It is frequently referred to as your body’s inborn “feel happy” hormone. You feel more mentally secure, happy, relaxed, and more emotionally centered when serotonin levels are typical. Depression and low serotonin levels are related. Numerous drugs prescribed to address anxiety, depression, and other mood disorders frequently work to raise the brain’s serotonin levels. Digestion: The majority of the serotonin in your body is found in your gastrointestinal system, where it plays a part in safeguarding your stomach and controlling bowel movements.
Your stomach can produce more serotonin, which will hasten metabolism and help your body get clear of unpleasant meals and harmful products. Additionally, serotonin helps you feel fuller after meals. When serotonin is released into your stomach more quickly than it can be metabolized, nausea is the result. Numerous medications used to lessen nausea and vomiting target particular serotonin receptors in the brain.
Serotonin and the chemical dopamine both contribute to the quality of your sleep (how well and how long you sleep). In order to create melatonin, a hormone that controls your sleep-wake pattern, your brain requires serotonin.
Serotonin is produced by platelets in your circulatory system to aid in the mending of lesions. Arterioles, the smallest blood arteries, constrict when there is an injury, slowing blood movement and promoting the formation of clots. This step in the mending process of any injury that causes bleeding is crucial.
Your bone mass may be influenced by your serotonin levels. Bone fractures and osteoporosis can result from brittle bones, which can be caused by high amounts of serotonin in the stomach.
Dopamine and serotonin both contribute to your urge for intercourse. What conditions are brought on by reduced serotonin levels? Numerous health problems, including the following, may be linked to low serotonin levels:
- depression and various emotional issues
- issues with sleep
- digestive difficulties
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- panic disorder
Serotonin’s function in the body and how it relates to illness is still a subject of much research for scientists.
Why might serotonin levels be low?
There are typically multiple reasons for decreased serotonin levels. Strictly speaking, reduced serotonin levels result from:
- Serotonin production is insufficient.
- Serotonin isn’t being utilized properly by your body. This may occur if your body doesn’t produce enough serotonin receptors or if the receptors aren’t functioning properly.
How can my serotonin levels be raised?
Serotonin levels can be raised by:
- Getting enough nutrients
- Increasing your physical activity
- Eating foods that increase serotonin
- Eating foods that contain tryptophan or using tryptophan supplements. Countless foods contain tryptophan, but some of the best sources include:
Tryptophan-rich meals do not inherently increase serotonin levels on their own. It’s a difficult procedure. In order to produce insulin, which is required for amino acid absorption, your body requires carbs. Even if tryptophan does enter your bloodstream, it will have to outcompete other amino acids in order to reach your brain. Researchers are still looking into how consuming meals high in tryptophan may increase serotonin levels.
Some individuals may develop seasonal affective disorder if they don’t get enough sunshine exposure. Attempt to get 10 to 15 minutes of sunshine each day to increase vitamin D and serotonin levels. Consider using light treatment to get the necessary everyday sunshine if you reside in a place where you can’t get it naturally. A light box can bought online.
Serotonin levels are also raised by a number of nutritional and natural remedies. These consist of:
- Supplements made from herbs: Examples of these include ginseng, cinnamon, Syrian rue, and St. John’s wort.
- Working out. Serotonin levels have been shown to rise with regular exercise. Engaging in thirty minutes of cardiovascular exercise five times per week along with two periods of weight training can dramatically increase serotonin levels.
Which drugs raise serotonin levels?
Since serotonin affects a wide range of medical problems, serotonin or serotonin receptors are frequently targeted by the pharmaceutical business. Antidepressants of various types prevent serotonin from being recycled and aid reabsorption, enabling more to stay in the brain. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, such as paroxetine (Paxil®), serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, such as venlafaxine (Effexor®), and tricyclic antidepressants, such as amitriptyline (Elavil®), are medications that function in this manner. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors, such as phenelzine [Nardil®], prevent the enzyme that breaks down serotonin. They are a different class of antidepressant. Serotonin is raised by many other drugs that are used to treat a variety of illnesses. The triptan family of headache medications, narcotic painkillers, cough suppressants with dextromethorphan, and anti-nausea medications are a few of these medicines.
What issues are brought on by elevated serotonin levels?
When serotonin levels are overly elevated, a disorder known as serotonin syndrome develops. It typically occurs if you take more than one medicine that increases serotonin or when you first increase the dosage of a prescription that is known to raise serotonin levels. Shivering, excessive perspiration, disorientation, agitation, elevated blood pressure, muscular spasms, and defecation are examples of mild symptoms. High temperature, convulsions, dizziness, and irregular heartbeats are among the severe signs. If serotonin syndrome is serious, it can be deadly if it is not diagnosed and addressed right away.
Chapter 2: Food
Eating foods high in tryptophan relative to other amino acids (turkey, canned tuna, apples, bananas, and oats), eating foods that directly contain serotonin (kiwi, pineapple, potato, and tomato), and increasing your intake of foods high in vitamin B6 (poultry, tuna, chickpeas, and lentils) and vitamin D are all effective ways to increase serotonin levels (mushrooms, salmon, cheese, and sardines). However, if your diet is poor generally, consuming these kinds of items alone probably won’t have a noticeable effect on your serotonin levels.
Let’s discuss serotonin synthesis before getting into the nutrients that raise serotonin levels. The only antecedent to serotonin is tryptophan, an amino acid that can be found in meals high in protein. Since your body cannot produce tryptophan, you must consume meals that contain it or take nutritional supplements to get it. Most of the tryptophan consumed after absorption is taken in the small intestine, where 95% of it is then used for the kynurenine pathway, a metabolic route that is believed to be involved in some illnesses. The residual 5% can either:
- stay in the intestines after being transformed to serotonin (roughly 90% of serotonin synthesis)
- With the aid of a transport protein, penetrate the blood brain barrier (BBB) and be transformed into serotonin for use in the brain (representing 10% of serotonin synthesis).
Which Meals Increase Serotonin Levels?
It is essential to remember that tryptophan fights with other amino acids for entrance into the brain, even though consuming meals high in tryptophan has the potential to increase serotonin levels. Therefore, increasing serotonin levels in the brain simply by consuming meals rich in tryptophan may not always have the results you’re looking for. The best method to increase cerebral serotonin levels is presumably to choose meals richer in tryptophan than other amino acids. Compared to other amino acids, the following items have higher tryptophan concentrations:
- Bread with white or whole grains
- Prepared mackerel
- Cheese, cheddar
- Baked prunes
Several meals are primary sources of serotonin, but since serotonin produced outside the central nervous system (CNS) is difficult to penetrate the blood-brain barrier (BBB), their effects on mood and brain activity may be minimal. The following items contain serotonin directly:
- Chinese chard and chicory
- Exotic berry
- Viola bean
- Innate rice
Foods high in vitamin B6 (needed for the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin) and vitamin D (helps to activate an enzyme needed to produce serotonin) may also be helpful for boosting serotonin production. Food sources for these vitamins are:
- Mackerel rainbow fish
- Salmon Herring
- Animal liver
- Spinach Cheese
Do Any Diets Increase Serotonin Levels?
It may be beneficial to some degree to include items that increase serotonin levels in your dinner plan, but your overall nutritional pattern is likely more significant. Increasing your serotonin levels with certain foods will be challenging if you frequently consume foods that harm your intestines and/or encourage inflammation.
Tryptophan levels are typically greatest in vegetarian and fish-rich diets, while tryptophan levels are lowest in vegan diets. Your chance of developing depression can rise if you consume a meal lacking in tryptophan. It has been demonstrated that various foods, in addition to their other health-promoting effects, have a beneficial effect on serotonin. A 14-week elimination diet that included probiotics or not significantly raised serum (blood) serotonin levels.
Diets that are anti-inflammatory may help increase serotonin synthesis. People with irritable bowel syndrome have been shown to have more serotonin-producing cells in their Gastrointestinal system when they follow a reduced FODMAP diet (IBS). Compared to other amino acids, tryptophan is more abundant in diets rich in carbohydrates, which may make it simpler for tryptophan to penetrate the BBB and be transformed to serotonin.
The key lesson is to choose a diet that best fits your body’s requirements rather than one that tries to include the most items that increase serotonin. Along with many other advantages, a diet that helps you feel good and is good for your digestive health will aid in the natural creation of serotonin.
Can Supplements Increase Serotonin Levels?
Serotonin levels may also be affected by supplementing with tryptophan. Participants in a randomized controlled study who took a substance containing tryptophan reported improved brain performance. Although serotonin levels weren’t explicitly tested, the researchers believed this may have been partially caused by elevated amounts. Tryptophan supplements have been shown to enhance happiness in other trials.
How Do Serotonin Levels React to Inflammation?
In addition to altering gastrointestinal serotonin levels, inflammation in the GI system (or elsewhere in the body) also interferes with serotonin’s ability to travel from the stomach to the brain via the vagus nerve. Typically, 5% of the tryptophan in meals that contain tryptophan is converted by your body into serotonin and melatonin. However, if you have inflammation, that 5% is instead used to make inflammatory proteins (kynurenine pathway), which eventually deprives you of the neurotransmitter that makes you feel good, serotonin.
Your bodily well-being and the degree of inflammation in your body and intestines are significantly influenced by your diet. Eating a diet high in processed and refined foods (high levels of inflammatory fat, sugar, empty calories, and salt) and low in fruits and vegetables can worsen inflammation and may divert tryptophan into the kynurenine pathway, which reduces the amount of tryptophan available for the production of serotonin.
Additionally, elevated levels of amino acids that contend with tryptophan for entrance into the brain are frequently found in inflammatory foods. Probiotics may also help with serotonin levels because of their effects on the tryptophan and kynurenine pathways, according to the scant research available. Tryptophan cannot be produced by humans, but stomach bacteria can produce serotonin and tryptophan, so enhancing the intestine’s bacterial population with probiotics may naturally increase serotonin.
Before a challenging test, students who consumed a probiotic beverage for eight weeks had greater feces serotonin levels, potentially as a result of how bacteria affected tryptophan biosynthesis. The ratio of kynurenine to tryptophan was considerably lowered by taking a prebiotic for eight weeks, which meant that more tryptophan was utilized in the production of serotonin. Subjects’ depressive symptoms significantly improved. Probiotics were taken for eight weeks by people with severe depressive disorder, and their amounts of kynurenine significantly decreased. In other studies, probiotics were found to restore serotonin levels in people with diarrhea and to help increase levels of the enzymes required for serotonin synthesis.
Chapter 3: Probiotics
You know how your stomach feels when you’re about to give a toast? Or the sudden loss of appetite when bad news comes? That’s your brain talking to the microbiota in your gut. This is called the gut-brain axis in the scientific world. It works in both directions. The microbiota in your gut can also send messages to your brain. Recent studies show, in fact, taking probiotics may help improve your mood and intelligence. More research is needed to find out which probiotic strains or doses might be the most helpful, but you can still give your brain a boost by adding probiotics to your diet in a smart way. Why are probiotics good for the brain?
Sometimes you might feel like your stomach has its own mind, and you’d be right. The enteric nervous system (ENS) is our second brain. It’s our job to make the second brain think that everything is fine in the gut so that it can tell the first brain that everything is fine. More research has been done on Lactobacillus and Bifidobacterium strains than on other strains of probiotics (specifically the L. helveticus and B. longum strains).
Researchers even call these strains “psychobiotics” because they might be used as medicines. But here’s what science really knows about probiotics and the connection between the brain and the gut: B. bifidum helps make vitamins like K and B-12, which may also affect how you feel. B. infantis helped rats feel more relaxed and helped treat irritable bowel syndrome. L. reuteri has been shown to help mice feel less pain and can help them get more excited. L. plantarum made mice produce a lot more serotonin and dopamine and made them less anxious when they were in a maze. L. acidophilus may help lower cholesterol and make it easier for the body to absorb nutrients. Rats that were given L. helveticus had less anxiety, but a 2017 study didn’t find any difference.
Try all foods with probiotics: Many foods have more than one type of probiotics, not just one (although you can purchase a specific strain in pill form). One study, which was published in the journal Frontiers of Neuroscience, showed that people with Alzheimer’s disease who took probiotics (a mixture of L. acidophilus, L. casei, B. bifidum, and L. fermentum) had better memory and learning skills. Researchers are still looking into the link between the brain and the gut and how probiotics can help. But so far, the research looks good, and you don’t have to have a long-term illness to benefit from the possible brain-boosting effects. Most probiotics are found in foods that have been fermented. That means you can easily add them to your meals. Some fermented foods include:
- greek yogurt
Everyone has a different microbiome, so don’t eat them all at once. When you start eating these foods, do it slowly at first. For example, you could start with a half cup of kefir to see how your body reacts and then work your way up to a full cup. It’s not unusual to have gas, bloating, and more bowel movements at first. If you don’t have stomach pain, try more foods until probiotics are a natural part of what you eat throughout the day.
When you eat probiotics on purpose, you also make a change in how you live. Natalie Rizzo, MS, RD says that when her clients add probiotics to their diet, it’s usually because they care about their health and eat well. “Both of these things can definitely help your health when done together.” Rizzo knows that it might be hard for some people to eat enough probiotic foods every day.
Try to get probiotics from natural sources first. If you’re unable to get in enough, Rizzo suggests a probiotic pill. You can find them in stores that sell healthy foods. Talk to your doctor about the right dose and find a trusted, reputable manufacturer. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) doesn’t keep an eye on probiotics and other supplements. There may be concerns about safety, quality, or even the way things are packed. What are supplements, and how do they work? Most probiotic supplements have a mix of bacteria from different species. The daily dose is between 1 billion and 10 billion colony forming units (CFUs). A mix of probiotic strains is also often found in supplements, but the brands will usually tell you which strains they have.
Start with a lower dose of CFUs and see how your body responds before working your way up to a full dose. Tess Catlett started taking a probiotic every day to help her stomach feel better. But she started with a high dose (10 billion CFUs) and had stomach pain. She says, “After taking it for two or three days, I got the worst stomachache I’ve had in years. Think of the pain of menstrual cramps mixed with the sickness of food poisoning.” But Catlett’s bloating went away after she changed the amount of the probiotic she was taking and took it every day for two weeks.
Plan when to take your probiotics. When you eat is the best time to take a probiotic. A 2011 study found that the best way to keep all the benefits of probiotic supplements is to take a pill with a meal or 30 minutes before a meal, but not 30 minutes after. Rizzo says that if you have trouble remembering to take a pill, you should link it to something you do every day. You could, for example, make it a habit to take the supplement when you brush your teeth after breakfast. Keep in mind that the benefits to your brain may not show up for a few weeks.
This might seem like a long time, but most antidepressants take the same amount of time. Have finals coming up? Are you worried about work deadlines coming up? Your mood might drop in the days before you get your period. Or maybe you just broke up with someone or have been having a hard time lately. All of these are times when being very smart and deliberate about what you eat and how much probiotics you take in can make a huge difference. Immune function, which is your body’s ability to fight off sickness or infection, is closely linked to both probiotics and gut health. The best way to stay healthy is to take probiotics on a regular basis. But don’t be afraid to take a little more when you think you’ll need a little more help.
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