Serotonin and depression are inextricably intertwined. Neuroscientists have long known that individuals who suffer from depression also have low serotonin levels, and that this neurotransmitter is critical in regulating moods. They do not know if depression causes serotonin level reductions, or if low serotonin levels cause depression. Boosting serotonin levels is a common strategy to combat depression. Physicians can accomplish this with a class of drugs known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), including Zoloft and Lexapro, and by recommending foods that are known to naturally boost serotonin levels.
Super Foods that Naturally Boost Serotonin
Serotonin is found in only a few food sources, and serotonin that is ingested with those sources will not cross the blood-brain barrier to improve a person’s mood. These food sources include walnuts, pineapple, bananas, kiwi fruit, plums, and tomatoes. Although there is no scientific basis for claims that eating these foods will increase serotonin levels in a person’s brain, some anecdotal reports do suggest that they can positively affect a person’s mood.
An individual’s natural serotonin levels are more likely to be increased by foods that contain serotonin precursors, such as tryptophan. This substance is an amino acid that is found in a number of different foods. Serotonin itself is not necessarily present in tryptophan-rich foods, but like SSRI’s, those foods create biochemical effects to increase serotonin levels and to prevent this neurotransmitter from being absorbed or metabolized. Tryptophan-rich foods also generally include higher amounts of protein, vitamin B6, and riboflavin. Common protein sources such as meat, poultry, fish, eggs, and cheese are all tryptophan-rich. As with the direct ingestion of serotonin-rich foods, however, the research is inconclusive as to whether eating tryptophan-rich foods will boost natural serotonin levels.
Some food scientists believe that combining carbohydrates with tryptophan-rich foods will have a greater effect on natural serotonin levels. Carbohydrates increase a person’s natural insulin level, and that insulin promotes the absorption of amino acids other than just tryptophan into a person’s body. The insulin therefore sweeps away other amino acids that may be competing with tryptophan, leaving greater relative amounts of tryptophan to work on boosting serotonin levels.
New Sources of Nutrition
Research into super foods that can increase natural serotonin levels may be inconclusive, but this does not suggest that dietary alterations should be ignored in the treatment of depression. Different foods will have different effects on a person’s mood and metabolism. Individuals might turn to “comfort foods” that make them feel better without knowing how those comfort foods are having that effect. Carbohydrate-rich foods by themselves can give a person a quick burst of energy, after which they might feel tired or depressed. A well-balanced diet will generally improve a person’s physical health, which can translate into better mental health as well.
Please call the Last Resort Recovery Center near Austin, Texas, at 512-360-3600 for more strategies and information about how dietary changes can have a positive effect on your mood and mental well-being. If you are experiencing symptoms of depression, altering your diet may be one of several things you can do to alleviate those symptoms. We can provide a confidential consultation on other mechanisms to help you.