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Feeling good with Serotonin

August 2020

Middle aged happy BAME couple

Let’s face it, the recent months have been depressing. Bad news on bad news, restrictions on restrictions. For many people, it has all been difficult to cope with. On top of that, at our age we often have increasing health and life problems.

So how are some people remaining so happy and cheerful while others have been really pulled down?

It could all be due to our natural serotonin levels.

There is a lot still to be learned about serotonin (or 5-hydroxytryptamine) but we do know it is biochemically derived from tryptophan, one of our essential amino acids.  It is mainly found in our gastrointestinal tract (or gut as we tend to call it) but it performs many primary functions in the brain where it helps relay signals from one area of the brain to another.

Amazingly, we have around 40 million brain cells, and most are influenced directly or indirectly by serotonin. This includes brain cells that affect our moods, sleep and memory. It is not necessarily a low production level of serotonin that can cause problems; it could be a lack of receptor sites able to receive the serotonin, an inability of serotonin to travel over to these receptor sites, or even a shortage in tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made. Researchers are finding increasing evidence that a reduction in serotonin level, caused by any of these problems, can lead to depression and other mood changes.

Today there are various antidepressant medications that work on serotonin levels and your doctor can certainly help here. However, there is today also information on how changing a diet can bring more natural but still good results. The key here is turning to foods that are naturally high in tryptophan. Eggs, cheese, salmon, seeds, spinach and soy products are just some of the key foods that can help lift your tryptophan levels.

Interesting, many dietitians also recommend that people ensure they are eating adequate levels of carbohydrates such as bread, pasta and beans. These evidently can increase the insulin levels in the bloodstream which in turn absorb amino acids. This means more tryptophan can enter the brain and serotonin levels go up.

For many years homeopathic supplements such as St John’s Wort and Rhodiola have been used to enhance serotonin levels and of course sunshine is also said to make us feel better – seasonal affective disorder (or SAD) is often treated with light therapies.

We are living in extraordinary times, and if we all feel a bit down at times then that is very understandable. Adjusting your diet to ensure you can maximise your serotonin levels is a good idea, but if you are really feeling depressed, then it is of course important to speak to your doctor.

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