Serotonin Boosting foods are a Myth

There are some popular myths that eating turkey or bananas will increase serotonin levels but it’s so much more complicated that’s this idea is basically myth.
 
All protein foods contain tryptophan some such as turkey, wild game, duck, cottage cheese, egg, avocado, nutmeg, turmeric, liquorice (anice), brown rice, peanuts and sesame seeds have slightly higher amounts but unfortunately simply eating protein foods with high tryptophan levels hardly has any effect on serotonin levels in the brain.
 
Tryptophan in food boosts serotoninThis is because the amino acid tryptophan is considerably smaller and lighter than other amino acids and when all the amino acids are consumed together and arrive at the blood-brain barrier the larger and heavier amino acids push forward pushing the smaller tryptophan to the back so it is absorbed into the brain in amounts that are too small to have an antidepressant effect. When tryptophan is consumed on its own however without a meal there is less competition from the other heavier amino acids so it can cross the blood-brain barrier in much larger amounts.
 
What really matters with tryptophan absorption across the blood-brain barrier is not the amount of tryptophan present but the ratio of tryptophan to competing amino acids.
 
You may already know this but just in case: proteins in the food we eat are typically huge molecules are made from thousands of building blocks called amino acids strung together in long chains and then typically coiled into ball like shapes; when we eat protein foods the enzymes in our digestive system break apart the proteins into individual amino acids which we then absorb into the bloodstream and then reassemble or re-engineer into human-shaped proteins including serotonin.
 

Serotonin and Carbohydrates

There is some misleading information online that you can get a serotonin boost by consuming carbohydrates.
 
Some of the original research on this was done with rats and it turns out that rodent brains respond differently to carbohydrates than our brains.  Subsequent studies in primates (our close relatives) showed that to get any serotonin boost from carbohydrates you have to eat absolutely pure carbohydrate on its own.  It was found that if a carbohydrates contained as little as 4% protein then the serotonin boosting effect would not occur.
 
Other research showed however that consuming a little plain carbohydrate such as rice or potato at the same time as supplementing tryptophan does increase the entry of the tryptophan into the brain.  This effect was demonstrated in primates (monkeys) and will almost definitely occur in us humans. 
 
From personal experimentation I found that if I could half dosage of tryptophan needed to supplement if I took it together at the same time as the small potato, spoon of rice or a handful of raisins; now this may sound like a good thing but it isn’t because the reason this works is it induces a spike in insulin that helps tryptophan to enter the brain and spikes in insulin are harmful and should be avoided as much as possible. Eating a carbohydrate on its own just before going to bed which is the typical time to take tryptophan and inducing a spike in insulin could then lead to a crash in blood sugar called hypoglycaemia while sleeping which would discharge cortisol in the night perhaps waking you up and certainly increasing inflammation levels in the brain while it is sleeping and trying to regenerate, don’t do it. It’s much healthier and just as effective to take a high-dose of tryptophan on its own.
 
The reason eating pure cards increases tryptophan absorption into the brain works is it induces a spike in insulin and insulin causes the heavier competing amino acids to flow into the muscles thereby reducing the amount in the blood that competes with tryptophan absorption across the blood-brain barrier.
 
The healthy way to eat carbohydrates is choose low glycaemic index carbs and always eat them with plenty protein and healthy oils.  The presence of the oil and protein slows down the release of sugars in the carb and prevents surges of insulin, this stabilises your blood sugar which helps stabilise you mood and improves you energy (especially your stamina).  Surges in insulin also accelerate degenerative ageing processes within the body.  See the chapter on mastering blood sugar for more information.
 
Paradoxically tryptophan and serotonin levels temporarily fall after eating a protein meal, despite this the best overall diet to build serotonin levels is actually a high protein diet especially from oily fish and the foods mentioned above.
I specialise in treating and coaching people with mental health problems how to obtain better mental health with natural remedies and self-help techniques. If you would like me to look into your individual case and develop a tailor-made programme of natural remedies, dietary advice and brain training exercises I’m available for private consultations at my London clinic and online for people that live too far away.
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Related Articles
The Serotonin Deficiency Causing Your Depression and Anxiety?
Don’t Take Tryptophan or 5 HTP until You’ve Read This
Serotonin Deficient Depression

 
 
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I also run regular meditation classes in London and online.
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