Transitioning to a serotonin-boosting diet can be a challenge as it can influence your general mood and make you rather irritable. Removing carbs and sugar from your diet will initially create low serotonin levels which will stimulate cravings for sugar, carbohydrates and caffeine.
When glucose enters the bloodstream, insulin is released and pushes nutrients such as amino acids into the cells of the heart, liver and other organs. As it does this, tryptophan stays behind in the bloodstream. Now there is more tryptophan in the blood than the competing amino acids. As the blood passes by the barrier into the brain, tryptophan can get in. The tryptophan is immediately converted to serotonin, and the soothing and appetite controlling effects of this brain chemical are soon felt. And that’s why we often crave chocolates, breads etc.
Not only does low serotonin create perfectionist tendencies, it can increase sensitivity to pain and incidence of nausea. Serotonin also regulates intestinal contractions and other automatic body functions. That’s probably why modern medicine links IBS and constipation to low serotonin production. I don’t think low serotonin is the cause of IBS but it can make some people more vulnerable to developing digestive issues. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for feelings of happiness, optimism and wellbeing. While we think of it as a brain chemical, a majority of serotonin is produced in the gut.
What causes low serotonin production?
A diet full of sugar, processed carbs, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, and alcohol deplete serotonin. Even someone born with healthy serotonin levels can deplete their production through a bad diet and chronic stress.
There’s a misconception that eating whole grains, sugar and carbs can raise serotonin. It only provides a temporary bump, but does little to stimulate the body’s natural production of serotonin. It actually slows the body’s natural production. Eating a LCHF diet restores the body’s ability to create glucose from fat and other sources of protein resulting in less bumps in serotonin production and less craving over time.
Interestingly, people with low serotonin are also perfectionist and like to be productive. We don’t let low serotonin slow us down, to get things done we simply reach for quick serotonin fixes like sugary carbs and coffee. These crutches deplete us even more.
Lifestyle factors, such as not getting enough exercise or sunlight also lower serotonin production, but the biggest serotonin zapper of all is stress. If your reserves are already low, stress can clean you out. Conversely, people with high serotonin reserves can handle a lot more stress without getting burned out and will also find themselves more alert.
Symptoms of low serotonin
According to Julia Ross of “The Mood Cure”, when serotonin plummets, people can experience any of the following symptoms:
- Panic attacks, anxiety, phobias
- Pessimism, depression
- Digestive problems
- Seasonal Affect Disorder (winter depression)
- Sugar cravings (especially in the late afternoon)
- Muscle pain (fibromyalgia)
- Shyness, low self-esteem, feelings of guilt
- Irritability, impatience, anger
- Obsessive or compulsive behaviour (control freak, perfectionist, workaholic)
How to boost serotonin
Raising serotonin from a dietary perspective requires eating a high protein, high fat diet. The healthy fats should come from omega 3 sources like fish, nuts, avocados and saturated fat in pork, beef and dairy.
Amino acid therapy is often recommended for boosting serotonin, particularly 5HTP or Tryptophan. These are the precursor building blocks of serotonin.
If you want to take the dietary route to boosting serotonin, foods highest in tryptophan are turkey, chicken, whole milk (avoid if lactose intolerant), salmon, eggs, halibut, shrimp, tuna and lamb
Skipping breakfast is terrible for serotonin. And for years I had only coffee or tea for breakfast. I just followed the fact that I’m never hungry in the morning, not knowing that replacing food with caffeine was doing damage to my serotonin production.
My healing plan:
• Add tryptophan to your diet in the early stages of changing to a LCHF diet
• Eat a breakfast rich in protein and fat within an hour of rising.
• Spend time outdoors and away from your desk during the day
• Don’t eat protein close to your bedtime
• Recommended supplement of choice is Moringa that has high levels of Tryptophan necessary for serotonin production in the brain. Moringa in is the only complete natural source for all nineteen essentials amino acids and tryptophan combined with the complete range of vitamins
Dr Charles Lubbe is the CEO and a high performance coach at Kubunye and the CEO at Field of Dream that farm, produce and distribute 100% Pure Moringa
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