Serotonin is the brain chemical that makes us feel happy and content. When we eat a wholesome meal, the body is notified through the release of serotonin that we are well fed, helping us feel content and satisfied. A lack of serotonin causes depression, anxiety, and food cravings. From a nutritional standpoint, a lack of serotonin is frequently a result of food reactions.
Reactions to certain common foods decrease our levels of serotonin and make us crave sugar and other refined carbohydrates. When we have food sensitivities or food reactions, the picture of contentment is upset and the well orchestrated symphony of chemical reactions in our bodies begins to break down.
As we eat reactive foods, they enter our system as macromolecules that the body doesn’t recognize, triggering an inflammatory response which results in swelling and bloating. Then the body releases endorphins which give a feeling of relief along with a “high”. When the endorphins wear off, we crash and feel the need to eat this reactive food again so that you can get the endorphin release again.
To complicate matters, our adrenal hormones rush to the rescue to help the body cope with the allergic reaction, but also contribute to the initial high and the ultimate crash. Eventually, the levels of serotonin become depleted because the white blood cells that help to transport serotonin are busy with the inflammatory reactions in the body.
If you are a “carbohydrate craver”, it will seem virtually impossible to break the cycle. One easy step to break the cycle is to get outdoors. The natural sunlight increases serotonin levels as will moderate exercise such as brisk walking.
Next, begin to identify food allergens in your diet and eliminate them. The most reactive seven foods are wheat, milk, sugar, soy, peanuts, corn, and eggs.
One easy way to identify food reactions is by taking your pulse rate before and after you eat. Adrenal hormones cause your heart rate to increase. If your pulse is elevated after you eat, chances are that you ate a reactive food.
Food reactions harm the metabolism more than any other single dietary factor. They slow the metabolic rate. They increase the hormones that cause weight gain. They create hypoglycemia. They depress energy. They also contribute to illness.
Supplements that will help increase your serotonin levels along with your mood and your energy levels are a good balanced B-complex vitamin with at least 50 milligrams of B-6, along with 100-200 micrograms of selenium. Another helpful supplement that increases serotonin levels is 5-HTP. It is a metabolite of the amino acid tryptophan and the precursor to serotonin. 5-HTP is best taken in small doses throughout the day as it is not stored in the body. My favorite serotonin enhancing supplement is St. John’s Wort – but it has to be fairly high quality to get good results. Also, be sure to get plenty of sunlight to increase your natural levels of vitamin D and remember to walk outside at least 20 minutes per day.
Margaret Durst is a naturopathic doctor who owns The Green House, a vitamin, herb and health food store in Mason, Texas.