Serotonin, the molecule of happiness

Serotonin, the molecule of happiness

There is a close link between serotonin and happiness. Nutrition is often involved, but increasing its levels with food may not be easy.

Serotonin, the molecule of happiness

Our happiness does not depend only on what surrounds us; it is also based on biological factors, including hormones and neurotransmitters such as serotonin .

This molecule is responsible for our feelings of satisfaction, optimism and, indeed, happiness. When his blood concentrations are high, his mood is better; on the contrary, depression is associated with a reduction in its levels.

It is no coincidence that the most modern antidepressant drugs work by increasing the amount of serotonin available to the cells of the brain .

Genes that affect serotonin levels

The levels of serotonin in our brain depend on the action of two genes :

> the first (5-Httlpr) determines its distribution . There are two variants, one of which is associated with greater satisfaction with one’s life;

> the second (Mao-A) controls its degradation . One of the variants of him is associated with the risk of forms of aggression ; in women, low levels of expression of this variant are associated with a greater feeling of happiness.

However, genetics are not the only factor that can regulate the levels of this molecule.

Serotonin: where is it found in nature?

 Taking the precursor of serotonin – the amino acid tryptophan – in a purified form increases the brain levels of this neurotransmitter.

Unfortunately, however, it is not as easy to increase serotonin levels by exploiting its presence in food , as well as that of tryptophan.

For example, serotonin is present in bananas , but they are not actually useful for improving mood. Once absorbed, in fact, serotonin cannot pass from the blood to the brain , where it should perform its action. The same problem is encountered with chocolate .

Even the idea of ​​increasing your levels by eating tryptophan-rich foods (such as cashews , walnuts , peanuts , almonds , sesame seeds , sunflower seeds and pumpkin seeds , cocoa and cereals  – wheat, rice , corn ) is not simple. as one might hope.

For example , intake of α-lactalbumin – a milk protein   that contains more tryptophan than most other proteins – has been associated with mood improvements. It is not realistic,  however, to think of steadily increasing the amount of dietary tryptophan based on the intake of this protein.

In other cases, the consumption of foods containing this amino acid is not always associated with an increase in brain levels of serotonin due to competition for transport in the brain between the so-called neutral amino acids.This natural mechanism is particularly influential when trying to increase the level of serotonin. taking tryptophan with protein-rich foods .

Of the neutral amino acids, tryptophan is the least abundant. Increasing protein consumption will increase its concentrations, but it will also increase those of amino acids with which it must compete to be transported to the brain. Compared to them, it will always tend to be in the minority.

To this phenomenon, however, we must add the role played by the intake of antioxidants (particularly abundant in foods of plant origin), which can increase the flow of tryptophan in the brain by decreasing its degradation.

Finally, the composition of the intestinal bacterial flora also seems to influence the availability of tryptophan.

These phenomena influence the possibility of significantly increasing serotonin, but this does not mean that nutrition cannot play any role. In the past, in fact, interesting associations have been found between the intake of tryptophan of food origin and psychological well-being.

However, the situation seems more complex than one might imagine: carbohydrate consumption has also been associated with an increase in serotonin in the brain, but only if the meal has a limited protein content (less than 2%).

Read also Foods for a good mood >>

What Serotonin Helps

There are other factors that can help raise serotonin naturally.

The first is light , already used as a remedy for seasonal depression: one more reason to spend more time outdoors not only in winter, but also in summer.

It also seems that physical activity can help increase serotonin in the brain. Again, the benefits of this natural remedy are already being exploited in the treatment of depression.

Finally, the link between serotonin and happiness seems to be two-way: trying to improve one’s mood , for example through psychotherapy, could help increase the levels of this precious neurotransmitter.

Too much serotonin: what does it cause?

We must not forget that serotonin excesses are also dangerous . Its side effects include both physical ailments (such as tremors) and alterations in the psychological state.

Fortunately, however, these are problems mainly associated with taking drugs, while natural excesses of serotonin are rare and associated not with nutrition but with pathological conditions.


Serotonin, which method to choose to increase it?

In some cases, medications are needed to raise serotonin levels . The doctor will decide if it is appropriate to rely on remedies of this type. From some foods , however, an interesting amount of serotonin can be added.

In other cases, the best solution seems to be to act on the well-rounded lifestyle.  It is good to remember that, in order to stay healthy with nutrition, it is better not to rely on a single food considered super-healthy but to guarantee a diet as varied and nutritionally balanced as possible.


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