The Science of Ingredients: Serotonin and Tryptophan

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What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a hormone found throughout the body, mostly in the gut and in the brain and spinal cord (central nervous system).  In the digestive system it helps the smooth muscle contract and so eases digestion.  In the brain it helps regulate mood, among other things, and is known as the happiness hormone as it contributes to a general feeling of well-being.

What has the research found?

Levels of serotonin have been found to be linked with:

How do we ensure we get enough Serotonin?

It is a hormone which cannot cross the blood-brain barrier, so must be produced within the brain.  This is where the food bit comes in – we must eat tryptophan containing foods in order to be able to produce serotonin in the brain.  Eating foods high in tryptophan ensures that we have enough of the building blocks to make serotonin for ourselves.

These foods include:

  • Dairy: yogurt, milk, cheese
  • Protein: beef, pork, turkey, chicken, fish, shellfish, eggs
  • Soy: tofu, soy milk, soybeans/edamame
  • Legumes: beans, lentils, chickpeas
  • Whole Grains: oats, brown rice, wheat, wheatgerm
  • Nuts and seeds: hazelnuts, peanuts, almonds, sunflower seeds, sesame seeds, pumpkin seeds
  • Fruit: mangos, dates, bananas
  • Vegetables: kelp, spirulina, potato skins
  • Cocoa: chocolate, cocoa powder

Alternatively, you can take a supplement of 5-HTP, although of course whether or not you believe in taking supplements is the basis for a whole series of posts!  If you do decide to take a supplement of it, remember to take it at night as it does make you feel drowsy…


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