Like what millennial doesn’t want to naturally improve their mood, concentration, memory, attention, and decrease mood swings, and be able to relax and wind down. JUS BY EATING. Like cmon. I know you want too toooooo.
So, I planned on doing all the nutrients and amino's to optimise mood, but diving into the literature was overwhelmingly fun, and it just kept growing so we're splitting it up into a 4-part mini series.
Yay, okie so, firstly, as a baby intro in the wild wild west world of neurotransmitters; we’re going to see serotonin, dopamine, GABA and acetylcholine, with appearances from adrenaline, noradrenaline and melatonin.
These 4 guys essentially, are our key to unlocking awesome mood boosting potential, enabling us to shift states, and just get us closer to achieving our goals and being thriving millennials all day erry day.
This weeks' serotonin, and then we’ll do dopamine = reward, behaviour, mood, learning, attention, GABA = relaxation, anti-anxiety & acetylcholine = motivation, high-order thought processing, memory, libido and sleep, in the following weeks. Keeping em short and sweet, so you can go away with little things to implement into your days, which is how it all compacts into becoming a thriving millennial.
Serotonin = mood, appetite, sleep, pain.
A majority of our serotonin is made in our gut (70%ish). With the rest being made in the brain. And despite our cute dietary fairy tales of eating proteins high in tryptophan, such as turkey, the research says no deal. (I know right).
Amino acids compete for the transport system within our brain, that transfers the amino’s from the blood plasma across the blood-brain barrier, and into the brain, where it’s synthesised into serotonin.
But never fear, because there are heaps of other plants, which contain the nutritional building blocks for serotonin, aka tryptophan.
And we’re looking at;
- potatoes / sweet potatoes
- brown rice / wild rice / black rice whatevz
- cacao (YES)
- sesame seeds / tahini
- savory yeast flakes (high in B vitamins)
- fermented foods (Bifidobacterium infantis has been shown to increase levels of plasma tryptophan, influencing serotonin receptor transmission).
So the less competition for the transport systems the better chance that tryptophan gets to just skip the que, and go VIP straight into the BBB (blood brain barrier). And dietary tryptophan absorption (note we need to be able to actually absorb our nutrients) regulates serotonin pathways, coz he’s so in demand, we wanna keep him, and so we do. He’s like a stray puppy. And Mum says yes.
As I jus said, ensuring we’re actually able to absorb the dietary tryptophan, and co-factors, such as magnesium, B6 and folate, means we need to have a functioning gut.
Gut-brain dysfunction is multi-directional. It’s a two-way dysfunctional relationship, like the one you probably had in year 12. Either could manifest first, and then the other follows.
Whether the dysfunction is driven by GI inflammation, intestinal microbiota species' aka bad bugs, chronic infections and leaky gut (aka intestinal permeability), or having anxiety, mood disorders, depression, is the driving factor to the lack of serotonin production.
So optimising our gut health, is just as important as optimising our mindset.
The composition of the microbiota (gut bugs) determines the levels of tryptophan in the body, and thus the amount of serotonin in the brain. Some of our gut bugs directly create serotonin (gamma-amino butyric acid) and also modulate the creation of neurotransmitters, like dopamine and BDNF (brain-derived neurtrotropic factor), which enables us to make new neural pathways aka get smarter, take in more information, have innovative thoughts, creative breakthroughs, and better memory consolidation - which is what every millennial entrepreneur wants yeah?
And also, now that I think about it, the list of foods are all also full of resistant starch, which get down into our large intestines where our bugs live and feed them, and enable them to make the SCFA’s that power our cells, thus, more energy, as well as protecting our enterocytes (gut lining cells), decreasing gut issues, inflammation and immune obstruction. Which is crazy cool because it’s all intertwined and kind of hurts my brain but hey, BDNF go do your thang.
Also, random fun facts whilst searching the literature, high fat diets, without the presence of sucrose aka sugar, proved greater serotonin levels within the frontal cortex, than when combined, which showed a decreased. This links into the heavily prevalent correlation between not even just obesity, but shitty eating habits, and depressive mood disorders, and when we say mood disorders, we’re talking feeling meh, lack of motivation, anxiety, depression, indecision, mental fatigue, lack of concentration, inability to wind down and relax and shut off, which links into issues with sleep, appetite and pain.
SO AKA having an imbalance of microflora (pretty way to say ratios of bugs), because we’re eating processed, shit foods, not sleeping, stressed, on medications, etc - can prevent us from optimising serotonin - and serotonin’s mood, appetite, sleep, pain and g feels. The power of switching up what you eat to improve your mood and life is literally, all your choice. The balls in your court.
Next up, we have our beloved exercise. As amino’s compete for uptake, when we’re moving and breaking down our muscles other amino’s, like BCAA’s (leucine, isoleucine and valine) and glutamine, aspartic acid and beta alanine, are more prone to leave tryptophan unsupervised, enabling him to sneak into the receptor in the brain and BAM more serotonin. This is also a super duper, simplified one-directional explanation of how exercise helps to boost serotonin, John. J Ratey wrote Spark, an epic book all about the incredible impact exercise has for improving mood disorders and how exercise is like the #1 treatment for depression and anxiety.
Sunlight and serotonin IS ALSO A LEGIT THING. So exposing ourselves to natural daylight, boosts serotonin production and release, which also makes sense, as serotonin regulates our sleep-wake cycle coz it can convert to melatonin – our sleep hormone. And having synced up waking-sleeping cycles and proper melatonin release will see cortisol dipping at night, optimised recovery, growth, memory consolidation, detoxification and so much more. Hence why sleep is magical. Sun = serotonin = melatonin = thriving millennial.
Now, aside from the science, it’s important we also look at it in a holistic perspective. Individuals, who eat better, tend to move more, and employ better initiatives to handle stress and optimise sleep, thus, put more balls in their court for their bodies to produce more serotonin, uptake it, and break it down effectively. So think about how you can best implement 1-2 of these into your lives (sorry I know winters approaching, vitamin D will suffice) to help your body create more serotonin and reap the benefits.
- The gut-brain axis as we know is a two-directional communication pathway, which is why working on mindset, and nutrition are both equally important for improving mood and serotonin production.
- There’s also baby evidence regarding serotonin (and dopamine) having receptors on neurons that are involved in metabolism and control of food intake (3). So thus, when we eat better, we produce more dopamine and serotonin, and therefore are better able to control cravings and our appetite, and improve our metabolism. Fucking win win if you ask me.
- Our brain is dependent on the gut microbes for essential metabolic products (aka tryptophan & SCFA) via the vagus nerve (gut-brain axis). Turns out what happens in vagus, doesn’t stay there (5). If you’re stuck on where to start with gut health, check out our series of “what’s up with my gut”; pt. 3 = how to balance your gut micro biome, pt 4 = rebuilding the gut, and tips and tricks for great gut health.
NEXT WEEK; DOPAMINE.
love eliza, aka tmn aka serotonin producing machine