Your brain makes this naturally soothing chemical messenger called serotonin from a time before you born and continues throughout your lifetime. It plays many roles in the brain’s biochemistry – and it’s intimately involved in enhancing deep sleep, maintaining a healthy mood and self-confidence, even supporting a healthy appetite and social engagement.
Produced by the body, this “get happy” chemical also enables the nervous system and your brain cells to communicate back-and-forth. (And, hey, they have a lot to talk about!)
Serotonin Can Bolster Your Mood and Zap Cravings
People who are clinically depressed often have very low levels of serotonin, says Dr. Daniel Amen, MD. Yet, serotonin can be increased in the brain (and body) by eating the proper foods and/or supplementing your diet.
Interestingly, Dr. Amen says certain nutrients can help metabolize and help utilize serotonin most efficiently. Some of these nutrients include magnesium, zinc, folic acid, fish oils, vitamins C and B6.
Some studies suggest that women produce 52 percent less serotonin than men. Levels seem to fluctuate with menstrual cycles, which may explain why women are more prone to depression.
Too little serotonin may affect depression and mood, while too much serotonin can actually become toxic, according to studies by the National Institutes of Health.
The greatest risk of having too much serotonin often occurs when people mix over-the-counter supplements with antidepressants or other prescriptions drugs, says Daniel Amen, MD.
Always ask your doctor about supplementing, especially if you have a chronic condition and take medication every day.
Can You Have Too Much of a Good Thing?
Yes, you can ingest too much serotonin, although the opposite is much more common. Symptoms of too much serotonin include:
- Dilated pupils
- Heavy sweating
- Changes in blood pressure
- Restlessness and sleep issues
The best news, says Dr. Amen, is that healthy lifestyle habits such as daily exercise, consuming “smart” carbohydrates in moderation, and taking a dietary supplement can work together to create a positive mood state, which is the foundation of a happier and more satisfying life!
Feeling blue is often accompanied by increased appetite, which can lead to overeating. Balancing your serotonin levels may help minimize that emotional overeating, he says. Plus, supplements can potentially help control your appetite and promote feelings of equanimity.
Certain Foods Naturally Contain Serotonin
Eating foods high in tryptophan (the amino acid that helps manufacture serotonin in the first place) may include healthy servings of carbohydrates and some lean proteins.
Your best chance at staying calm and composed is with a serotonin boost, but if you do not take supplements, at least eat frequent servings of healthy carbohydrates – like rice, oatmeal, or whole-grains – along with lean protein sources, such as eggs, poultry, and fatty fish like salmon.