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SEROTONIN  (Neurotransmitter)

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter and hormone that plays important roles in regulating memory, mood, learning, sleep, pain sensitivity and blood pressure as well as appetite and body temperature. There are two types of serotonin in the body. Peripheral serotonin and central serotonin and these play opposite roles in the regulation of energy homeostasis. The functions of serotonin in energy homeostasis range from central control of food intake to direct regulation of adipose tissue activity in the periphery. Many studies have shown that there is increased serotonin production and blood serotonin levels when diabetes or obesity are factors.

Peripheral serotonin

Peripheral serotonin is produced in the gut and stored in platelets. There is also a small amount of free serotonin in plasma. It is also present in other peripheral tissues and it has been shown to play different roles in the bones, mammary gland, pancreas and liver.

It is estimated that around 90 percent of the body's serotonin is made in the digestive tract and lowered levels of peripheral serotonin have been linked to diseases such as cardiovascular disease, irritable bowel syndrome and osteoporosis. It is now known that the microbes in the guts can influence levels of neurotransmitters in their hosts. Peripheral serotonin is produced in the digestive tract by enterochromaffin (EC) cells and also by particular types of immune cells and neurons and there are conditions where an excess of peripheral serotonin appears to be detrimental.

Central serotonin

Central serotonin is the calming neurotransmitter that is made in the brain stem, as serotonin cannot pass through the blood/brain barrier, and is important to the maintenance of good mood. It promotes contentment and is responsible for normal sleep.

Central serotonin also functions as an anorexigenic neurotransmitter which means it has an effect upon the appetite.  It has been found to decrease energy intake by reducing appetite whilst increasing energy expenditure by activating brown adipose tissue through the sympathetic nervous system.


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Deficiency of serotonin

Serotonin levels in the brain are often decreased in people with depression and in those experiencing PMS symptoms.

Symptoms of serotonin deficiency

  • Aggressive behaviour

  • Depression

  • Increased sensitivity to pain

  • Insomnia

  • Obsessive-compulsive eating disorders.

Low levels of serotonin can also be responsible for causing fibromyalgia.

Tryptophan and vitamin B6

The B complex of vitamins and the amino acid tryptophan are required by the body to produce serotonin and often there is a deficiency of the B vitamins, particularly vitamin B12, in people that drink alcohol, limit meat consumption or those that take drugs (prescribed or recreationally). Ironically, many of the drugs prescribed to treat depression and other brain disorders often caused by low serotonin levels, also reduce levels of the B vitamins. The ideal solution would be to first increase consumption of foods that contain all the B vitamins and tryptophan.

Deficiency of tryptophan symptoms

  • Anxiety

  • Depression

  • Impatience

  • Impulsiveness

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Irritability

  • Insomnia

  • Overeating and/or carbohydrate cravings

  • Parkinson's disease

  • Poor dream recall

  • Slow growth in children

  • Weight gain or unexplained weight loss

Serotonin is the neurotransmitter that antidepressants like Prozac works on. While antidepressants more or less locks the system in a state of perpetual serotonin flood, which may be the mechanism that leads to the suicidal thoughts and violence, consuming foods with tryptophan provides the body with the building blocks it needs to generate its own supply of serotonin to alleviate depression, anxiety and insomnia. A diet rich in tryptophan and vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) can remove the need for antidepressant medication.

Highest sources of tryptophan in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Spirulina (dried) 929 mg

  • Chia seeds 721 mg

  • Whelks 618 mg

  • Soya beans 590 mg

  • Pumpkin and squash seeds 578 mg

  • Chlorella (dried) 500 mg

  • Safflower seeds 403 mg

  • Watermelon seeds 390 mg

  • Sesame seeds 388 mg

  • Chicken 362 mg

  • Calf’s liver 361 mg

  • Lamb’s liver 355 mg

  • Quail 354 mg

  • Sunflower seeds 348 mg

  • Pheasant 339 mg

  • Cheddar cheese 328 mg

  • Flaxseeds 297 mg

  • Caviar (fish roe) 293 mg

  • Shrimp/prawns 291 mg

  • Rabbit (wild) 288 mg

  • Cashew nuts 287 mg

  • Tuna (tinned) 286 mg

  • Lobster 285 mg

  • Cocoa beans 283 mg

  • Pistachio nuts 273 mg

  • Mussels 267 mg

  • Peas 266 mg

  • Mackerel (tinned) 260 mg

  • Cod 257 mg

  • Black beans 256 mg

  • Crab 255 mg

  • Salmon (Atlantic farmed) 249 mg

  • Soya beans 242 mg

  • Peanuts 231 mg

  • Pork 220 mg

  • Almonds 214 mg

  • Wheat 212 mg

  • Turkey 194 mg

  • Venison 192 mg

  • Squid 174 mg

  • Walnuts 170 mg

  • Quinoa and eggs 167 mg

  • Rye 154 mg

  • Beef (lean mince) 148 mg

  • Brazil nuts 141 mg

  • Pine nuts 107 mg

  • Black beans 105 mg

  • Oats 102 mg

  • Brown rice 101 mg

  • Spinach 100 mg

  • Cow’s milk 46 mg

  • Goat’s milk 44 mg

NOTE: An average build adult human between 19 and 50 years old requires approximately five milligrams of tryptophan per day per kilogram of body weight. Older people require more. See  the Daily requirements of amino acids

Vitamin B6

Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine) is necessary for the conversion of tryptophan to both vitamin B3 (niacin) and serotonin. Consequently, a dietary deficiency of vitamin B6 may result in low serotonin levels and/or impaired conversion of tryptophan to niacin and serotonin.

Highest sources of vitamin B6 in milligrams per 100 grams

  • Rice bran 4.07 mg

  • Sage 2.69 mg

  • Brewer’s yeast 1.50 mg

  • Sunflower seeds 1.35 mg

  • Wheat germ 1.30 mg

  • Garlic 1.24mg

  • Pistachio nuts 1.12 mg

  • Tuna fish 1.04 mg

  • Beef or calf’s liver 1.03 mg

  • Shiitake mushrooms 0.97 mg

  • Salmon 0.94 mg

  • Turkey 0.81 mg

  • Venison 0.76 mg

NOTE: Wild salmon (0.94 mg) contains far more vitamin B6 than farmed salmon (0.56 mg) and fresh salmon and tuna are far richer in vitamin B6 than tinned.

Prebiotic and probiotic foods

As the gut bacteria are responsible for producing peripheral serotonin, it is vital to address any digestive and colon issues and correct the balance of microbes in the gut. Consuming foods that both contain (probiotic) and feed (prebiotic) the beneficial bacteria in the guts can help to address any imbalance.

Prebiotic foods that feed the existing beneficial bacteria

  • Agave

  • Apples

  • Asparagus

  • Banana

  • Beans

  • Bran

  • Broccoli

  • Burdock root

  • Cabbage

  • Cauliflower

  • Celeriac

  • Chicory root

  • Cocoa (raw)

  • Coconut flesh

  • Dandelion root

  • Elecampane

  • Elephant foot yam

  • Garlic

  • Jerusalem artichoke

  • Jicama root

  • Kale

  • Leeks

  • Lentils

  • Mashua

  • Mugwort

  • Oats

  • Onions

  • Parsnips

  • Peas

  • Radish

  • Rampion

  • Salsify

  • Turnip

  • Swede

  • Sweet potato

  • Whole grains

  • Yacon root

  • Yams

Probiotic foods that contain beneficial bacteria

  • Brine pickles (eggs, fruit, nuts, seeds and vegetables that have been fermented by lactic acid bacteria)

  • Kefir (fermented milk drink)

  • Kimchi (a fermented, spicy Korean side dish)

  • Kombucha (fermented black or green Asian tea)

  • Miso (a Japanese fermented seasoning made with soya beans, salt and a type of fungus called koji)

  • Sauerkraut (finely shredded cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria)

  • Tempeh (fermented soya beans)

  • Yoghurt (plain with live cultures)

Foods that can help to increase serotonin levels

The St John’s wort herb prevents the breakdown of serotonin in the brain.

NOTE: Bright lights can help to increase serotonin levels in the brain.

References. Copy and paste into browser.

  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4696992/

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"Nature cures not the physician..." Hippocrates 460 BC


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