The human body is amazing. It truly is. I could come up with myriad reasons to back up my statement but because I am on a word crunch here, I will expand on merely one—a compound/chemical called serotonin.
Fun facts about serotonin
- Can be found not only in our serum and Central Nervous System (CNS), but also in our Gastrointestinal (GI) tract
- Is sometimes referred to as ‘the happy hormone’
- Is a natural mood regulator
- Can make you feel emotionally stable, less anxious and more tranquil
- Is associated with helping you feel more focused and energetic
Before you dismiss this article as scientific mumbo-jumbo, below are some reasonswhy you should care about the serotonin levels in your body:
- Serotonin can affect your satiety/appetite regulation and subsequently your body-weight (we have your attention now, don’t we?)
- It can act as a natural anti-depressant
- It helps induce good quality sleep. An amino acid called tryptophan is needed to manufacture serotonin. Tryptophan is associated with sound sleep at night and is in fact suggested in supplemental form to those who suffer from insomnia
- Glucose homeostasis which is scientific jargon for balancing the hormones insulin and glucagon responsible for normal blood glucose levels
- Plays a role in body temperature regulation
Connection between serotonin and body-weight
Few ways in which not enough serotonin could be the reason for that plateau you keep complaining about:
- Low serotonin leads to increases in inflammation and cortisol levels – both of which make it harder for our body to use fat as fuel
- Low levels are associated with increased sugar cravings
- Insufficient serotonin could cause sleep disturbances which activates our ‘feel hungry’ or ghrelin hormone at odd hours. Visualize twisting and turning in bed for hours to finally spring out of bed exasperated and raid the fridge for a meal. Sound familiar?
To-do list for optimal serotonin release:
- Stress reduction: Stress may reduce serotonin levels in the brain thereby having an negative impact on other biological processes such as sleep, appetite and energy levels as well. You certainly must be well-versed both theoretically and practically with the term ‘stress-eating’
- Eat complex carbohydrates (roti, rice, potatoes) as serotonin can be made only and only if this nutrient is made part of your diet
- Add protein into your diet as well. As previously mentioned, an amino-acid called tryptophan is needed to make serotonin. Tryptophan comes under the category of ‘essential amino-acids.’ Essential because our body cannot make it and it must be consumed through food. Food sources of tryptophan: Milk, eggs, spinach/palak, sesame seeds/til, daal/lentil, beans
- Include magnesium. It is an essential mineral which increases energy levels and activates the B vitamins necessary for serotonin production. Food sources: almonds, spinach, cashews, soy milk, black beans, peanut butter, whole-wheat bread, avocado, potatoes, rice, raisins, apples, carrots
- Incorporate B-vitamins (B-1, B-3, B-6 and B-9 specifically) and Vitamin D. B vitamins help convert the amino-acid tryptophan into functional serotonin for our body to use. A vitamin D deficiency can cause serotonin levels in the brain to drop; a potential contributor to depression.
Vitamin B food sources: Rice, roti, eggs, fresh fruits and vegetables
Vitamin D sources: Milk, cheese, paneer, dairy products, mushrooms, sun exposure
- Include a workout or some form of physical activity. This ups the rate and frequency at which serotonin is fired within the brain, resulting in an increase in both the release and synthesis of it. The optimal amount of exercise needed to enhance serotonin synthesis in the brain is 3 hours/week or 30 minutes most days of the week. Thirty minute sessions may be divided throughout the day in three 10-minute increments for those who complain of not having enough time
- Mindfulness practices such as meditation and yoga are also linked to higher levels of serotonin
- Be prudent with your caffeine intake since it suppresses serotonin
- Cheesily enough, relive some happy memories. Studies depict that a gesture as little as that may be enough to give your brain a serotonin boost
With your newfound expertise on serotonin, ensure you employ the hormone-boosting strategies not only in your own everyday life, but also into the lives of those around you. A smile here, a warm embrace there and you’ll have your loved ones releasing serotonin in no time!