Increase Mood & Lose Weight With Serotonin!

by Jeanne Rhodes

If you are overweight, or suffer from migraine headaches, or are depressed, you may have heard of serotonin. This naturally occurring substance has recently been the subject of countless research studies which have begun to uncover the secrets of its impact on these conditions as well as mood shifts and weight control.

Serotonin is created by your body from tryptophan, an amino acid supplied by protein foods. It has many and varied effects on the body and is found in many body tissues including the brain, blood, and the mucous membranes lining the stomach and digestive tract. At least 14 different serotonin receptors have been identified in the brain.

Most of the current interest in serotonin is focused on its function as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that carry signals from one nerve cell to another. There are 30 or 40 neurotransmitters that are used by the ten million cells of the brain. The neurotransmitter serotonin plays an important role in mood states, and therefore, in a number of mental disturbances and diseases. Antidepressant prescription drugs called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) work by enhancing the activity of serotonin.

One of the most potentially profitable applications of the research on serotonin activity is the area of weight control. One of its many functions is to turn off appetite once hunger has been satisfied. Very often, people with low serotonin become depressed and will also crave refined carbohydrates as well as dietary fat. An increase in serotonin results in decreased food intake and an increase in mood status. Researchers have shown that an increase in serotonin reduces weight by decreasing the amount of food eaten at a meal and slowing the rate of eating. These findings led to the production of d-fenfluramine, popularly known as “Fen-fen,” for weight loss - with disastrous results. What we learned from “Fen-fen” was that increasing serotonin production with prescription drugs is life threatening! But the good news is that you can increase serotonin production healthfully through dietary intake.

Richard Wurtman, professor of neuroscience at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology has co-edited some 800 scientific papers and an eight-volume series called Nutrition and the Brain. Dr. Wurtman states, “It may surprise some people to learn that many food constituents can actually affect the chemical composition of the brain.” What we eat affects our behavior because many food constituents can modify the production or release of neurotransmitters. Serotonin production for example, requires a healthy balance of carbohydrates and protein. Carbohydrates cause the pancreas to secrete insulin. This lowers blood levels of all amino acids (from protein food) except tryptophan. Since tryptophan has to compete with the other amino acids to pass through the blood-brain barrier, when the others get lowered, more tryptophan passes into the brain to be converted into serotonin. Therefore, giving the body the raw materials it needs to make serotonin safely increases production of this neurotransmitter to bring many and various health benefits from appetite control and depression to migraine headaches.

Foods can act as drugs, and our moods and physiology - mental and physical - are so intricately intertwined that what we eat has an enormous impact on our lives - the scientific community knows this - we need to learn it!

Rhodes, B.A., M.A., is a Nutritionist, Wellness Lifestyle Strategist, Author, Owner and Director of Rhodes Preventive Health Institute in Hagerstown.