The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin

The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin

September 13, 2019 29 By Ewald Bahringer


“The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin” Recent studies like this suggest that
dietary patterns characterized by high intakes of vegetables, fruit,
mushrooms and soy products are associated with fewer
depressive symptoms. The year before, it was this study, “The association between dietary patterns
and mental health in early adolescence,” showing “[i]mproved behavioural scores… significantly associated with higher
intakes of leafy green vegetables and fresh fruit. Could any of this be because of the psychoactive substances
found in plant foods? The neurotransmitter serotonin, often referred to as the
“happiness hormone,” is found in plant foods. But, serotonin doesn’t
cross the blood-brain barrier. So, it shouldn’t affect our mood,
no matter how much we eat. The precursor to serotonin, however,
what your body makes serotonin out of, is an amino acid called tryptophan. And, there’s a transport protein
in the brain that plucks tryptophan out of the bloodstream,
and so, what you eat can end up affecting your mood. Back in the 70s, they did
tryptophan depletion experiments, where you give people specially
concocted tryptophan-deficient diets. And, indeed, their mood suffers. They get irritable, annoyed,
angry, depressed, right? Their body just can’t
make enough serotonin. Likewise, you can give people
tryptophan pills to improve their mood. And, indeed, it became a
popular dietary supplement— until people started dying from something
called eosinophilia myalgia syndrome, an incurable, debilitating, and sometimes
fatal flu-like neurological condition, caused by the ingestion
of tryptophan supplements. May have been due to
some unknown impurity, but, better safe than sorry. Instead of supplements, there are dietary strategies
one can use to improve mood— which we’ll talk about next.