Serotonin (5HT) is a neurotransmitter formed from tryptophan, which is important for mood disorders and other mental health conditions.
There are three main neurotransmitters which have been identified as playing a role in psychiatric illness, including serotonin, noradrenaline and dopamine. What a person eats is now recognised as having a significant impact upon the levels of key mood boosting neurotransmitters, such as serotonin.
Good Mood Chemicals – Serotonin, Tryptophan
Perhaps the most widely known neurotransmitter today is serotonin, which is formed from tryptophan, an amino acid. The brain requires foods containing tryptophan in order to make serotonin, with this important neurotransmitter identified by Isaac & Isaac (2014) in Eat Yourself Happy, as being involved in the following:
Tryptophan is an amino acid which, once absorbed by the stomach, reaches the brain and is subsequently turned into 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) and then converted into serotonin. As highlighted by Isaac & Isaac (2004), serotonin is widely used in antidepressant medication, including selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Common SSRI antidepressants include Prozac (fluoxetine), Zoloft (sertraline) and Citalopram.
Foods to Boost Tryptophan Levels – Good Mood Food
Due to the fact that the brain must obtain tryptophan in order to make serotonin, eating foods rich in this amino acid will undoubtedly make a significant impact in terms of mental health and well-being. Isaac & Isaac (2004) recommend tryptophan-rich foods used to help boost serotonin levels and thus improve mood, to include the following:
milk (soy/cow/goat); add fruit such as banana for mood-boosting milkshake
cottage cheese can be the filling for a healthy jacket potato
pecan nuts; add to immunity-boosting yogurt for dessert
peanuts: grab a handful of peanuts for a simple snack
sunflower seeds, which taste great sprinkled on salads
peas and beans can be added to salads
fish such as omega-3 rich salmon
In addition, Isaac & Isaac explain that there are also certain carbohydrate foods which have been recognised to help facilitate the way the body uses tryptophan, such as:
For more information on foods used to help boost mood and antidepressant medications, it is well worth having a chat with the family doctor. A referral may then be made to a nutritionist who will know more about suitable dietary changes, if deemed appropriate.
As highlighted above, the neurotransmitter serotonin is recognised to have a large part to play in improving mood, appetite, sleep problems, as well as mental health conditions such as depression, eating disorders, anxiety, and schizophrenia. Serotonin levels may be boosted by eating tryptophan-rich foods, including bananas, milk, nuts and seeds, oily fish and turkey.