An imbalance of serotonin levels in the brain can sometimes cause various people to have anxiety disorders as well as depression.
Serotonin is a vital chemical that affects mood. As a neurotransmitter, it enables signals to be transmitted between the brain’s nerve cells. A lack of serotonin in the brain has been connected to periods of anxiety, insomnia, depression and other mood-related problems. Many antidepressant and anti-anxiety drugs work to increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. However, there are also other non-pharmaceutical ways to regulate the brain’s serotonin output.
Several factors can affect serotonin levels in the brain. Among these are diet, exercise, amount of time spent outdoors, certain drugs and use of stimulants.
Serotonin cannot be directly consumed, but is produced within the brain when needed by combining certain chemicals including tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid, or a building block of proteins, that can be found in several types of foods. Among these are milk, green leafy vegetables, nuts and seeds, and most high-protein foods such as fish and turkey. Serotonin levels also increase with exercise and with exposure to sunlight. Basic carbohydrates can also increase serotonin levels temporarily, but provide only a quick fix approach rather than helping improve mood over the long term. One of the best ways to increase mood by managing serotonin production is to pursue regular exercise.
Some medications can reduce serotonin production. This is particularly true of drugs that contain stimulants. Not only “hard-core” stimulant drugs, which are often illegal, but over-the-counter medications, such as cough syrups and cold medicines, can also have this detrimental effect on overall brain chemistry. Other common culprits are caffeine and excessive sugar consumption.
Reducing Stimulant Use to Increase Serotonin
Often, when faced with a downturn in mood, we reach for a quick fix. This can include coffee, a caffeinated soda, sugary snacks, chocolate, or another option filled with stimulants and/or simple carbohydrates. While these can offer a short-term turnaround for a “down” mood, they are often followed by a mood crash that can be just as dramatic.
Reducing the intake of simple stimulants, such as caffeine and simple carbohydrates, can make a huge difference in your mood management over time. Concentrating on more long-term solutions, such as regular exercise and healthy, balanced meals that include high-quality proteins and foods high in tryptophan, will provide much better results, including more even moods.
To reduce stimulant use, start with the things you “depend” on every day, such as the morning pot of coffee or the afternoon run to the vending machine. Cut back on coffee consumption by a cup or so a day, or switch to decaffeinated coffee over a period of time. Substitute pumpkin seeds or nuts, or even a slice of lunchmeat for the afternoon candy bars and cookies. A glass of milk can be a great afternoon pick-me-up as well, providing protein and calcium along with a nice dose of tryptophan to keep the serotonin flowing.
These simple changes can help a great deal for those with minor mood swings. However, if you are suffering from severe anxiety or depression, be sure to consult with a doctor before changing any medications you might be taking.