Why Carbohydrates Instantly Increase Serotonin Levels

Serotonin levels have a significant influence on an individual’s appetite, sleep, mood and learning capability. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that can be found in the digestive tract, central nervous system and blood platelets. It can be produced by the body from an amino acid known as tryptophan through a synthesis in the brain. The neurons that produce serotonin are unique. Unlike other neurons, the amount of the neurotransmitters they release is influenced by food intake.

As a neurotransmitter, serotonin plays the role of a messenger to allow communication and interaction between nerve cells. It is a major neurotransmitter in such a way that it has control over the messages that other neurotransmitters send. This is the reason serotonin affects a lot of body functions.

Effects of Carbohydrates on Serotonin Levels

There is no food that can directly affect serotonin levels. However, an intake of a carbohydrate-rich food–through several biological processes–can increase the amount of serotonin produced by the brain. Carbohydrates–as a serotonin-production inducer–acts via insulin and insulin’s effect in increasing the tryptophan ratio over the other amino acids.  

Carbohydrates, when digested by the body, are effectively broken down into sugar molecules. When these molecules are absorbed and released in the bloodstream, blood concentration of glucose increases. Almost immediately, there will be a significant increase in plasma insulin levels as a result of the pancreas releasing its stored insulin. Insulin then steps in to do what it is genetically program to do–it breaks it down some more to produce energy and transport the extra glucose from the blood to the body cells. Insulin also makes it easy for tryptophan to enter the brain by eliminating its other amino acid competitors.

Tryptophan, an amino acid and an important ingredient in serotonin synthesis, is one of the substances allowed by the brain to enter from the blood. Tryptophan is the less occurring amino acid in the body and competes with the other amino acids in entering the blood-brain barrier. In a journal published by Springer Wien, it was observed that the concentration of the majority of the amino acids, including alanine and glutamine, are significantly reduced each time insulin is secreted. Tryptophan is then able to enter the brain at a higher rate. An increased level of tryptophan in the brain means more available tryptophan for conversion. Tryptophan undergoes hydroxylation to the 5 positions and is converted in 5-HT and eventually to serotonin.

Effect of a Low Serotonin Level

Low serotonin levels are associated with a wide range of disorders. Several researches show that a low serotonin production or activity is observed on people with several psychological and biological disorders. People diagnosed with clinical depression have low serotonin levels in the brain. Low levels of serotonin may also be related to sleep disorders such as insomnia and sleep apnea. It may also be an underlying factor in weight gain or weight loss for an individual suffering from disorders characterized by irregular food intake and depression such as Anorexia, Carbohydrate Craving Obesity (CCO), Pre-menstrual symptoms (PMS) and more.

Carbohydrates consumption may have varying effects on people. It is best to consult an expert for medical advice.

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  • Daniel von Calabrese

    1. Serotonin release and food intake have nothing in common.

    2. Carbohydrates aren’t serotonin-production inducer.

    3. An increased level of tryptophan in the brain doesn’t means that tryptophan will be convererted in serotonin.

    And not to be ungrounded like you, I’ll explain these three things that you offer us like a facts.

    The things aren’t that simple…just tryptophan rich foods and carbs…

    1. L-tryptophan can be absorbed from muscle tissue if needed, even if the diet is carbohydrate-rich. More tryptophan in brain cells doesn’t mean more serotonin release. Even the increased production of serotonin from tryptophan, the extra serotonin is immediately metabolized intracellularly to 5HIAA without entering the functional pool and without being released. So increasing tryptophan availability does not increase serotonin release. So no serotoninergic neurotransmission.

    2. No direct link between Carbohydrates and serotonin production. As I said L-tryptophan can be absorbed from muscle tissue if needed, even if the diet is carbohydrate-rich or not.

    3. There are alot of factors(enzymes – whether they are in right amounts, are inhibited or not, are without any gene variations/mutations – it’s a rate-limiting
    step; coenzymes; cofactors) and mechanisms(negative feedback and other regulations) which determines whether more tryptophan will mean more serotonin.