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.