Why Eating Protein Increases Serotonin Levels

Serotonin levels are known to affect moods, appetite, sleep and behavior. A low serotonin level is one of the contributing factors for most psychological disorders such as depression, eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia, obsessive-compulsive disorders, bipolar disorders, sleeping disorders and several phobias. On the other hand, a relaxed mood, happier disposition, subsiding carbohydrates craving and longer stress points are attributed to a high serotonin level.

What Is Serotonin?

Serotonin is small-molecule hormone and neurotransmitter substance that can be found in the blood platelets, digestive tract, pineal glands and the brain. Neurotransmitters are vital in a lot of body functions. They act as a messenger between the nerve cells, enabling them to communicate and interact with each other. Serotonin is one of the major neurotransmitters in terms of abundance and importance of roles. The nerve cells that facilitate its movements are not just found in the brain, but also in the spine.

One of its major roles is its control over the other neurotransmitters. It regulates the messages sent and received by the other neurotransmitter depending on its importance. It also has control over the movements of blood vessels and abdominal muscles affecting coagulation and digestion.

Does Eating Protein Increase Serotonin Levels?

Serotonin can enter the body in two ways–by consuming foods naturally rich in serotonin, such as banana, or eating foods rich in tryptophan. Banana, although a good source of serotonin, cannot increase the seratonin level in the brain. This is because, seratonin in itself cannot cross the blood-brain barrier–the brain’s way of screening the substance that enters it. The brain accepts amino acids–chemical units that make up protein–such as tryptophan. Tryptophan plays an important role in serotonin production. It is converted by the body through a biochemical process into serotonin. Most of the serotonin synthesis happens in the central nervous system.

Eating protein alone will not increase a serotonin level. Protein-rich foods, when digested by the body, break it down to amino acids. There are several kinds of amino acids in protein and tryptophan is the least common and least easily absorbed by the brain. All of the amino acids will then compete to break the blood-brain barrier, and with the abundance of the other amino acids, tryptophan ends up losing. This causes a decline in the amount of tryptophan available for serotonin conversion in the brain.

Experts suggest a diet of carbohydrates with low glycemic levels together with a sufficient amount of protein. Carbohydrates are broken down into glucose by the body. The body will produce insulin as a response. Insulin lowers the level of amino acids in the blood except tryptophan. With a high glucose and tryptophan level in the blood, insulin does its job in lowering down the sugar level by storing it in the cells as glycogen, while at the same time naturally eliminating the amino acid competition. This allows tryptophan to enter the brain in a higher rate resulting to a sufficient amount for serotonin conversion.

People have different body reactions. It is best to consult with a doctor for an individualistic medical advice on how to increase serotonin levels.


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