Serotonin: refuel the neurotransmitter of joy

Our brain works thanks to neurotransmitters, these chemical mediators carrying important messages both for the general functioning of our organism and for our mental health and the stability of our emotional states.

Our nervous system needs it to ensure communication between neurons and thus receive and send messages throughout the body. There are over a hundred different neurotransmitters responsible for our conscious and unconscious actions as well as our emotions. The function of certain neurotransmitters is beginning to be well understood now. This is particularly the case of serotonin, the neurotransmitter of well-being.

An essential role in the body

Serotonin is synthesized by certain neurons in the brain and intestine from an essential amino acid (which the body does not know how to manufacture), tryptophan, which is a small part of the composition of food proteins. As a result, our serotonin level is particularly linked to our diet. It also depends on the light because good light reduces its degradation. It plays a major role in regulating stress, anxiety, phobias and depression. But its effects do not stop at the emotions. Serotonin is also involved in the regulation of body temperature, pain, blood clotting, onset of sleep, control of food intake, susceptibility to migraines and aggressive behavior. It is also used by the brain to make melatonin, a neurotransmitter involved in sleep.

Low serotonin and everything goes wrong

Low serotonin levels appear associated with extroversion, impulsiveness, irritability, aggressiveness, and even in extreme cases with suicidal tendencies. The destruction of regions of the brain with a high density of serotoninergic neurons leads to a disinhibition of reflective control over behavior: the animal gives in to impulses regardless of the consequences of its actions. When electric shocks are administered to a rat trying to get food, it stops after about ten attempts. But when you deplete your serotonin, it persists despite 200 or more shocks. Mice and rats generally live together without problems in a cage. But if their serotonin is abnormally low, the rats slaughter the mice. The drastic drop in serotonin also leads to a disinhibition of sexual activity.

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Serotonin has mainly been studied in depression. If low serotonin levels are associated with low morale, a deficiency manifests as symptoms of depression. Decline in morale, significant fatigue, sleep disorders, lack of desire, food intake disorders, withdrawal and loss of self-esteem or even suicidal thoughts. Restoring the level of serotonin is also the target of many drugs such as SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) or iMAOs (MonoAmine Oxidase Inhibitor), an enzyme responsible for degrading serotonin.

Plants and precursors: The best sources of serotonin

But conversely, a sufficient level of serotonin creates a favorable ground for cautious, thoughtful, calm behavior, the inhibition of violent behavior and promotes a feeling of well-being with oneself and others. Joy would seem to be born in serotonin.

To ensure sufficient serotonin levels, you must eat foods rich in tryptophan, its precursor. You will find it in avocado, cheese, chicken, duck, oatmeal and ricotta, among others. For reasons of assimilation, it can also be useful to use supplements rich in tryptophan. These are generally recommended at the end of the day (after 5 p.m.), when our serotonin synthesis is at its maximum. The griffonia (Griffonia simplicifolia) is also an interesting plant. Of African origin, its seeds contain a significant amount of 5-HTP (5-HydroxyTryptophan), the direct precursor of serotonin.

However, it is not enough to consume tryptophan or 5-HTP to produce serotonin. It is still necessary that our neurons have sufficient quantities of vitamins B2 and B6, trace elements such as magnesium and zinc to be able to manufacture this serotonin correctly.

Finally, some plants have an interesting action to maintain good levels of serotonin. This is the case with saffron (Crocus sativus) or St. John’s wort (Hypericum perforatum). Not to mention physical activity/exercise, meditation, laughter and light therapy which are also effective ways to maintain good serotonin levels and an unalterable joie de vivre.

Ludovic Rondini
Professor at the FLMNE Naturopathy School and their site:

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Ludovic Rondini is a doctor of nutrition. Holder of a master’s degree in biochemistry, a doctorate in nutrition and an MBA specializing in health professions. He is the author of more than several scientific publications in peer-reviewed journals and regularly intervenes to train and inform health professionals on new advances in the field of nutrition, micronutrition and phytotherapy.


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