Serotonin is a neurotransmitter which is produced in the brain and in the gut and is commonly referred to as the ‘happy hormone’. Much to the surprise of many individuals, more serotonin is actually produced in the gut rather than the brain and therefore having a healthy gut microbiome may be a key part of supporting good mood. However, along with a healthy gut the production of serotonin requires a whole host of nutrients and there are a range of foods you can incorporate into your diet to support your mood too.
The production of serotonin requires a pre-cursor in the form of the amino acid, tryptophan. Tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier in order to support the production of serotonin. Tryptophan can be found in a number of food sources including: oats, turkey, chickpeas and dairy products. Trying to incorporate a source of tryptophan into the diet on a daily basis can help to support the stability of serotonin production.
In addition to tryptophan another key nutrient to support the production of serotonin is carbohydrate. Carbohydrates allow tryptophan beat the other amino acids to cross the blood brain barrier. Where possible opt for complex carbohydrates e.g. those rich in fibre. These include starchy vegetables, beans, pulses and wholegrains. Due to the role that carbohydrates play in supporting the production of happy hormone, one of the common side effects of a very low carbohydrate diet can be low mood. Therefore where possible try to avoid drastically limiting carbohydrates in the diet.
Vitamin B3 (also known as niacin) has been shown to increase tryptophan availability which means the body can utilise more tryptophan to help aid serotonin production. You can find Vitamin B3 in dietary sources such as: fortified flour, beef, chicken, turkey, salmon, rice, potatoes, bananas and yoghurt to name just a few. Since Vitamin B3 is pretty abundant in foods, if you’re eating a healthy balanced diet the chances are you’re obtaining ample amounts.
Vitamin B6 (also known as pyridoxine) supports the actual conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. Consequently, Niacin and Pyridoxine work closely together in this reaction and therefore obtaining adequate amounts of both is really important. Vitamin B3 and B6 tend to be found in similar foods and some sources of B6 can include bananas, squash, rice, nuts, meat and fish too.
We couldn’t write about serotonin and mood without mentioning Vitamin D. Vitamin D plays a role in producing serotonin and dopamine. Low levels have been associated with low mood. The UK government recommends supplementing with 10µg throughout the winter months. Additionally, if you spend a lot of time in doors throughout the spring and summer months then you may wish to consider supplementing then too.
Generally if you’re consuming a balance of foods in your daily diet then you’re most likely getting everything you need. If low mood is impacting your quality of life please seek personalised advice from your GP.