Mood Enhancers: The Roots of the Blues
Serotonin is considered the "mood neurotransmitter" that keeps us emotionally and socially stable. It is interesting to note that women seem to have more problems than men in maintaining their serotonin levels. Yes, women are moodier and this is not a sexist comment, but just a reflection of biological truth, likely due to the interplay between serotonin and the female hormone cycle. This would explain the emotional shifts related to menstrual periods, when many women experience increased moodiness, irritability, and sensitivity to pain. Women who are low in serotonin are likelier to express their anger inwardly, with depression and even suicidal behavior.
Research shows that, in contrast, men who are low in serotonin are often violent and may even engage in dangerous criminal acts. Alcohol and drug abusers also turn out to be low in serotonin. The good news is that we can successfully correct these imbalances by supplying supplements that raise serotonin.
"Good Mood" Foods: The Tryptophan Connection
Serotonin comes from the essential amino acid tryptophan, which is found in protein-containing foods such as fish, turkey, chicken, cottage cheese, avocados, bananas, and wheat germ. Researchers have found that when they take depressed patients who have improved and deprive them of tryptophan, their depression returns. This has been well demonstrated by research at Oxford University's Department of Psychiatry. Women with a history of depression were divided into two groups and were given a diet excluding or including tryptophan under double-blind conditions (that is, neither the subjects nor the researchers knew who received which diet). At the end of the experiment, ten out of fifteen women on the tryptophan-free diet were significantly depressed, while no one on the tryptophan diet had any problem at all. When the participants in the deprived group were given a diet containing tryptophan, their depression lifted.
In general, giving tryptophan to people with depression has been beneficial, although some trials have not found that it had a significant effect when compared with a placebo. One possible explanation is that, without sufficient vitamins B3 and B6, tryptophan can be processed along a different chemical pathway, turning into a substance called kynurenine instead of serotonin (see Figure 3). We can also supplement with an amino acid called 5-hydroxytryptophan (5 HTP), which is one step closer to turning into serotonin.
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From NATURAL HIGHS: Supplements, Nutrition, and Mind/Body Techniques to Help You Feel Good by Hyla Cass and Patrick Holford. Copyright © Hyla Cass, M.D., and Patrick Holford. Used by arrangement with Avery, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc.
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