First, lets understand how it works:
As I learned with Dr. Ivan Rusilko, D.O., serotonin can act as both a neurotransmitter and a hormone in the body. Neurotransmitters are messengers released by neurons that communicate with other neurons via electrical signals. Hormones are released by glands and communicate much slower than neurotransmitters.
Serotonin is known for being your “Happy Neurotransmitter” allowing you to feel happy, calm, and fulfilled. This is because serotonin, 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HTP, plays a pivotal role in emotion/mood, normal body conditions (homeostasis), gut function, influences appetite, movement, cognition, circadian rhythm, and the
“unconscious” nervous system.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with mood disorders, gut issues, some symptoms of Parkinson’s disease, and other health consequences.
Maintaining healthy levels of serotonin can prevent numerous health issues. It’s important to understand that imbalances in serotonin are linked to a wide array of symptoms that interfere with mental and physical health, impairing quality of life. Actually, it has been shown that serotonin is especially low in many mental health disorders such as depression, anxiety, panic, and obsessive compulsions.
So, How Do We Create Serotonin in Our Body?
Serotonin is made from an amino acid called tryptophan, which is found in rich protein sources like meat, cheese, and eggs. A logical conclusion to increase our levels of serotonin would be to increase our levels of tryptophan.
BUT there are TWO main problems with this:
1) The majority of tryptophan that enters the body (90% +) doesn’t convert into serotonin. In fact, most of it gets used for other purposes in the body, some of which may create harmful by-products for our brain.
2) Tryptophan needs to get into the brain for it to convert into serotonin. Because of its structure, tryptophan has a really hard time doing that and needs additional help to get from your blood into your brain.
So, increasing our tryptophan intake isn’t a smart or efficient option, but there is another tactic we can take… Before tryptophan becomes serotonin, it gets converted into 5-HTP.
5-HTP is a small molecule that can easily pass from the blood to the brain with little trouble at all.
Supplementing 5-HTP isn’t as versatile in the body as tryptophan, but it is a more tactical and efficient way of increasing your levels of serotonin, if that is your main objective.
Understand that a lack of dietary tryptophan (compared to other amino acids) may lead to lower blood and brain tryptophan levels, thus decreasing serotonin production. Also, increased BCAAs lower both tryptophan and serotonin, as well as dopamine in the brain. This may be especially problematic for people who consume protein powders to enhance physical activity and performance. In other words, be CONSCIOUS and CAREFUL of what you put in your body!
Remember, if your goal is to increase your happy chemicals then now you know you can do like I do and supplement your body with 5-HTP.
The information presented is not intended for the treatment or prevention of disease, nor is it a substitute for medical treatment, nor as an alternative to medical advice.
This publication is presented for information purposes, to increase the public knowledge of developments in the field of overall health, strength and conditioning.
The program outlined herein should not be adopted without a consultation with your health professional.
Use of the information provided is at the sole choice and risk of the reader. You must get your physician’s approval before beginning this or any other exercise or nutrition program. This information is not a prescription. Consult your doctor, nutritionist or dietician for further information.