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Serotonin - What You Need To Know About This Powerful Hormone - Part I

Updated on March 20, 2013

“I tried every diet in the book. I tried some that weren’t in the book. I tried eating the book. It tasted better than most of the diets.” ~Dolly Parton

Are Youthful, Toned Bodies Wasted on the Young?

Like many of us when I was in my twenties (before having babies), I was sexy, curvy and toned. Curvy wasn't exactly what I was going for; runway model thin was more what I had in mind. If I could go back in time and look that way, again, I'd take "curvy" in a heartbeat.

Sensible nutrition was never an option for me when trying to lose weight. My option of choice was always the latest diet craze, which always ended in failure.

Back then, the No-Fat craze (still around) appealed to me. In those days, eating a box of "fat-free" chocolate cookies in one sitting was not uncommon for me. Luckily for me, I had youth on my side.

I thought I could really sink my teeth into the carb-free Atkins diet: bacon, grease and eggs galore. By my fourth week on Atkins, I was a carb-craving junkie looking for a fix. My fix came in the form of a dozen blueberry muffins, a crumb-explosion feeding frenzy followed by intense guilt.

What I experienced with all of my diets, carb or no carb, was deprivation, bad nutrition and a drop in serotonin that could sink a ship.

What Serotonin Is And Why We Need It To Lose Weight

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (also called 5-HT); it's a chemical in your brain (and your guts) that is involved in the regulation of your appetite, mood and sleep. When food consumes your thoughts and you have lust for carbs that is more than your willpower can handle, you are most likely low in serotonin. When serotonin takes a nosedive no amount of willpower can save you; donuts and Ding-Dongs are your destiny. It's like being Lawrence Talbot on a full moon.

Serotonin controls your appetite, food selection and food consumption habits, therefore it effects metabolism. Serotonin balance is important and tricky. Too little causes food cravings, aggression, insomnia, even suicidal tendencies. Too much serotonin can cause psychiatric disorders, confusion and even may have fatal consequences.

When serotonin is in balance we have an overall sense of well being, and an appetite within the normal range and under our control.

The brain must keep making serotonin every day. Serotonin cannot be stored up like a squirrel stores it's nuts for the winter.

Serotonin Zappers

Diets, like the ones I've tried (mentioned above), or any calorie restrictive diet, cause serotonin levels to drop. In fact your serotonin levels may drop even before your weight does.

Stress is a major zapper; it not only may cause insomnia but it releases cortisol (stress hormone) which decreases serotonin and creates unsightly belly fat---not fair.

Lack of sunlight, too much caffeine, alcohol, pharmaceutical and recreational drugs, age (we will talk more about age in part II) are all serotonin zappers.

Your Brain On Tryptophan - Not "Talking Turkey"

"Psilocybin (the active molecule in psychogenic mushrooms), ergotamine, yohimbine (a traditional aphrodisiac), and LSD are active in the human brain because they can stimulate the serotonin receptors." ---Psychology Today

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid (meaning our bodies cannot produce it); we can only get it from food.

Serotonin levels rise when tryptophan from foods we eat crosses our blood-brain barrier (BBB) and makes its way into our brains.

Tryptophan in our brains equals more serotonin.

One would think that to create serotonin all we would need to do is eat more foods containing tryptophan, such as turkey or shrimp. If only it were true.

Even though meat is really the best source of tryptophan, tryptophan is one of the least abundant amino acids that meat contains. There is a great competition among all the amino acids to get over the BBB. Tryptophan is an unassuming and unassertive amino acid, often losing out in the competition to get into the brain club. This is why high protein diets don't work---because tryptophan is missing, leading to low serotonin levels, leading to cravings for carbohydrates.

When I researched how to increase serotonin levels, I was surprised to see that some articles actually recommend eating sugar and starches: bagels, pasta, baked potatoes, toast, cereal, crackers, and cookies.


It's true eating these glucose-laden insulin-producing foods makes the serotonin-deprived brain happy again, but with a price. The insulin rush clears the non-tryptophan acids that are usually hanging out in the blood stream out of the way---except for tryptophan; tryptophan it likes and leaves alone. Now, the only amino acid in the blood stream is tryptophan, which, minus the competition, crosses the BBB effortlessly where it will be made into serotonin.

That's the quick solution, until we get low on serotonin, again, and boost it back up with more carbs. This viscous cycle can eventually wear down our ability to make serotonin by maxing out our neurotransmitters, and leaving us cranky, depressed and tired.

In my next post, coming up shortly, we will talk about how to boost our serotonin naturally. This is the happy and content method to permanent weight loss.

To read part II go here

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    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
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      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      beingwell,

      Thanks for your comment and vote!

      I agree. It's funny what some people think of as a healthy diet though. I know people who think the fish sandwich at Burger King is a health food :o)

    • beingwell profile image

      beingwell 4 years ago from Bangkok

      Voted up cathy. When it comes to weight loss and weight maintenance, the most effective ways that I've tried and used (and I recommend this to everyone) is regular exercise with a healthy diet. It truly works!

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      DDE,

      Thanks I agree, it is the foundation for health and happiness.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      Vellur,

      Thank you for your comment and vote. There is more information I will be writing about regarding serotonin it's very interesting.

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Informative and you are s right, here lose the tummy and stay fit. What we keep in our tummies can affect our health tremendously.

    • Vellur profile image

      Nithya Venkat 4 years ago from Dubai

      Very informative and useful. Never knew serotonin played such an important role. Voted up interesting and useful.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      Gail Meyers,

      Thanks, yes I can really relate to Dolly's quote ;o) I'm glad you like the post, more to come.

      Thanks you also for your vote.

    • Gail Meyers profile image

      Gail Meyers 4 years ago from United States

      I love this Dolly Parton quote! lol I know serotonin is important, but I have not read anything else about it for years. So thanks for teaching me some new facts. Voted up and useful.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      btrbell,

      Thanks so much! I am so happy to hear this, that was what I was aiming for. I hope you enjoy the rest, soon to come, just as much.

      Thanks for your vote and sharing too!

    • btrbell profile image

      Randi Benlulu 4 years ago from Mesa, AZ

      Cathy, this is s great, informative hub. You have written it in an easy fun way understandable way. Thank you. Up+ and sharing!

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      torrilynn,

      My opinion is losing weight isn't about eating less food or denial, it's not about over exercising either. It's about keeping it simple, doable and a part of your ever day life.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      onegreenparachute

      Thanks I'm so glad you find it interesting and hope you feel the same way about the rest.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      Ruchira ,

      Thanks so much for commenting. I'm glad you liked the post and hope you enjoy the rest of the series and find it helpful.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      ImKarn23,

      Exercise is a great serotonin producer, not to mention wonderful for your overall health. You are proof of how exercise keeps a body slender, firm and toned.

      Whatever you are doing it obviously works well for you, so all I can say is; keep it up!

      Most people can get great results by eating the right serotonin producing foods and regular exercise, it doesn't have to be hours at the gym unless they want a six pack like yours :o) I have more to say about exercise later on in the series.

      Thanks so much for your enjoyable comment, sharing and voting up!

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      mperrottet,

      Thanks so much for your comment, vote and sharing. I am so happy you find it interesting and useful.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      carol7777,

      Thanks, I have been having fun researching this topic there is much more to come :o)

      Thanks for voting up and sharing!

    • Ruchira profile image

      Ruchira 4 years ago from United States

      Great write up, Cathy.

      Weight loss has always been a challenge for me esp with arthritis. Thus, limit myself to various kinda sports.

      Useful information!

    • onegreenparachute profile image

      Carol 4 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

      I'm looking forward to reading the next chapter of this hub - it's very interesting!!

    • torrilynn profile image

      torrilynn 4 years ago

      really great hub. i always heard that the less calories you intake and the more calories you burn off with help you to slowly lose weight. your hub helps people to lose weight by taking care of their bodie by good nutrition and exercise

    • ImKarn23 profile image

      Karen Silverman 4 years ago

      This is an incredibly informed write, and i am suitably impressed!

      i am now 53 years old, and do little to keep my 'girlish figure' (yoga)- and yet - girlish figure it is - complete with 6 pack to be brutally honest..

      i spent the majority of my first 16 years of life - in a gymnasium - training like a bitch for 6-7 hours/day in gymnastics.

      i believe that starting kids out young in a sport - any sport - is one of the best things a parent can do for a child's later life (even if the sport almost kills 'em..lol..((another story..))..

      as far as serotonin goes - if stress zaps it and causes one to become fat, then, honey - i'm a freaking freak of nature, because stress is my middle name..

      (no, seriously...lol)

      i lived a fight or flight existence - right up until the day i 'broke' a few years back - and - there was never an ounce of fat to be found..

      maybe the secret is as simple as eating when one's hungry - and not eating when one's not? i pay no attention to that 8am brekky, 1pm lunch, and 6pm dinner bells - to me - THAT'S the stuff that FAT is made of..

      You're one smart cookie..(mmmm...cookies...lol)

      voting up and hub-sharing..

    • mperrottet profile image

      Margaret Perrottet 4 years ago from Pennsauken, NJ

      I never thought about the important link between serotonin and food. Great hub - so well written and full of good information. Looking forward to the next part. Voted up, useful, interesting and sharing.

    • carol7777 profile image

      carol stanley 4 years ago from Arizona

      Interesting and some facts here I have never heard. Thanks for researching and writing a great hub. Voting up and sharing.

    • Cathy Fidelibus profile image
      Author

      Ms. Immortal 4 years ago from NJ

      prairieprincess,

      Thank you, I am so glad you like it. I agree stress is a big serotonin zapper and a hard one to deal with. If we can get our diet right though I think that's more than half the battle. Meditation can help with stress if we can sit long enough to do it :o)

      I have been doing a lot of research and have much more information coming.

    • prairieprincess profile image

      Sharilee Swaity 4 years ago from Canada

      Thanks for this. I have been researching weight loss information for years, and had read this years ago, but you reminded me of the serotonin connection, and how important it is. I think stress is such an important part of weight gain, and reducing stress an important part of losing weight. Great article!

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