Weight loss requires more than just calorie restriction and increased activity. Most often there are hormonal imbalances which are leading to cravings for high-fat or high sugar foods, encouraging our body to store fat around our abdomen and hip, and preventing our body from burning fat. An imbalance in serotonin is just one hormonal imbalance that can prevent weight loss.
The Impact of Serotonin on Appetite and Mood
Serotonin is one of our feel-good neurotransmitters (along with dopamine and norepinephrine). When serotonin is out of balance symptoms of anxiety and depression are common. These emotions contribute negatively to weight loss by altering our motivation, drive, commitment and self esteem.
The depression associated with low serotonin leads to increases in inflammation and cortisol levels – both of which make it harder for our body to burn fat as fuel and lose weight.
Low levels of serotonin also decrease mood and lead us to crave foods that are rich in carbohydrates – a source of tryptophan, which our body uses to create serotonin.
Production of Serotonin in the Body
The majority of serotonin is produced in the digestive tract. The production of serotonin is dependent on levels of tryptophan and vitamin B6. Vitamin D is also required for serotonin to act in the brain. Serotonin production is intimately related to levels of both cortisol (stress hormone) and melatonin (sleep hormone). When cortisol levels increase with stress, serotonin levels drop. When melatonin levels increase during winter or sleep, serotonin levels drop.
Other hormones aren’t the only factors that influence serotonin production. Digestive disorders, dieting and calorie restriction, and taking on too many tasks (multitasking) all decrease production of serotonin in the body. Carbohydrate consumption increases serotonin production – but has an overall negative impact on weight management due to it’s calorie content, inflammatory potential and impact on insulin secretion.
Ways to Support and Enhance Serotonin Production
With the majority of serotonin being produced in the digestive tract, one of the best ways to support serotonin production is by supporting proper digestion, eliminating food sensitivities and decreasing inflammation in the digestive tract. Managing stress to control cortisol secretion is also an important means of supporting serotonin production. Since an increase in cortisol production suppresses our production of serotonin it is imperative to look at stress management in any approach to enhance serotonin:
- A simple activity like meditating in the morning or the hour before bed has been shown to have a significant positive impact on serotonin production.
- A weekly massage or Infrared Sauna session can also boost serotonin (and increase dopamine, endorphins and decrease cortisol).
A Whole Foods Approach to Serotonin
The most important thing you can do for your serotonin production is eat a healthy, whole foods based diet. Encouraging healthy digestion and choosing appropriate foods will give your body what it needs to produce this incredibly important hormone.
Carbohydrates are an important source of tryptophan and are required by the body to produce serotonin. While carbohydrate restrictions are a common facet of many weight loss regimes, it is not advisable to completely eliminate carbohydrates from your diet. All carbs are not created equal-Complex carbohydrates, such as whole grains, fruits, and vegetables, and beans can induce the brain to increase serotonin production and stabilizing blood pressure as a way to reduce stress.
- Other food sources of tryptophan include pumpkin seeds, turkey, brown rice, cottage cheese, meats, sesame seeds, chia seeds.
- Omega-3 Fatty Acids: Fatty fish (such as salmon and tuna) and nuts and seeds (such as flaxseeds, pistachios, walnuts, and almonds) are rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which have been shown to reduce surges of stress hormones and also confer protection against heart disease, depression, and premenstrual syndrome.
5-HTP: 5-HTP is an amino acid that’s naturally produced by the body. It’s used to produce serotonin. which is why 5HTP supplements are often used to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. (Researchers recommend supplements be used carefully and under care of a doctor in order to avoid amino acid imbalance)
Vitamin C: Consuming foods high in vitamin C, such as oranges and other citrus fruits, can reduce stress and boost the immune system. Intake of this vitamin can help lower the levels of cortisol, a stress hormone, and blood pressure during high-anxiety situations.
Vitamin B6: This water-soluble vitamin is necessary for the production and function of serotonin. Found in fish, chicken, sunflower seeds, dark green leafy vegetables, bananas and avocados this nutrient can also be taken in supplemental form.
Vitamin D: Vitamin D enhances the utilization of serotonin in the brain. It is suspected that the combined decrease in serotonin and vitamin D in Winter is the root cause of season affective disorder. (SAD)
Rhodiola Rosea helps our body adapt to stress. Rhodiola is used to enhance learning, cognitive function, memory and energy. It also stimulates the activity of both serotonin and dopamine. It is best in cases of stress and depression or in people who are run down or burnt out.
Passionflower is marketed for its ability to treat sleep disorders, nervous tension, and anxiety. A recent study found that passionflower was as effective as oxazepam, a prescribed anxiolytic drug, in treating patients with anxiety disorders.
Ashwagandha combats stress, stabilizes blood sugar, helps lower cholesterol, offers anti-inflammatory benefits, improves learning, memory and reaction time.
Mint Tea is commonly used to relieve stress and induce calmness.
If you’re experiencing the “Quarantine 15” since shelter-in-place and need some guidance on what to do, send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org or call 214-749-4744 and book your health consultation to end the stress eating cycle today!
(This article is for informational purpose only. It is meant to augment not replace consultation with a primary care provider if you are suffering from a health problem).
Sources:Dr Lisa Watson ND, Psychology Today, Healthline.com