The voyage to happiness often seems multifaceted, influenced by many factors such as our life experiences, relationships, and personal successes. However, there is also an intricate biological facet, a neurochemical called serotonin, that plays a crucial role in our mood regulation. Serotonin production can fluctuate with changes in hormone levels, such as oestrogen, which can lead to mood swings. Luckily, we can actively contribute to maintaining a steady production of this ‘happiness hormone’ through our diet.
Firstly, it’s important to nourish our bodies with regular intakes of tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan acts as a precursor to both serotonin and melatonin, thereby supporting our mood and sleep patterns. This amino acid is present in several foods, including chicken, eggs, salmon, cottage cheese, oats, bananas, figs, dates, nut butter, oat cakes, milk, kiwis, and tart cherry juice.
Fluctuating oestrogen levels can impact our serotonin production. For those not on Hormone Replacement Therapy (HRT), phytoestrogens can be beneficial. While not oestrogen themselves, they can exert a mild oestrogenic effect on the body. Phytoestrogens can be found in a variety of foods such as the soy family (tofu, tempeh, miso, edamame beans, organic soya yogurt), and lignans, predominantly present in ground linseed / flaxseed, and in smaller amounts in sesame seeds, kale, and pulses.
Vitamin D, often referred to as the ‘sunshine vitamin’, assists in the conversion of tryptophan to serotonin. This explains why low vitamin D levels can lead to Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
The vital mineral zinc plays an important role too – it’s essential for our mood and sleep, as it aids in detoxing alcohol, which can deplete zinc stores. You can find zinc in pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds (tahini!), lean red meat, raw chocolate, and crustaceans like prawns.
Magnesium, termed as ‘nature’s tranquilizer’, is another crucial nutrient supporting our happiness neurochemical. It aids in modulating an excitable neurotransmitter known as glutamate. Foods rich in magnesium include green leafy vegetables, pumpkin seeds, avocado, black beans, and Epsom salts.
Vitamin B6 is indispensable for hormonal health and the nervous system, as it aids in the synthesis of serotonin (and dopamine, needed for motivation). It’s present in foods such as salmon, eggs, beef, cheese, sweet potato, and spinach.
Omega-3 DHA (docosahexaenoic acid) enhances the serotonin pathway by making the serotonin receptors more sensitive. It also aids in reducing inflammation, which can help support mood stability.
The gut, an essential part of the enteric nervous system, has the most nerve endings outside of the central nervous system. Approximately 95% of our serotonin is produced in the gut, demonstrating the close link between gut health and mood. Probiotics have been shown to modulate mood by supporting gut health. The best way to nurture our gut is by diversifying our plant intake. Aim for a mix of 30+ unique plants per week, gradually increasing to 40+ or even 50+. This variety should include fruits, vegetables, herbs, spices, pulses, legumes, nuts, seeds, and non-gluten grains.
In conclusion, while our happiness is shaped by a myriad of factors, we hold the power to influence it in part through our diet. By choosing foods that foster serotonin production, we can promote a healthier, happier version of ourselves.
Do you know you need to be making a change this season? Know you need a helping hand to get to back on track?
Well I’m here for you, so which option is right for you?
There are a couple of ways that I can support you in your journey to a happier and healthier you.