Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a naturally occurring chemical that can influence mood and appetite. B complex vitamins, such as thiamine and folic acid, also affect serotonin. Doctors prescribe antidepressants to help raise the brain’s serotonin levels in people suffering from depression. The brain uses the amino acid tryptophan to produce serotonin, as long as the process is not blocked by conflicting amino acids. Serotonin is also found in the digestive system, and certain foods may raise or lower serotonin levels. Diets lacking in tryptophan may cause people to have low serotonin levels and to experience depression, headaches and sleep disorders.
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Foods rich in vitamin B such as brown rice, wheat germ, wholegrain cereals, yeast extracts and brewers' yeast, help with serotonin production, according to Scottish general practitioner and author, Dr. Dan Rutherford of NetDoctor. Eating granola, oatmeal, whole grain cereal or a whole grain muffin for breakfast will start your day with nutrients that help boost serotonin.
Fish, Poultry and Meat
Salmon, fresh tuna, snapper, sardines, herring, mackerel and halibut are high in tryptophan and excellent sources of serotonin, according to the World’s Healthiest Foods nonprofit website. Poultry, such as chicken and turkey are excellent sources of the tryptophan necessary for serotonin to stay at an optimal level in the body and brain. Meat, including beef, lamb and liver can provide amino acids and other nutrients that facilitate the creation of serotonin.
Nuts and Seeds
Walnuts are especially beneficial for serotonin production. Flaxseeds, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds, sesame seeds, peanuts, almonds and cashews can increase serotonin in the body.
Essential fatty acids increase serotonin production. These nutrients include the omega-3 fatty acids found in fish, walnut and flax oil. Omega-6 fatty acids are found in canola, grapeseed, safflower, sunflower and wheat germ oils. Gamma-linoleic acid is found in spirulina or blue-green algae and black currant, evening primrose and borage oils.
Eggs are protein rich and contain amino acids and essential fatty acids necessary to produce serotonin. Egg whites are ranked very high on the serotonin food list. Lower levels of tryptophan are found in milk and a variety of cheeses, according to Outofstress.com. Cottage cheese and yogurt are also good foods to eat to increase and maintain your serotonin levels.
Bananas, kiwi, pineapple, plantains, plums, grapefruit, mango, honeydew and cantaloupe have a high serum concentration, which makes them very useful in serotonin production. Tomatoes and avocado are also rich in nutrients necessary for serotonin to develop and reach optimal levels in the brain.
Corn, broccoli, cauliflower and green leafy vegetables such as spinach are serotonin-rich, as are baked potatoes with skin, mustard greens and mushrooms. Soy products, including soy milk, tofu and soybeans provide nutrients that help serotonin levels stay stable.
Sea vegetables include kelp, seaweed and spirulina -- a blue-green algae -- contain tryptophan, an essential amino acid that is necessary for creating serotonin in the brain.
Legumes and Beans
Lentils, mung beans, chickpeas, peas, cooked beans – kidney, black, lima, navy and pinto -- are good sources of serotonin, as are foods such as hummus and lentil soup, which are made with these products.