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“The only difference between a good day and a bad day is your attitude.” — Dennis S. Brown
Dopamine and Serotonin are the main neurotransmitters involved in regulating your mood. Dopamine is an excitatory neurotransmitter and creates positive feelings of motivation and drive (see Chapter 3). Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that prevents the brain from getting out of control from fear, anxiety and worry. Serotonin’s calming effects reassure us that we will be okay and elevate our mood and self-esteem. However, 70% of people have the short form of a gene dubbed the “anxiety gene”, which results in lower serotonin levels and consequently higher baseline levels of anxiety.
Serotonin has also been shown to inhibit anger and aggression and encourage social behavior. If you have ever tried a low carb diet and found yourself abnormally irritable and antisocial, low serotonin likely is the culprit. We’ll explain why below.
Serotonin is found in many cells in your body, including many that are not neurons. In fact, only 1-2% of the serotonin in your body is found in your brain. Serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore the Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) in your brain is produced from a pathway that starts with the amino acid Tryptophan (L-Tryptophan) through an intermediary, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan) and Vitamin B6. 5-HTP availability is the rate-limiting factor in the synthesis of Serotonin.
You want to make sure that you have plenty of 5-HTP. However, 5-HTP is found only at trace levels in food. Since 5-HTP is synthesized from the amino acid Tryptophan (L-Tryptophan), brain levels of 5-HTP are affected by the brain levels of Tryptophan. These levels are controlled by how much Tryptophan is in the blood and how efficiently it is transported across the blood-brain barrier. There are two ways in which molecules can cross the blood-brain barrier: (1) molecules can dissolve through the blood vessel walls (oxygen does this, as do most drug molecules), or (2) transporter proteins can ferry the molecule across, as in the case of glucose, amino acids and other essential molecules.
Tryptophan can be derived from proteins and from carbohydrates. A high protein diet will lead to sharply increased levels of Tryptophan in the blood, but will actually lead to a decline in brain Tryptophan and Serotonin levels. Other amino acids from the protein compete with Tryptophan for transport across the blood-brain barrier by transporter proteins and suppress the entry of Tryptophan into the brain. The situation is reversed with a high carbohydrate diet that also contains some protein. Such a diet allows Tryptophan to be efficiently transported into the brain and raises Serotonin levels. Because of this supplementation with 5-HTP is recommended (especially if you are doing a keto or other low carb diet) and it is recommended that you take 5-HTP right before bed when you will not be ingesting other protein that will reduce its ability to enter your brain.
Low levels of serotonin are associated with food-seeking behavior and weight gain, therefore maintaining healthy levels of serotonin should help you to keep food cravings in check and help you maintain a healthy weight.
Whether you’re just starting to discover nootropics, or you’ve experienced other nootropic brands and are considering new options, we invite you to explore our daytime nootropic Awaken Gold and our nighttime nootropic Mind:Restore. We designed these to be the cleanest and most effective nootropics available.
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