By Michael A. Smith, MDSerotonin is known as the “feel good” neurotransmitter. It plays a central role in mood stability and helps promote feelings of security, relaxation, and confidence.
There’s evidence now that serotonin may even play a role in carbohydrate cravings. As a matter of fact, low brain serotonin has been linked to carb binging and overeating that contributes to excessive body fat.1
So if you’re looking for more ammunition in your battle against carb binges, you should probably keep on reading.
Tryptophan Enhances Serotonin ProductionTryptophan is the precursor to serotonin, and supplementing with tryptophan enhances the production and function of serotonin in the brain.
In fact, human studies suggest that obese patients have diminished plasma tryptophan levels that remain low, independent of weight loss or diet.2,3 This altered tryptophan metabolism reduces serotonin production and contributes to carb cravings and binge eating.
At this point, tryptophan probably sounds like an easy solution for carb bingers, right? Not so fast — there’s a problem to consider: Unfortunately, tryptophan is easily degraded and most of it will never even get the chance to convert into serotonin.
There’s good news though — we’ve actually figured out a way to protect tryptophan in an oral supplement. How? By combining it with lysine and nicotinamide. As it turns out, the presence of these two additional nutrients helps get tryptophan to the brain to readily convert into serotonin.
Saffron Helps Naturally Maintain Serotonin LevelsIf you can’t help reaching for that extra cookie or you’re having a hard time with between-meal snacks, you might also want to look at saffron. Saffron was actually used in ancient Persia as a way to enhance mood, relieve stress, and curb appetite.
Two compounds in saffron, safranal and crocin, have been shown to modulate serotonin activity in the brain.4-6In more recent studies, women taking a patented saffron extract reported the following results:7
- Reduced desire to snack
- Fewer instances of carb binging between meals
- Less hunger
- Moderate weight loss
- More energy
- Improved mood
The Influence of Exercise on Serotonin LevelsAccording to the National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence of the United Kingdom, exercise actually increases brain serotonin function in humans. An unrelated 1996 animal study revealed that there are two mechanisms by which physical activity increases brain serotonin.
First, exercise increases the rate and frequency at which serotonin is "fired" within the brain, resulting in an increase in both serotonin production and release. Second, regular exercise increases the level of tryptophan in the brain.8
Although the exact mechanism is not completely understood yet, one thing is clear: Exercise improves serotonin activity in the brain. As if you needed another reason to exercise!
Eat Less & Feel BetterIf you’re trying to lose weight but binge eating is holding you back, you may want to try optimizing your brain serotonin levels as an additional approach. Who knows, maybe you’ll end up feeling better and eating less.
Want more information on managing serotonin? Check out this Life Extension article for additional insight: Why Serotonin Levels Decline With Age.
Have anything to ask or add? Please join the discussion in the comments!
- Eating Disorders: A Reference Sourcebook. Lemberg R. Ed., Oryx Press; 1998:51.
- Am J Clin Nutr. 2003 May;77(5):1112-8.
- Curr Drug Metab. 2007 Apr;8(3):289-95.
- BMC Complement Altern Med. 2004 Sep 2;4:12.
- J Ethnopharmacol. 2005 Feb 28;97(2):281-4.
- Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2007 Mar 30;31(2):439-42.
- Nutraveris; 2006. Unpublished study.
- Behav Pharmacol. 1996 Jan;7(1):101-104.
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