The secret to naturally boosting serotonin levels in the brain may include eating foods such as pumpkin seeds with a high tryptophan to total protein ratio. This may help explain why studies show that those eating plant-based diets have superior mood states.
We can choose carbohydrate rich plant foods over animal foods to boost tryptophan levels, but ideally, it would be more than just carbs. Since “”the main determinant of brain serotonin concentrations appears to be the ratio of tryptophan with others that compete with it for uptake into the brain, to maximize the mood elevating benefits of diet, one would ideally choose a snack with a high tryptophan to total protein ratio, which would mean primarily seeds, such as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin.
Protein-source tryptophan as an efficacious treatment for social anxiety disorder: a pilot study. So what protein source did they use? Butternut squash seeds, because of their high tryptophan to protein ratio, as part of a randomized double-blind, placebo-controlled, crossover study of people suffering from social phobia, also known as social anxiety disorder. And they found significant improvement in multiple objective measures of anxiety in those eating the squash seed bars.
“Before studies like this one, a change in the composition of intact dietary protein was not seen as a possible option for the treatment of common psychological disorders associated with low serotonin levels.” but that’s because they were using animal proteins—which can makes things worse, not plants.
If this is true, then those eating vegetarian should be golden, and indeed this was the reasoning used to explain why “Global mood, was significantly better in a "vegetarian" than in the "mixed" diet group.” It’s all about carbohydrates, and a huge tryptophan to protein ration. “The "vegetarian" group was instructed to avoid meat, fish and poultry and to restrict intake of milk, milk products and eggs to a minimum” and within three weeks the vegetarian diet groups had a significantly improved global mood.
To see any graphs, charts, graphics, images, and quotes to which Dr. Greger may be referring watch the above video. This is just an approximation of the audio contributed by Kerry Skinner.
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This is the final video of a four-part series (mentioned in Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death) on natural ways to boost serotonin in the brain. Wednesday's video-of-the-day Human Neurotransmitters in Plants noted that plants themselves can contain serotonin. Thursday's The Wrong Way to Boost Serotonin was a cautionary tale about tryptophan supplements and Friday's A Better Way to Boost Serotonin covered the role carbs can play in boosting tryptophan transport into the brain. The findings of better mood scores in those eating vegetarian is consistent with both cross-sectional and interventionalfindings I've reported previously. The reason I report more data on nuts than seeds is a function of the greater access of researchers to funding on nuts (thanks to producer groups). From what little data we have, though, I have a feeling it's like the soy versus other beans story. If I had to guess, I'd bet in general seeds may be even healthier than nuts, and since I encourage daily nut consumption, I'd add seeds to that recommendation as well. If only researchers had more seed money! :)
For more context, check out my associated blog posts: How To Boost Serotonin Naturally, Top 10 Most Popular Videos of the Year, Saffron vs. Prozac for Depression, and Treating Parkinson's Disease with Diet