Tryptophan is the precursor to the “happiness hormone” serotonin, so why not take tryptophan supplements to improve mood and relieve symptoms of depression?
The neurotransmitter serotonin, often referred to as the “happiness hormone,” is found in plant foods, but serotonin doesn’t cross the blood brain barrier, so it shouldn’t affect your mood no matter how much you eat.
The precursor to serotonin, however, what your brain makes serotonin out of, is an amino acid called tryptophan, and there’s a transport protein in the brain that plucks tryptophan out of the bloodstream and so what you eat can end up affecting your mood. Back in the 70’s they did tryptophan depletion experiments where you give people specially concocted tryptophan deficient diets, and indeed their mood suffers, they get irritable, annoyed, angry, depressed.
Likewise you can give people tryptophan pills to improve their mood, and indeed it came a popular dietary supplement, until… people started dying from something called eosinophilia–myalgia syndrome, an incurable, debilitating and sometimes fatal flu-like neurological condition caused by the ingestion of tryptophan supplements. May have been due to some unknown impurity, but better safe than sorry. Instead of supplements, there are dietary strategies one can use to improve mood. [, which we'll talk about next]
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 second of a four-part series (mentioned in Uprooting the Leading Causes of Death) on natural ways to boost serotonin in the brain. Yesterday's video-of-the-day Human Neurotransmitters in Plants noted that plants themselves can contain serotonin. Tomorrow's video-of-the-day A Better Way to Boost Serotonin will talk about getting dietary tryptophan into the brain, which we'll then optimize in Best Way to Boost Serotonin. Avoidance of soda andartificial colors may also improve behavior in children and adolescents. I've gotdozens of videos on supplements--the good, the bad, the ugly and the just plainsnake oil. Unfortunately, too many people rely on the questionable advice from health food store employees (see my four-part video series starting here). If you haven't yet, you can subscribe to my videos for free by clicking here.
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