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Your thoughts, moods and behaviours are the product of your brain – an exquisite spider’s web of neuronal connections and witch’s brew of neurochemicals.
It is this brew that is prone to change, and when “unbalanced” can cause dramatically altered behaviour. And your diet may have more to do with how you think than you would first suspect.
How your mood is made up.
Your mood is the product of chemicals in the brain called “neurochemicals”. This includes “neurotransmitters”, which are small molecules nerve cells (neurons) use to communicate with each other. One important neurotransmitter involved in mood is serotonin.
Many drugs that target the brain’s systems are designed to increase or decrease the levels of neurotransmitters. For example, many antidepressant medications such as fluoxetine or escitalopram are designed to block the disposal of serotonin and consequently increase its levels in the brain.
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What is serotonin?
Serotonin is popularly known as one of the happy hormones. It is produced by neurons in the brainstem.
However, these neurons connect with virtually every other major area of the brain, so serotonin’s effects are widespread. Serotonin influences many behaviours, including mood (such as happiness and depression), social behaviour, appetite, sleep, memory, and sexual desire – to name a few.
Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. This means the body can’t produce tryptophan and we have to get it from the food we eat. Luckily, tryptophan is found in many foods such as meats, dairy, fruits and seeds.
But this raises an important question – if the amount of tryptophan in your diet changes, does the amount of serotonin in the brain change?
You are what you eat.
You might think the brain is pretty capable of managing its resources; that daily changes in diet would not affect your basic neurotransmitter make-up. It turns out this is true for a tryptophan-loaded diet, which is unlikely to increase levels of serotonin in the brain.
Under normal conditions, excess tryptophan competes with other amino acids to enter the brain. This results in very little extra getting through.