THE GUT-BRAIN CONNECTION
Serotonin is a hormone (neurotransmitter) that leads us to feel happy, calm and content. It is important to remember that about 80 per cent of the serotonin in the body is made in the gut, so supporting good gut health can play a role in how we feel each day. When we think of our mood, we tend to think of it being related to our brain, yet many neurotransmitters are actually made in the gut.
Fermented foods such as sauerkraut are rich in acetic acid which can help promote good stomach acid production and hence great digestion, allowing beneficial microbes to reside in the large intestine, thereby enhancing our mood. You can buy them or make your own.
Dark chocolate is a good source of tryptophan, an amino acid that supports the production of serotonin. Chocolate consumption also drives the brain to produce another chemical called anandamide, which has been shown to temporarily block feelings of pain and depression. Dopamine is also produced when we eat chocolate, and this can have a mood lifting effect on many people. However, for those with already elevated dopamine levels, excessive amounts of chocolate can lead to tension and aggression.
So like with all things related to mood, there is no one size fits all; some find chocolate enhances their mood, for others it gives them a headache and/or fires them up.
Bananas, particularly ripe bananas, can help to regulate dopamine – a feel good factor – as they contain a high concentration of tyrosine, an amino acid that helps generate dopamine in the brain. Bananas are also rich in B group vitamins, including vitamin B6, as well as magnesium, both essential for relaxation and a calm nervous system. Other food sources of tyrosine include almonds, eggs and meats.
Dr Libby is a nutritional biochemist, best-selling author and speaker. The advice contained in this column is not intended to be a substitute for direct, personalised advice from a health professional.