Food is Medicine- Anti-Depressant Edition
Serotonin and Plants
Most of us have heard of serotonin. It’ s the chemical that makes us happy. We have created many drugs and supplements to try to isolate, manipulate and control this elusive hormone, to ensure we get as much of it as we can to our brain to make us happy! Well, I have great news! The answer is in carbs!! YES. You read that right. CARBS.
In Michael Greger’s thoroughly cited book, How Not to Die, he discusses Serotonin and Depression. You see, Serotonin can’t cross the blood brain barrier. Meaning, you can consume all the dietary sources of serotonin in the world, and it won’t do a thing. However, a building block of serotonin called tryptophan, also an amino acid, can cross the blood brain barrier. In fact, many studies have shown that low levels of tryptophan cause irritability, anger and depression. Many have tried to test whether increasing protein (large amount of amino acids) in your diet can help increase levels of serotonin by delivering extra tryptophan to the brain. Greger explains that the reason this doesn’t work, is likely because other amino acids in protein rich foods, crowd out the tryptophan for brain access.
Carbohydrates have the opposite effect! It shunts all the non-tryptophan amino acids into the muscles, allowing tryptophan greater access to the brain. Greger also points out that after even just one carb rich, protein poor meal, depression, tension, anger, confusion, sadness, alertness and fatigue scores were improved. Now we know carbs help facilitate transport of tryptophan to the brain, but we also need to consume foods that have a high tryptophan to protein ratio. Seeds and cashews fit the bill. Greger also mentions a double blind placebo controlled study that demonstrates that consumption of butternut squash seeds for social anxiety caused a significant improvement in social anxiety just one hour after consumption! That’s a pretty big deal!
If you’ve been plant-based for a bit now or ever have been, after a few weeks I’m sure you noticed a significant improvement in your cognitive ability and mood. Well, now you know why! Isn’t science AMAZING! Thank you to Michael Greger for putting this all out in the open for us! If you haven’t read How Not to Die, highly recommend!
If you’re looking to incorporate more of these cashews and seeds and you don’t enjoy cooking, check our menu. Anything with flax, cashews or other seeds, will help with this effect. If you enjoy cooking, check out some of our recipes in the recipe section of our blog page. We have a bunch! Happy eating!