What is the best way to get serotonin? What foods should I eat?

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From "Alternative Medicine Magazine's Definitive Guide to Sleep Disorders":

You might try altering your diet to help your brain get more tryptophan, a precursor of melatonin. Tryptophan is one of the eight essential amino acids; in typical diets, it's also the least plentiful of all the amino acids. Because it's an amino acid, you might be tempted to think that eating more protein would boost your body's stores of nutrients, but it doesn't work that way. To make its way into the brain, where it's converted into serotonin and, ultimately, melatonin, tryptophan must be transported across the blood-brain barrier by a carrier molecule, and it has to compete with other amino acids for a carrier. Since it's the least abundant of amino acid, it has the lowest chances of winning that competition. Eating more protein just introduces more competitors.

Interestingly, the best way to get more tryptophan into the brain is to eat an evening meal that consists primarily of carbohydrates (complex carbohydrates from whole foods, of course). This stimulates the production of insulin, which has functions other than regulating blood sugar. One of those other functions is to direct amino acids to various body tissues where they're needed. Tryptophan is more resistant to this action, so it keeps circulating in the blood longer; eventually, it exists in higher concentrations in the blood than other amino acids, facilitating its access to transport across the blood-brain barrier. Another strategy is to eat an evening or bedtime food rich in tryptophan. Foods with a relative abundance of tryptophan include turkey, chicken, eggs, dairy products, nuts and seeds, soy products, oatmeal, and bananas.

Eating a meal high in protein actually has the opposite effect. In most foods, the amino acid tyrosine is more abundant that tryptophan. Tyrosine is a precursor of the stimulating neurotransmitters adrenaline, noradrenaline, and dopamine. If supplies of these neurotransmitters are low, your body will use the tyrosine to create more, which can have stimulating effect.

 Answer by prokopton

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