It’s shocking to see how many people are hooked on sugars as the only way to feel great.
That said I'm hopeful, that emerged 24x7 bio-feedback data from personal sensors like Whoop straps, Apple Watches, or ouraings show how our state of welbeing, can be improved with higher activity levels, and better diet approaches. Well more on that later.
Being ‘hooked on carbs’ to make us feel upbeat - exhibits all the characteristics of the definition of an addiction –
Enter serotonin. A chemical found in the GI tract (mostly) and in the central nervous system (brain), where it controls mood, appetite, and sleep. It’s serotonin that shoots up after your morning coffee. To make serotonin, the brain sucks tryptophan (an amino acid from protein foods) out of the blood and rapidly converts it into serotonin, which in turn improves your mood, and feeling of wellbeing.
Now if you had a high protein meal (say a steak etc.) the tryptophan would compete (for movement out of the blood into cells and tissues) with the other amino acids from the steak, and as a result very little tryptophan would move into the brain – and you wouldn’t get the hit you were looking for.
Now with that steak comes with the large fries, the 16 ounces of cola and a tub of ice-cream - this changes everything. Starting with the blood being smashed with glucose..
The rising blood sugar kicks the pancreas, which then dumps a load of insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin starts knocking on muscle, fat, liver and other cells to open-up – and so the sugar (glucose) and protein (amino-acids) move out of the circulation and into the cells.
Now the tryptophan (still in the blood) doesn’t have other amino acids to compete with – and therefore, it flows easily into the brain, where its converted to serotonin….and wow! ….”I feel good.”
Then comes the next part of the story … the blood sugar levels start declining …other hormones are triggered – and before you know it, you start feeling a little tired, a little hungry – and everything starts coming together for the whole cycle to repeat itself again…..would you believe me if I told you this swinging-cycle, could repeat itself over 10 times a day for many people?
"Well, it does – and aside from the feel-good / feel-flat swings, the bigger concern is the addiction to the cycle and the subsequent consequences like obesity, chronic inflammatory illnesses, type 2 diabetes, cardiovascular disease and more.
Simply Feeling Good - Beyond Sugar.
The good news is there’s a number of better ways to boot serotonin up – and get the feel-good factor levels up. Here are three key good practices to work into your daily routine.
Sunlight and Serotonin
Get plenty of bright-light every day. There are many studies showing the relationship between the amount of light a person receives and their mood. In human postmortems, more serotonin is found in the brain of those who died in the summer, than those who died in the winter. Many depressive states are tied to the seasonal characteristics of low-no sunlight.
Now, there are really two ports of entry and effect of sunlight in the body. Besides the eyes and retina, research is suggesting that the skin seems to possess the machinery to produce serotonin. Get outdoors and spend some time (15-20mins) every day with your skin/eyes exposed to the sun – no sunglasses – no lotions/creams, no ankle to neck clothes.
Ideally – we all want and need real sunlight, but that is not always possible. In Scandinavian country’s we see ‘light cafes’ to help people get through winters. I suspect we may see more of this in other parts of the world, allowing others also to get a good daily dose of light. Now, in Asia, I predict, we’ll soon see studies, that heavily polluted manufacturing cities like Shenzhen, Beijing, and Shanghai – will show increases in rates of depression, caused partially by, reduced sun exposure and lower serotonin levels.
Exercise and Serotonin
From experience, any athlete knows the heightened sense of well-being and vigor that comes with a little exercise.
Studies from both animals and humans continue to show the relationship between heightened serotonin levels and exercise. In animal studies, exercise (swimming) elevated positive (brain) cell numbers of both the enzyme that synthesizes serotonin (from tryptophan) and serotonin cells.
From a balanced nervous system perspective, global aggregate data from WHOOP sensors worn through 2020, showed higher heart rate variability (a measure of autonomic nervous system balance, and well-being) in June, July and August aligns to the months where its customer were also most active. Conversely, December was the month where WHOOP recorded it's member being least physically active, and the month where heart variability was lowest.
In fact, recent EEG studies highlight how exercise shifts brain activity, bringing back balance and decreasing tension and anxiety.
Diet and Serotonin
Firstly, let’s get one thing clear - taking serotonin doesn’t help! Why is that? It is actually fairly straightforward as serotonin cannot cross the barrier between the bloodstream and the brain. So don’t waste your money taking serotonin.
Earlier we talked about carbs triggering insulin – to pull the sugar and amino acids out of the blood and into the cells (like muscles etc.) – and then the tryptophan in the blood being able to move into the brain and be converted into serotonin. Well, there is another way to also get the amino acids and glucose out of the blood and into the cells – and it's called - EXERCISE!
In fact muscular contractions – trigger other insulin-independent metabolic processes that also move glucose and amino acids out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
"Taking whey protein in drinks, bars or foods during, just after your training sessions will be a great way to not only feed the muscles with quality amino acids for repair – but will also set you up for a good dose of tryptophan to move into the brain, and convert into ‘feel good’ serotonin.
It is interesting to see studies showing that that improvements to the gut microbiota, positively effect outcomes of anxiety/symptoms. So once again, keeping your gut microbiota in good shape through probiotics (article on making Yoghurt great again - click here) comes again and again. The health of our gut membrane is a function of our the gut microbes. This membrane communicates directly to the brain via the vagus nerve. Around 95% of the bodies serotonin is manufactured by secreting cells that sit within the intestinal gut membrane.
Finally, how could we finish an article on feeling good without talking about coffee, tea and caffeine. Moderate consistent intake (clearly best at the beginning of the day) of coffee/tea (specifically caffeine) has shown to increase the sensitivity to serotonin, increase the number of receptors of serotonin, and to raise the levels of serotonin in the brain. And that's the magic behind feeling good after enjoying coffee and tea.
So there you have it – get your feel-good factor kicked into top-gear with your daily dose of sunlight, exercise with whey-tryptophan from SFuels Revival or SFuels LIFE Bars, probiotics from yoghurt and coffee.
Feel Good - Go Longer. #GoLonger #SFuels.