We all know that the food we eat affects the way we feel, but does it have a direct relationship to our neurotransmitters in the brain?

A neurotransmitter called serotonin, which is often called our ‘happy hormone’, lifts our mood and makes us feel relaxed and well, happy! Although, technically it’s not a hormone, serotonin is actually made up of an amino acid called tryptophan. So, for serotonin to run through our bodies, we need to make sure that we consume enough tryptophan in our diets to ensure that our body has the capacity to build this particular neurotransmitter.

Where do we get tryptophan from? Well, turkey and chicken have been promoted as having good levels of tryptophan, with a 100g slice of turkey breast containing approximately 350mg of tryptophan. But how much do we need?? It is recommended that an adult should consume between 4-6mg of tryptophan per kilogram of body weight, however because our bodies are quite efficient, depending on your state of health and other factors tryptophan might be used in other ways aside from producing serotonin. For example, the body may use tryptophan to make niacin (Vitamin B3) if it is particularly low. Health issues aside, it is recommended that a 60kg person should consume between 240-360mg of tryptophan daily.  

Whilst we now know what builds serotonin, it is also important to know what breaks it down or destroys it. The number one killer of serotonin is stress, high stress hormones like cortisol can prevent the development of this neurotransmitter. So, although we can’t avoid or ignore stress, the way we react to it is the defining factor to whether we have the capacity to build healthy cells and healthy brain activity.



Despina Kamper

MHSc (Nutrition)