gut-pleasing fermented foods

Happier Life Begins in Your Microbiome

When I talk about your “healthspan” – as opposed to your “lifespan” – I’m not just referring to the number of years you feel physically energized and ready to take on the world.

I’m also talking about your mental and emotional wellbeing.

Just as your bones, muscles, and heart need the right nutrients to keep them strong and fit for purpose, so too does your brain.

You see, for a stable mood and emotional balance, your brain needs serotonin – the neurotransmitter sometimes called the “happy hormone,” and for good reason. Without enough serotonin you leave yourself at a high risk of depression and other mood disorders.

If you are feeling down, most doctors will simply shove a prescription for an antidepressant serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI), like Prozac or Zoloft into your hand. Doctors write more than 250 million SSRI prescriptions each year – and most of the time they don’t even work.1

But what you’ll almost never hear from conventional doctors is that your serotonin levels can be increased just by eating foods that support your microbiome, the collection of “good bacteria” in your gut.

You see, about 95% of your body’s serotonin is produced by enterochromaffin (EC) cells in the epithelium lining of your gut.

Let me explain.

Your gastrointestinal tract is home to billions of bacteria that make up your intestinal microbiome. And EC cells can’t produce serotonin without these gut microbes.2,3

Healthy Gut, Happier Life

In other words, by consuming foods that encourage a healthy gut, your body naturally increases its serotonin levels. And as a result, you make yourself happier.

At the same time, gut bacteria are essential to your body’s ability to absorb the vitamins and antioxidants that help protect your brain from oxidative stress. And they activate neural pathways that travel directly between the gut and the brain.

That’s why traditional Mediterranean and Japanese diets, which are rich in fruits, vegetables, seafood and lean, organic meats, have been shown to reduce the risk of depression by 25-35%, compared with a typical “western” diet.4

It also explains why there’s such a strong correlation between mood disorders and diets high in sugars and processed food.5

Cut back on “Western Staples”

The good news is you can improve your gut health – and mental health – simply by cutting back on these “western staples” and replacing them with healthier alternatives.

You see, many fruits and vegetables contain soluble fiber, which is a prebiotic that helps stimulate the growth and activity of beneficial probiotic bacteria in your intestine.

I recommend my patients incorporate these things…

  1. Tasty Boabab Fruit. One of the richest sources of soluble prebiotic fiber is the boabab fruit. Its pulp is almost 50% fiber – two thirds of which is soluble. Fresh baobab is hard to find outside of Africa – but pulp powders are available online and in most health food stores.
  2.  

  3. Indulge in antioxidant-loaded chocolate. Another tasty way to boost serotonin levels and boost brain health is to eat chocolate. But remember, not all chocolates have this mood-boosting effect.
     
    The healthiest chocolate is dark chocolate containing organic, raw cacao.
     
    Studies show that cocoa flavanols work as powerful antioxidants in the brain, protecting it from multiple forms of vascular dementia and cognitive aging.6,7,8

    Cacao is also loaded with the amino acid tryptophan, which is a known serotonin booster.9

  1. Fit in gut-pleasing fermented foods – like natural, unsweetened Greek yogurt, kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, full-fat sour cream, and natto, the Japanese dish of fermented soybeans – which are all probiotics and will help your gut produce more serotonin.

To Your Good Health,

Al Sears, MD

Al Sears, MD, CNS


References

1 Lacasse JR, et al. “Serotonin and Depression: A Disconnect between the Advertisements and the Scientific Literature.” PLOS Medicine. Nov 8, 2005.
2 Banskota S, et al. “Serotonin in the gut: Blessing or a curse.” Biochimie. June 2019.
3 Yano JM, et al. “Indigenous Bacteria from the Gut Microbiota Regulate Host Serotonin Biosynthesis.” Cell, 161 (2). ISSN 0092-8674. 2015.
4 Rahe C, et al. “Associations between depression subtypes, depression severity and diet quality: cross-sectional findings from the BiDirect Study.” BMC Psychiatry. 2015.
5 Jacques A, et al. “The impact of sugar consumption on stress driven, emotional and addictive behaviors.” Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews. Volume 103. ISSN 0149-7634. 2019.
6 Ghosh D, Scheepens A. “Vascular action of polyphenols.” Mol Nutr Food Res. 2009 Mar;53(3):322-31.
7 Jenny M, et al. “Cacao extracts suppress tryptophan degradation of mitogen-stimulated peripheral blood mononuclear cells.” J Ethnopharmacol. 2009 Mar 18;122(2):261-7.
8 Gratton G, et al. “Dietary flavanols improve cerebral cortical oxygenation and cognition in healthy adults.” Sci Rep 10, 19409. 2020.
9 Scholey A, French S. “Consumption of cocoa flavanols results in acute improvements in mood and cognitive performance during sustained mental effort.” J Psychopharmacol. 2010 Oct;24(10):1505-14.