It’s shocking to see how many people are hooked on sugar as the only way to feel great.
That said I'm hopeful, that with consumer bio-feedback devices and education we'll see a shift in lifestyles that help our wellbeing and mental outlook, rather than hinder it.Being ‘hooked on carbs’ is not a nice sounding cliché, but holds true to our characterization of an addiction –
"compulsive need for and use of a habit-forming substance characterized by tolerance and by well-defined physiological symptoms upon withdrawal.” (Merriam-Webster)
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 (and dopamine sensitivity) 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 - the tryptophan would compete (for movement into cells) with the other amino acids in the steak, and as a result, little tryptophan would move into your brain – and you wouldn’t get that calm, stable, happy outlook you were hoping for.
However, never fear, as with that steak comes the large fries and 16 ounces of cola - and this changes everything. Starting with the blood being smashed with glucose.
The rising blood sugar is sensed by the pancreas, which then secretes insulin into the bloodstream. The insulin starts opening muscle, fat, liver and other cells to open-up, and allow the glucose and amino-acids to move out of the blood-circulation, and into the cells.
Now the tryptophan (still in the blood) has less amino acids to compete with and thereby flows across the blood-brain barrier, into the brain - where its converted to serotonin - and here supports the elevation of your mood. By mood here, think more focused, calm, happier, and emotionally stable.
Then comes the next part of the story. Your spiked blood sugar levels, rapidly begin to fall, then 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, that its not uncommon for this swinging-cycle to repeat itself over 10 times a day? Well, it can for some – and aside from the feel-good / feel-flat swings, the bigger concern is the addiction to the cycle, and metabolic consequences like obesity, type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease this can trigger.
Of course there are many compounds that can be swirling around our circulation, and brains to change our mood. Some, like caffeine which raise dopamine sensitivity seem well tolerated by most people, and with balanced use, seem to have few and mild side effects. Alcohol, however overloads our brain with dopamine, certainly has detrimental effect on our nervous balance (see HRV: Alcohol vs. Chamomile video blog) and long term chronic disease consequences.
Feeling Good - Beyond Sugar.
The good news is there’s a number of ways to raise serotonin levels, and push the feel-good factor upwards - without the sugar.
Here’s three key good practices to work into your daily routine.1) 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.
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.2) Exercise - Serotonin and Dopamine
From experience, we know 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 biofeedback 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 customers were also most physically active. Conversely, December was the month where WHOOP recorded it's members being least physically active, and the month where heart variability was lowest.
3) Diet and Serotonin and Dopamine
Firstly, let’s get one thing clear - taking serotonin doesn’t help.
Why is that? It is actually fairly straightforward as serotonin does not cross the barrier between the bloodstream and the brain. So don’t waste your money taking serotonin. But let’s talk about the amino acid tryptophan, that’s found high in whey protein.
Earlier we talked about carbs triggering insulin – which pulls sugar and amino acids out of the blood circulation and into cells (like muscle cells etc.). Well, there is another way to also get 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 processes that move glucose and amino acids out of the bloodstream and into the cells.
"Taking whey protein in drinks, bars or foods during, and just after your workouts 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 that ‘feel good’ serotonin we’re all after.
It is interesting to see studies showing that improvements to the gut microbiota, positively effect outcomes of anxiety symptoms. 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 membrane/wall.
Finally, how could we finish an article on feeling good without talking about coffee, tea, cocoa and caffeine. Moderate consistent intake (clearly best at the beginning of the day) of coffee, cocoa, or tea (like green tea extract) caffeine has shown to increase the brain neuronal sensitivity to dopamine. And that's the magic behind feeling good after enjoying your morning coffee, cocoa shake or a measured does of green tea extract, from like, SFuels PRIMED.
So, there you have it – get your feel-good factor kicked into high-gear with your daily dose of sunlight, exercise with whey- based tryptophan from SFuels Revival or SFuels LIFE Bars, and a measured dose of caffeine from SFuels Primed.
Feel Good - Go Longer.