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Serotonin and Dopamine

Can the food you eat make you suicidal?

In the last two years of my born again plant-based diet, I have heard a number of comments from strangers and acquaintances. They revolve around a similar theme; “I would rather die than not enjoy my food“. Sure, for many it’s just something they say but for others it actually is a very entrenched position. It is a line in the sand clearly stating; “I will not change my behavior regardless of its outcome“.

Isn’t that a suicidal decision?

I had a discussion with a gentleman that works in my building. He is in his sixties and had a recent scare related to his heart. A minor heart attack that he was fortunate to walk away from. He asked me what I did to take control of my heart disease. I relayed that I had to flip the food pyramid upside down and move to a nutrient rich, low oil diet. The entire time he was shaking his head. “Nay, I don’t see myself changing the way I eat.” I persisted and suggested he could make small changes that could have immediate benefits in his angina issues, like substituting his 6 diet Cokes a day for water. “Nope, not an option“. All righty then. Next time you ask a guy for his advice on being healthy maybe have an open mind? So should I feel some empathy for him when his next heart attack confines him to a wheelchair or worse in a grave? Didn’t he make his own bed?

We eat when we are depressed.  How about, what we eat makes us depressed.

The Heartattack Grill: John Alleman, 52, collapsed and died outside of the Las Vegas joint famed for its 9.000 calorie “bypass” burgers and waitresses dressed as nurses. As well as eating there, he stood outside the restaurant coaxing people in every day since it opened in 2011. And a caricature of him ,called patient John, appears on menus, clothing and other merchandise. Owner John Basso said: “He never missed a day, even Christmas. I told him, ‘If you keep eating like this, it will kill you’.” The restaurant, whose slogan is “a burger to die for”, has had other problems with the health of customers.


If someone you loved told you their plan was to drink a gallon of vodka a day until they died, would you do anything to intervene? I am sure you would. But each and every day we watch loved ones choose the same fate but with a different weapon.

How does this happen?

It is obvious. The junk food this nation consumes is killing us and not in the obvious fashion.  There is evidence that diets rich in fat, sugar and salt can change our brain function.  At first we become addicted to the food. Extensive research has shown the dopamine effects from eating high fat, high sugar and high sodium products. Once we are hooked on the food, the real problems begin.

There is evidence this diet triggers chemical responses similar to ones observed in addiction, with dopamine, the neurotransmitter that drives an addict’s pleasurable experiences, rising in the brain.” -Greg Freund, University of Illinois. 


Serotonin is a hormone that acts both as a chemical messenger, a neurotransmitter that transmits nerve signals between nerve cells. Changes in serotonin levels in the brain alter mood.

Low levels of Serotonin is directly linked to depression and suicide. There are many researchers who believe that an imbalance in serotonin levels may influence mood in a way that leads to depression. Possible problems include low brain cell production of serotonin, a lack of receptor sites able to receive the serotonin that is made, inability of serotonin to reach the receptor sites, or a shortage in tryptophan, the chemical from which serotonin is made. If any of these biochemical glitches occur, researchers believe it can lead to depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, and even excess anger associated with suicide.         – WebMD

In humans, serotonin levels are affected by diet.  An increase in tryptophan will increase serotonin levels.  Foods with a lower ratio inhibit the production of serotonin.

Eating a heart healthy diet – high in fiber and low in saturated fat – is a great place to start to boost your mood. There isn’t any question about it,” says Diane M. Becker MPH, at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Conversely, “a high-fat, high-glycemic load meal can make you physically feel dysfunction in your body. People who eat this type of meal tend to feel bad and sleepy afterwards,” she says.

Raising Serotonin Levels Naturally

  • Be Happy. Reported levels of happiness were positively correlated and reported levels of sadness were negatively correlated with serotonin synthesis in the brain.
  • Go Outside. Exposure to bright light is a second possible approach to increasing serotonin without drugs
  • Exercise. A comprehensive review of the relation between exercise and mood concluded that antidepressant effects have been clearly demonstrated.
  • Eat Healthy.  Tryptophan.  Serotonin is made via a unique biochemical conversion process. It begins with Tryptophan, a building block to proteins.

Developed nations ranking high in dietary tryptophan intake rank low in suicide rates, independent of national wealth, alcohol intake and happiness.   – Voracek – NCBI

The common idea, that a high-protein food such as turkey will raise brain tryptophan and serotonin is, false.  Eating a diet rich in carbohydrates and low in protein will increase serotonin.

Serotonin is found in mushrooms, fruits and vegetables. Other good sources are found in plantains, pineapples, banana, kiwis, plums, papayas, dates and tomatoes.

The highest quality sources of tryptophan, without the fat, antibiotics, from animal proteins, are from all types of fruits and vegetables.  Seeds have very high tryptophan levels. Examples include: walnuts have the highest content followed by butternut squash seed, peppercorn squash seed, pumpkin seed, lentil seed, sunflower seed, flax-seed, watermelon seed, sesame seed, canola seed, barley, safflower seed, alfalfa seed and soy beans.

Because all carbs prompt the brain to make more serotonin, it is best to eat complex carbs which are digested more slowly and supply the brain with steady source of this feel good chemical.  Feeling calmer and less stressful can be achieved through diet in several ways. Complex Carbs, like oatmeal actually boost serotonin levels.

I conclude that the current Western Diet promotes addiction and depression.  In turn, depression and addiction reduces the body’s ability to promote serotonin production.  By simply adopting a plant-based diet, the Serotonin levels are naturally increased.  Thus avoiding the spiralling downfall of addiction, depression and suicidal tendencies. 


“…vegans can get plenty of tryptophan. It is certainly true that some vegans could have marginal intakes if they are not including protein-rich foods like beans and nuts in their diet. I favor higher protein intakes for vegans for a variety of reasons, including bone health. But even if you fall a little short regarding these recommendations for protein-rich foods, you’ll get enough tryptophan.

And, compared to some omnivores and lacto-ovo vegetarians, we vegans may even have the edge when it comes to converting tryptophan to serotonin. According to preliminary research in both adolescents and adults, depression is more common among people with lactose intolerance. The theory is that undigested lactose in the intestines interferes with tryptophan metabolism, leading to low serotonin levels. So people with mild undiagnosed lactose intolerance who still consume some dairy foods could actually be at higher risk for depression.

This is all especially interesting since cow’s milk is touted as a soothing food and a remedy for sleeplessness based on its alleged high content of tryptophan. But a cup of cow’s milk actually has around the same amount of tryptophan as a cup of soymilk or ½ cup of black beans. Foods like legumes also provide the carbohydrates that are needed for tryptophan to get into the brain.

So, bottom line: A healthy vegan diet that includes minimum recommendations for grains, legumes/nuts and vegetables will provide plenty of tryptophan—more than you need, actually.”   – theVeganRD


To view more articles like this check out my recent book:

(If you have a financial issue and can’t afford book, email me.)



Dr. Caldwell Esselstyn:  http://www.heartattackproof.com

Heart Attack Grill: http://www.thesun.co.uk/sol/homepage/news/4792326/Hamburger-fan-who-ate-every-day-at-the-Heart-Attack-Grill-dies-of-heart-attack.html#ixzz2QXb9xOHR

WebMD: http://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin

theVeganRD: http://www.theveganrd.com/2010/09/tryptophan-milk-and-depression

Dietary tryptophan intake and suicide rate in industrialized nations.  Voracek & Tran:  http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16934873/

How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs.  Simon Young: http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

Foods That Make You Feel Groovy, Hoover: http://www.banderasnews.com/0906/rr-groovyfoods.htm