Serotonin is the feel-good chemical that the human brain produces in the body. People with higher serotonin levels generally are more resistant to depression, anxiety, and other negative emotions. People with adequate levels of serotonin also feel better about life, themselves, and their place in the world. Anorexic patients, suffering from the eating disorder called Anorexia nervosa, have mental and emotional as well as physical issues surrounding this disorder, and consequently can have too-low serotonin levels. Raising serotonin can be done by natural means, such as taking the amino acid L-tryptophan. Tryptophan is a neurotransmitter in the brain, which can help raise serotonin levels.
Tryptophan is used by the body and produces serotonin in the brain, which is severely lacking in those with anorexia. This eating disorder is associated with an obsession of being overweight, so they eat very little, and sometimes nothing at all, which leads to emaciation. Body image issues are at the forefront, self-worth is low, causing a spiraling effect since anorexics think they are too fat even if they are skin and bones. Very low food intake (and therefore low in tryptophan) depletes the serotonin in the brain, since it is tryptophan dependent.
Tryptophan is an amino acid that comes from protein foods, like meats (chicken, beef, pork, lamb, etc.), as well as fish and eggs. A diet deficient in meats is also deficient in not just tryptophan, but also the rest of the common 22 amino acids that make a body healthy and resistant to disease and other health issues.
Study using tryptophan for serotonin levels in anorexic patients
A study by DJ Haleem from the Neuroscience Research Laboratory at the University of Karachi in Pakistan was done regarding anorexia patients and tryptophan. Haleem said “Patients with anorexia nervosa (AN) show extreme dieting weight loss, hyperactivity, depression/anxiety, self-control, and behavioral impulsivity. Tryptophan, the precursor of serotonin and an essential amino acid, is only available in the diet. It is therefore likely that excessive diet restriction and malnutrition decrease brain serotonin stores.”
When serotonin is low, then the availability of tryptophan “decreases serotonin neurotransmission at postsynaptic sites, leading to hyperactivity, depression, and behavioral impulsivity,” said Haleem. He suggested that tryptophan “supplementation may improve pharmacotherapy in AN.”
The effectiveness of tryptophan on serotonin levels for anorexia has not yet been evaluated, but the fact that higher serotonin levels make us feel better is well documented. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is easily bought over the counter at health food stores for supplementing the diet.