We don’t often think about food as a way to alter our neurotransmitter levels, but certain foods, especially in certain people, can play a dramatic role in how the body makes, breaks down (metabolizes) or releases neurotransmitters. Some people have heard that turkey is good at increasing serotonin levels (an assertion that turns out to be largely incorrect), but it is very difficult to substantially raise neurotransmitter levels by eating foods.

However, there are many foods that can cause an abrupt alteration in neurotransmitter function. Here are the most common:

Food Hypersensitivities/allergies

Eating foods to which you are hypersensitive and/or allergic can cause a massive, immediate, and for some – long lasting change in neurotransmitter levels that can lead to all sorts of symptoms, including headaches/migraines, mood swings, depression, anxiety, insomnia, skin disorders, asthma, cognitive difficulties and chronic muscle and/or joint pain. Therefore, it can be very important to determine and eliminate any foods to which you are having an immune reaction. The Lymphocyte Response Assay from Elisa/Act Biotechnologies is the most accurate way to determine hypersensitivities.

Food additives

Certain food additives, including monosodium glutamate (MSG), meat tenderizers, sulfites, nitrates, and artificial colors can cause radical changes in neurotransmitter levels in susceptible individuals.

Monosodium glutamate warrants specific attention, as it can directly alter neurotransmission and is used extensively in many processed foods. It can also be tricky to identify, as it is often called by many other names, including: sodium glutamate, L-glutamic acid, monosodium salt, hydrolyzed vegetable protein and even autolyzed yeast. Be sure and read labels and if you see any of these ingredients listed near the end of the ingredient list, be wary.

Artificial sweeteners

Research has shown a number of possible health hazards associated with artificial sweeteners. From a neurotransmitter standpoint, it appears that aspartame (NutraSweet) and saccharin are the worst offenders.

Alcoholic beverages

Alcohol beverages, especially wine and beer, can cause an abrupt change in neurotransmitter levels.

Foods that can deplete neurotransmitters

The list of foods that can cause imbalance and/or depletion of neurotransmitter levels is quite long. Not everyone that eats these foods will experience neurotransmitter imbalance/depletion when they eat them, but susceptible individuals would do well to avoid the following foods:

  • Coffee (regular and decaf)
  • Soda (diet and regular)
  • Hard cheese
  • Chocolate
  • Citrus fruits
  • Tomatoes
  • Potatoes
  • Strawberries
  • Eggs
  • Onions
  • Mustard
  • Shellfish
  • Smoked/cured meats
  • Deli meats (nitrates)
  • Wheat

Even though you cannot substantially increase your neurotransmitter levels by eating foods, you can certainly slow down and/or prevent the depletion of your neurotransmitter levels by avoiding foods and substances that can cause imbalance or depletion.