For today’s edition of Dear Mark, I’m answering two questions from readers. The first is more of a comment, but it brought up a few questions for me to address. Is “more serotonin” always a good thing? Is there such a thing as too much serotonin? And second, what’s the deal with broccoli sprouts? Are they good for us? Has the grungy hippy hawking sprouts next to your meat guy at the farmers market been right all along?
All good tips everyone should follow and a good reminder, thanks Mark BUT … it’s not always about trying to load up on serotonin nor is it necessarily safe to do so in excess, it’s also about your ability to USE what serotonin is there, it needs to be transported to the appropriate receptors. I’ve discovered this the hard way over the years. I’m in my 60’s and only take one pharmaceutical, an SSRI, and I no longer beat myself up about needing a reuptake inhibitor to literally help stay sane (I would not wish the panic attacks I get otherwise on my worst enemy).
I agree. More serotonin isn’t necessarily “better” and can even be counterproductive. For instance, one important function of serotonin is to increase “social awareness.” Adequate serotonin allows us to gauge the room. It increases empathy, helping us place ourselves in another’s shoes—a necessary skill for reading a situation. It helps us decide whether caution is warranted.
Yet, too much serotonin can backfire. A recent study found that brains of subjects with social anxiety disorder made more serotonin and transported it more efficiently than control brains. More specifically, the anxious patients’ amygdalae—the section of the brain associated with the fear and anxiety response—were awash in serotonin.
Sounds good at first glance, yet 5-HTP supplementation consistently fails to beat placebo in randomized controlled trials of depression. Sometimes it even worsens depression and other conditions by depleting dopamine and norepinephrine. All those neurotransmitters play important roles, too. To isolate and obsess over a single one misses the boat. Besides, we have a reliable way to increase serotonin production on demand—and it doesn’t really help the conditions “high serotonin” is supposed to address.
That’s why it’s important to disabuse the whole notion that there are good and bad neurotransmitters (or hormones, or cholesterol, or…). We’re finally starting to understand that our bodies aren’t producing things like LDL to clog our arteries or insulin to make us fat. Everything our body makes has a purpose. We must also understand that it goes the other way, too: endogenous production of neurotransmitters, hormones, and other compounds has an upper limit. More isn’t always better or safe.
What are your thoughts on sprouts? Not sprouted grains, nuts, beans, etc, but instead stuff like broccoli sprouts? Healthy, neutral, bad?
Thanks. I love broccoli sprouts and don’t want to give them up.
I’m a big fan of sprouts. Well, I’ll rephrase: they interest me greatly. They aren’t a regular part of my diet, but in the last few months I’ve been stumbling across information that makes me think they should be.
Luckily for you, broccoli sprouts show the most promise, particularly against oxidative stress. They are the single best source of the powerful phytonutrient sulforaphane or its precursor which converts to sulforaphane, having about 10x more than the next richest source, broccoli. What can sulforaphane-rich broccoli sprouts do for people?
But broccoli sprouts are clearly helpful and powerful, and people have caught on and are figuring out ridiculous ways to eat them, like eating bread made out of broccoli sprouts. I’m sure that’s great and all, but why not have a salad or a smoothie? This preserves the sulforaphane, whereas heating degrades it.
If you want to get started with broccoli sprouts, you have a few options:
The aforementioned grungy hippy at the farmer’s market. Nice way to start and see if you even like broccoli sprouts, but $3-5 a pop will add up if you start consuming Rhonda Patrick-esque levels of sprouts.
Mark Sisson is the founder of Mark’s Daily Apple, godfather to the Primal food and lifestyle movement, and the New York Times bestselling author of The Keto Reset Diet. His latest book is Keto for Life, where he discusses how he combines the keto diet with a Primal lifestyle for optimal health and longevity. Mark is the author of numerous other books as well, including The Primal Blueprint, which was credited with turbocharging the growth of the primal/paleo movement back in 2009. After spending three decades researching and educating folks on why food is the key component to achieving and maintaining optimal wellness, Mark launched Primal Kitchen, a real-food company that creates Primal/paleo, keto, and Whole30-friendly kitchen staples.