Hormones and Health
Magnificent Magnesium and Marvellous Melatonin
This last year my dear 85 year old grandmother, in encountering some severe upsets to her health, taught me some amazing lessons. I hope you find health, peace and happiness in Grandma`s Legacy!
Shalom and Blessings
I have long known that our hormones are influenced by what we eat, how we exercise and the medications that we take but I now better understand how the hormone balance works and why particular foods can help some people while upsetting others. Previously I knew 'about' hormones
but I have now incisively grasped some vital practicalities.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter often called 'the happy hormone' . It is found in the gastro-intestinal tract, platelets and central nervous system. It can be measured by a blood test but it is more accurately recorded in the spinal fluid. I believe it plays a vital role in our hormone balance. This very important hormone regulates many things including sleep/wake cycles, body temperature, mood, appetite, fertility, circulation, muscle contraction and nerve cell communication. If serotonin levels are about right, we feel 'about right': appetite, sleep, learning processes, memory retention and a host of 'feel good' activities are taken in our stride. Wounds heal well, blood clotting does not create problems and intestinal movements are normal. We feel 'happy' in ourselves.
Serotonin levels can vary. When the serotonin level is too high, we can have bad moods, anger, aggression and resort to excessive risk taking. We may have nausea, vomiting or diarrhoea. High levels of blood serotonin have also been found to reduce bone density. People suffering manic disorders with a high serotonin level often take medications to decrease it. Contrariwise, when the serotonin level drops, we feel drowsy, lethargic or perhaps depressed, or even develop suicidal tendencies. Too low levels can also cause constipation and we can feel cold. People suffering depression through a low serotonin level, often take medications to increase the uptake of this hormone/neurotransmitter. Varying serotonin levels can clearly cause many woes.
Whether the serotonin is too high or too low, sadly, many of these correcting medications often have a 'bulldozer' effect. When the drug treatment is too strong or prolonged for too long, it can 'flip' the hormones heavily to react in a compensatory way. Hence, medications often have to be 're-adjusted' to help swing back the imbalance. Each bulldozer effect is sequentially countered by an opposite bulldozer effect.
I believe a safer strategy than trusting yourself to the bulldozer process characteristic of many medications, is to know which foods increase and which foods decrease, serotonin. Foods rich in magnesium tend to increase serotonin levels but foods rich in the hormone melatonin, tend to decrease serotonin levels. However, we need to first look at the indicators of high and low serotonin levels, to understand this safer strategy.
Guidelines in detecting high and low serotonin levels
A medical laboratory can do a serum serotonin blood test and can give the results directly to you. In this way you will not even need to look through these lists to pick up your indicators. In the absence of a medical laboratory test, there is a 'less scientific' home test you can do yourself: apply a topical magnesium oil (a good brand is Ancient Minerals Magnesium) to your body and if you feel flushed, hot, sweaty and hyped up, then you are more likely to be high rather than low, in serotonin. Ideally though, call at a medical laboratory and arrange a serum serotonin blood test.
Conditions that have been shown to have lowered serotonin levels (and thus in turn a lowered magnesium level) are:
allergies (especially dairy) and eczema
nose bleeds and bleeding disorders (can be high or low)
delirium (can be high or low)
food cravings (sweet things especially)
obesity (can be high or low)
diabetes (can be high or low)
cancers (can be high or low)
sudden infant death syndrome
sleep disorders (can be high or low)
poor circulation, always cold
pre menstrual syndrome
facial hair in women (can be high or low)
gout (can be high or low)
chronic pain (can be high or low)
bowel disorders linked with constipation
ADHD (can be high or low)
sexual dysfunction (can be high or low)
low blood pressure and dizziness
Conditions have been shown to have raised serotonin levels (and thus in turn a lowered melatonin level) are:
psychotic illnesses such as schizophrenia, bi-polar
delirium (can be high or low)
sleep disorders (can be high or low)
migraines or severe headaches (can be high or low)
chronic fatigue syndrome
ADHD (can be high or low)
chronic pain (can be high or low)
heavy bleeding, pre menstrual tension (can be high or low)
other sudden bleeding issues (can be high or low)
facial hair in women (can be high or low)
aggression and violent mood swings
addictions (alcoholics, substance abusers, tobacco)
obsessive compulsive disorder
gout and leg cramps (can be high or low)
high blood pressure
nausea and vomiting
some cancers (can be high or low)
diabetes (can be high or low)
obesity (can be high or low)
infertility (can be high or low)
celiac disease or gluten intolerance
bowel disorders found with diarrhea
allergy or intolerance to the sun or light
flushing, sweating and hot
sexual dysfunction (can be high or low)
Conditions that can be placed in both lists and which do not offer us clear guidance are:
obsessive compulsive disorder
One thing is clear: a vast number of illnesses stem from an imbalance in 'the happy hormone', serotonin. No wonder so many are so miserable! Thus, the next step, is to look at our foods.
Guidelines for adjusting high or low serotonin levels
I believe I have sorted out the best foods to appropriately help you attain a correct balance in this vital hormone.
Foods to help increase serotonin
To help raise lowered serotonin levels naturally, we need magnesium-rich foods. Further, it is really important to avoid goo, sugar and fermented foods (such as alcohol, regular coffee/tea, vinegars, cheese, yoghurt, saukreut, stocks, broths, etc), as these all deplete serotonin. Use...
organic bread (goo free variety), grains such as wheat, cornmeal, barley, oats, quinoa, millet
fish highest, beef has some too.
nuts such as cashews, almonds, peanuts, brazil, hazelnuts
goo free dried apricots, dates.
sunflower, pumpkin and flax seeds
raw garlic and parsley (very helpful re UTI treatment)
beetroot (goo free)
black beans and navy beans
raw cocoa (unfermented)
raw coffee (unfermented)
herbal white, green and chamomile tea
coconut oil, coconut cream and coconut milk (ensure goo free)
fresh veggies in particlar dark green veggies
water (this is particularly interesting and most important â€“ do we drink enough in a day?)
sunshine and exercise also raise the serotonin level
many herbs and spices are rich in magnesium: coriander, spearmint, dill sage basil, fennel, cumin, tarragon, oregano, saffron, cloves, carraway, curry, thyme and black pepper.
Comfrey, chickweed, Tamanu Oil, St Johns wort are also good wound healers that are high in magnesium.
Ginko Biloba herb
It is best to combine the fats, such as avocados and/or coconut cream, milk and or coconut oil with your food. Here are some suggestions...
Breakfast: Porridge with cinammon and coconut cream. You could also add some seeds.
Lunch and Dinner :
A sandwich (organic bread) with peanut or almond/cashew butter (mashed with banana is nice).
Or... a sandwich with avocodo and fish.
Or... fish or red meat with dark green veggies and potatoes. You can make a gravy out of the fat and juices and thicken it with organic flour. Cook with coconut oil. You can use any dressing but it is best to use coconut oil/cream base or lemon juice.
Snacks: Fruits as above and nuts and seeds as above, smoothies made with coconut milk/coconut cream, banana, cinammon, nuts, raw cocoa, and raw honey to sweeten.
Drinks as per above: Cocoa is lovely with a teaspoon of honey and coconut cream.
Caution: Soy is rich in magnesium, but counted as a goo product (its often fermented too), so I feel is best to avoid. Please refer to my links page on my website for more information, betterbods.co.nz
Foods to help decrease serotonin
To help lower serotonin levels naturally, we need calcium/melatonin rich foods. Using this list necessarily implies a far lower use of the foods in the previous list! Some fermented foods/drinks will help lower serotonin, (as mentioned at bottom of list) but I avoid them and prefer to use...
Cherryvite (100% tart cherry juice is a very high natural source)
dairy such as real butter, cream and raw milk (it is really important not be scared here)
fresh Meats (non cured)
100% grape juice
eggs (free range best)
fermented such as wine, alcohol, vinegars, cheese, yoghurt, saukreut, etc.
Here are some suggestions...
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and cream with fresh tomato
Lunch/Dinner: Fresh meat cooked in butter or dripping and veggies and or salad with olive oil. Add plenty of butter to veggies. Home made tomato soup and cream.
Stir fry rice with meat, eggs, chopped veggies, etc.
Snacks: Smoothies with raw milk, cream, ginger, berries, honey to sweeten and raw free range eggs. Blend and serve.
Drinks: 100% Grape juice, or 100% tomato juice or cherryvite or herbal ginger tea or raw milk
The Important Food Ratio, 'Magnesium to Melatonin'
If you want to INCREASE serotonin, this ratio needs to be 2:1 (more magnesium rich foods).
If you want to DECREASE serotonin, this ratio needs to be 1:2 (more melatonin rich foods).
Some will need to eat twice as much from the magnesium-rich food list, others will need to eat twice as much from the melatonin-rich food list. It is that simple. It is a matter of finding your own indicators and then choosing the ratio the correct way around! A mistaken direction, of course, is easily corrected. Getting the serotonin levels right, at first, may need more than twice as much but once the balance is struck, it is maintained using your own twice as much choice.
Stress can raise the serotonin level, so many people turn to alcohol or cigarettes to lower it. It makes them feel good. However, too much can have the bulldozer effect and disproportionately lower serotonin. They then feel yuck! To me it makes complete sense for those consuming too much alcohol or smoking heavily, to recognise the body sensing its need for the caffeine fix. The alcohol and tobacco deplete magnesium and therefore serotonin. The brain then calls for a coffee. However, most turn to the regular (fermented) coffee, that does not replenish the missing magnesium as real unfermented (raw) coffee would do and so the call for coffee continues and the vicious cycle sooner or later tends to create an addiction. A good response to this type of addiction or withdrawal from drugs is to enjoy cherryvite and cream!
Similarly, many people taking anti-psychotic medications due to a raised serotonin level, can literally crave coffee. The medications can lower the raised serotonin level (the initial problem) but then, when it becomes disproportionately low, they crave the coffee to lift the serotonin level back again to a better balance. As alluded to in the paragraph above, regular coffee, due to its processing, contains magnesium that is not well absorbed, the workable but elusive solution, to at least partially ease this painful bulldozer cycle, is to drink the real unfermented coffee that contains magnesium the body can utilise.
Sundowning from many anti-psychotic medications can be due to an imbalance in serotonin levels. Melatonin rich foods will help this problem. Sadly the effects of these bulldozer drugs can really affect, in particular, the elderly and the young and their levels can swing heavily from low to high! Thus these prescription medications are often 'readjusted', depending on the varying stresses met (eg UTIs, the flu, falls and so on) but this only prolongs the problem. This is why I believe getting the correct balance between calcium/melatonin-rich and magnesium-rich foods is the perfect preventative in the first place. All drugs are dangerous and are the biggest stresses to our bodies!
On a personal note, my stepfather, after many years smoking cigarettes decided he wanted to quit. However, as he has been smoking since his late teens for about 45 years, this was easier said than done. In any stressful situations he found himself lighting up again . I asked him to try Cherryvite as well as other melatonin foods and it has made a big difference. The cravings are no longer there and he has not had to light up! This is easily explained by understanding that when the serotonin level is raised, he craves his 'ciggy' to help lower it. All that is needed is to find a healthier alternative that does the same job as the cigarettes.
When we have a cold, we all know to avoid dairy. This is because our body is under stress and using up magnesium. Adding calcium further upsets the delicate and already dislocated calcium/magnesium ratio. When unwell it is really important to add more vitamin C rich foods as well as the magensium rich foods.
If we exercise too hard we can raise the serotonin level too much and thus deplete our melatonin. This leads to 'overtraining' problems such as sleep disturbances and injuries. Again, dairy products such as cream, butter, raw milk and cherryvite will help overcome this trouble by producing more melatonin and in turn reduce serotonin to a happier level. Maybe the All Blacks and many other professional athletes could benefit from more butter and cream eh!
Many take aspirin today, especially if they have had strokes, heart attacks or TIAs (a TIA is a transient ischemic attack, a temporary disturbance of blood supply to the brain). These conditions are typically related to low magnesium/serotonin levels . In the first instance, it is not illogical to prescribe aspirin, to increase the serotonin level. However - hand in hand with a food balance that may be left uncorrected - this medication accumulates to sooner or later - maybe many long years later - flip the level of serotonin too high and new symptoms emerge, such as raised blood pressure or bleeding from an orifice. This opens the way to be prescribed some new blood pressure medication that will decrease the serotonin level again. The blood pressure will come down, bleeding will stop... and before you think it is a miracle, it will probably not be long before the serotonin level drops too low and something else will begin the vicious downward spiral. It makes good sense to question the aspirin eh?
Evidence has shown that people who have heart attacks or strokes have high homocysteine readings and low magnesium and serotonin readings.
The Mediterranean Diet is talked about as the healthiest in preventing illnesses. When looked at closely it is a good balance between magnesium and melatonin. Pasta and garlic is high in magnesium and olive oil and tomatoes are high in melatonin, so the balance is correct. That this particular diet is from Italy is irrelevant: what is important is the correct balance between magnesium and melatonin as illustrated in the two food groups. Italians love their red wine, a good source of melatonin but again it is fermented so the key again lies in the correct balance.
Ever wondered why we sometimes get constipated or have diarrhoea? Well, serotonin is manufactured in the gut and one of its roles is muscle contraction. When this works properly the bowel works normally. Low magnesium can lower serotonin and the peristaltic action can greatly reduce or even stop the movement of the feces and we feel constipated. Sometimes, under stress you can have the runs. This can be due to the increase in serotonin that speeds up muscle contractions. Again, achieving the balance from the two food groups is very important.
Some allergy sufferers have a real problem with dairy, this again is because it appears most allergies are driven by a magnesium deficiency and dairy makes the calcium/magnesium ratio even higher. Logically, this can be corrected with soy milk, as soy contains high levels of magnesium but sadly soy also contains high levels of goo and can create other issues in the longer term. My suggestion is to resort to the healthy (goo free) options of coconut cream, coconut milk and or coconut oil - a very stable fat that also contains high sources of magnesium.
High protein diets to lose weight reduce serotonin levels (so no good for those who are already depleted in serotonin/magnesium). This will seem okay for a time but in the longer term, the serotonin level lowers, depression sets in with its craving for sweets and carbohydrates to re-boost the serotonin level. Such dietetic fads are bound to fail. The key is in understanding how to prevent violent fluctuations in the serotonin level. The old saying goes, sugar feeds sugar. Adding in melatonin rich foods, such as butter and cream, helps rein in carbohydrate cravings. The trouble today is that we are so focussed on our outer appearances that we forget what it is going on internally and we mess up the hormone balance that controls our insulin, appetite and so on.
Taking antibiotics can lower the magnesium level and therefore the serotonin level. If using antibiotics it is very important to know which foods will help the absorption of the needed magnesium. The appropriate diet is magnesium-rich foods that will increase serotonin levels. Hopefully learning to look after our bodies correctly will negate the need for too many antibiotics in the first place.
The new miracle drug: steroid medication seems to be the miracle answer to pain, allergies, eczema, asthma and many other conditions. This drug also appears to increase the serotonin level and that is why it works, as many of these conditions reflect low magnesium and thus low serotonin. It could be that over prescribed antibiotics for these conditions are depleting magnesium and dropping the serotonin levels so badly that it occasions the advice to use steroids to lift them again.
When we are feeling blue we often seek the sun. It helps to raise lowered serotonin levels and we feel happier.
It all makes sense that most of our diseases/illnesses stem from the gut as 80% of our serotonin is made there. When this is out of balance, we are too!
Autism and celiac disease are becoming more and more common. This is understandable as many carbohydrates, such as wheat, are high in magnesium, that of course, increases the serotonin level. Replacing foods like wheat with a rice-oriented diet may help to lower raised serotonin but as many are unaware of this real underlying cause, being on a 'gluten' free diet, does not completely solve the problem. The symptoms linger because other foods raise serotonin levels (including goo`s!). Other diseases can occur over time, including diabetes or thyroid issues. This is why a melatonin rich diet will help until the balance is stabilised and the 'twice as much' rule of thumb used.
UTI and worms often arises through low magnesium levels. Cranberries, raw garlic, pumpkin seeds and parsley are good sources of magnesium and are often supportive in treatments. Also important to avoid melatonin rich foods at this time.
Nausea and vomiting can be an issue for many especially during pregnancy (when hormones can go haywire) and chemotherapy treatment. We are told that eating ginger will help. This would be correct as many times nausea and vomiting can be due to raised serotonin and ginger has the melatonin properties to reduce this. Many people having chemotherapy have serotonin antagonist medication to relieve the symptoms from raised serotonin.
Extra facial and body hair (in women) can be a sign of a raised serotonin level, often due to extra testosterone . A hormonal imbalance can then interfere with reproduction, as women do not want too much testosterone when they are trying to conceive.
I never would consume high energy drinks, as these can raise our serotonin levels too high and may contribute to many health issues . We like the "high" feeling, and hence why it can be hard to give up, but running on "high" too long is definately something we need to avoid. Melatonin foods will help here initially.
A sustained high serotonin level can diminish hunger to the point where anorexia sets in . Many people with this disease exercise very heavily which raises serotonin even more! Once the serotonin level is very high, extra hair growth is common. Melatonin rich foods would help to reduce these high levels.
On a personal note, very recently, my grandmother was prescribed benzodiazepine, a medication that counters high serotonin, while also taking an antidepressant, a medication that counters low serotonin. In this case, a balance has been achieved but we do not know how long it will last. As my grandmother is now in a rest home it is quite difficult to intervene.
With our children, Jenna, who has had allergies and eczema, needs twice as much magnesium-rich food. Rhys and Renee are a good balance between these two. It all works well because none of our children rarely need to visit doctors - something sadly uncommon today. With winter approaching winter and sunshine dwindling, serotonin tends to drop and therefore our children need more magnesium-rich foods. Either raw cocoa and honey and/or raw coffee and honey have proved ideal and with this adjustment, they sleep very well.
Constipation can be a serious issue to many and can lead to depression for some. Often treatments such as senna, epsom salts and coffee enemas are used. These treatments will help raise lowered serotonin levels to get the bowel moving, as all are rich in magnesium.
Irritable Bowel Syndrome has been found to do with nerve signalling chemicals, particularly serotonin, and appears to have an important role. Medically serotonin antagonist medications are under trial with some encouraging results. I guess today we do have a choice, we can go via the system or go via the twice as much ratio of magnesium/melatonin with foods.
Viagra medication works by increasing serotonin levels. Maybe a handful of pumkin seeds and coconut oil would do the job?
Gout and leg cramps can be helped by melatonin or magnesium rich foods, it makes sense when people say the lack of salt can attribute to leg cramps, as salt is a melatonin food. Alcohol can really really interfere with absorption of melatonin foods. So butter, cream, tart cherries and salt (all goo free of course) are the best melatonin food sources to help with this problem. If this is not the answer then you need more magnesium such as coconut oil, cacao or raw coffee.
Alzheimers has also been shown to have low serotonin levels. Many folk with this disease also suffer frequent UTI`s. Studies have shown that coconut oil can be very beneficial. This would match up again, as coconut oil is a good source of magnesium. So would make sense to stick to a magnesium rich diet (and be cautious re melatonin foods) to help increase serotonin/magnesium levels which I am sure will help prevent the recurrent UTI`s as well as this sad and growing disease.
Cancer treatment with baking soda and organic maple syrup have shown postive results, again this also lies in with serotonin levels as baking soda is basically sodium (salt) which is a melatonin source and the maple syrup is a great magnesium source.
Vegetarian diets sadly can have imbalanced serotonin levels , as basically they are missing the melatonin dietary aspects, so hence why I believe that these diets for the long term are not a healthier choice. Especially when soy is used more so.
High blood pressure and salt cravings can be common, as salt helps increase melatonin production, which in turn will help to lower too higher serotonin levels, which can raise blood pressure.
Living in a perfect world, it seems nature knows what is best, as during the winter months the cows naturally don`t produce milk and the hens go off the lay. Again this makes sense (if we all had the correct balance) as we need less melatonin foods during the winter months.
Salt licks the cows know; being aware that cows predominantly eat grass they are therfore eating lots of magnesium. They instinctively know that by having some salt licks that they are getting their melatonin balance too.
(your brain instinctively knows what works)
1. When many people eat potatoes, instinctively they want to add butter. This make sense. There is the magnesium in the potatoes, melatonin in the butter.
2. Sea salt and black pepper are a good combination. This is because sea salt is a good source of melatonin and black pepper is a good source of magnesium. They balance each other. Sadly, many, fearing an escalation in blood pressure, do not add sea salt to foods. This very thing creates a magnesium imbalance with a rising serotonin level and can therefore increase blood pressure.
3. Salted peanuts is another example of the magnesium/melatonin ratio. The peanuts are high in magnesium whilst the salt is high in melatonin.
4. Apple pie and cream, again magnesium in the apple and the pastry and melatonin in the cream.
5. Many people cook with garlic and onions. These again are opposites: the garlic is rich in magnesium and the onions in melatonin.
6. In cheese and crackers we have the melatonin in the cheese and the magnesium in the crackers.
7. Cocoa and milk is another great balance of magnesium and melatonin especially when you have the real goo free raw cocoa (most is fermented) loaded with magnesium and raw milk containing the tryptophan that produces melatonin.
8. Fish/Chips and Tomato Sauce is a kiwi favourite and yet another self balancing of the serotonin level. The fish and chips are very good magnesium sources (best cooked in beef dripping) and the tomato sauce (needs to be goo free of course) is rich in melatonin.
9. Milk and cookies, again when having the goo free options you have a well balanced combination of melatonin with the milk and magnesium with the cookies.
Once the hormone balance is stabilised, a good mix of magnesium-rich and melatonin-rich foods is imperative to retain that balance. Aim for that â€œtwice as muchâ€ ratio, choosing the â€œtwice as muchâ€ according on your metabolism, either twice as much magnesium-rich or twice as much melatonin-rich ' . For some it may well take time to gain a balance. If you are on medications it is called weaning!
Example Dietary Plan for 2:1 Magnesium/Melatonin balance
Breakfast: Porridge, cinammon, pumpkin/sesame seeds, honey and cream.
Snacks: Fresh or dried fruit and walnuts. Mixed nuts including walnuts. Sprinkle with a little sea salt.
Lunch/Dinner: Baked potato with butter, tuna and pineapple. Or meat and veggies with butter added with home made gravy. Also good to add raw garlic and parsley to meals. Real bread with butter and nut spread, with mashed banana. Salad with olive oil, avocado, meat, pasta, etc. Pasta with herbs and dollop of butter. Veggie soup with a little cream. Eggs on toast (goo free). Fish and chips (goo free) cooked in dripping.
Drinks: Herbal white tea or raw/unfermented coffee and dash of raw milk or cream. Or nice with whipped cream and cinammon on top. Chamomile tea. Smoothie with plenty of fruit, raw milk, coconut, raw cocoa, cream, honey, cinammon. Water, 100% fruit juices.
Example Dietary Plan for 2:1 Melatonin/Magnesium balance
Breakfast: Scrambled eggs and tomatoes on toast (goo free) with butter, add cracked black pepper and sea salt. Porridge with rhubarb and cream.
Snacks: Mixed nuts, especially walnuts. Fruit with cream. Rice crackers with butter and banana or avocado and tomato. Grapes and cheese (goo free) on crackers (goo free). Fruit and yoghurt (goo free)
If having other grains ensure plenty of butter or cream is used.
Lunch/Dinner: Kumera and veggies with butter and meat (cooked in dripping). Salad with plenty of olive oil/lemon. Stir fry rice with veggies, eggs and meat. Veggie and tomato soup with plenty of cream. Fish and kumera chips. If having potato chips ensure goo free tomato sauce added or plenty butter.
Drinks: 100% tomato juice. Smoothies raw milk, fruit, cream, ginger, honey. If having tea or coffee ensure cream and milk and best to have unfermented options. Try to avoid sugar, raw honey is a good alternative. Ginger tea.
Note: I personally try my best to get spray free or organic fruits and veggies as sprayed crops have shown magnesium depletion in soils which of course can effect the fruit/veggie magnesium levels.
Also, read about goos and how to avoid them, as these significantly upset our hormones - available on my faith detox menus and links page via my website betterbods.co.nz
It seems many correct the serotonin imbalance with synthetic medicines but foods can do exactly the same thing once we learn to select them correctly. FAITH is now the key.
If you are not too sure where you fit on the scale, try one or the other first, if that one doesn`t work then do the opposite. Food is a far safer way to test things out. Plan A Faith Detox menu is a good blend of them both.
So put it simply, balancing hormones, by food alone can = health, vitality, youth, peace and happiness and that is worth celebrating... WHOO HOO!
Rachel Tomkinson Better Bods Better Health betterbods.co.nz