Cacao - does it contain serotonin and is it safe if I'm using an anti depressant?

Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain, blood, intestines, and connective tissues of the human body. It causes blood vessels to contract, helps transmit information across the nervous system, and has a role in brain function.

Serotonin is essential for overall health and wellbeing, and people often associate it with positive mood. But the brain is complex, and further research is needed to find out more about how serotonin works. 

There is a common misperception that cacao contains serotonin and that it will interfere with SSRIs. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of drugs that are typically used as antidepressants in the treatment of major depressive disorder and anxiety disorders. The exact mechanism of action of SSRIs is unknown. The efficacy of SSRIs in mild or moderate cases of depression has been disputed and may be outweighed by side effects. 

Serotonin is not found in foods, but tryptophan is. 

Tryptophan is an amino acid that is used in the biosynthesis of protein. It is also a precursor to serotonin, the hormone melatonin and B3 (niacin). Foods like eggs, salmon, nuts, spinach, bananas, soy products, milk, poultry and cacao contain tryptophan. 

The theory is that by eating foods high in tryptophan, you can boost your serotonin levels. But is this true?

Foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 all tend to contain large amounts of this amino acid. While high-tryptophan foods won’t boost serotonin on their own, there’s one possible cheat to this system: carbs.

Carbs cause the body to release more insulin, which promotes amino acid absorption and leaves tryptophan in the blood. If you mix high-tryptophan foods with carbs, you might get a serotonin boost.

The tryptophan you find in food has to compete with other amino acids to be absorbed into the brain, so it’s unlikely to have much of an effect on your serotonin levels. This differs from tryptophan supplements, which contain purified tryptophan and do have an effect on serotonin levels.

Fact, cacao contains two mood enhancing compounds - tryptophan and anandamide, a natural euphoric compound. This means that cacao can act as a mood enhancer and unlike traditional drugs, it is without side effects. 

Cacao DOES NOT contain serotonin. Nor does any other food. In theory, certain whole foods could boost our natural levels of serotonin. Whether or not these foods interfere with SSRIs still remains a mystery. 

I'm inclined to side with Mother Nature and use my common sense.