Throughout this article, we will be discussing everything important about the neurotransmitter serotonin. If you have come here because you believe you have low levels of serotonin, then I will discuss beneficial ways of how we can fix your problem. This article will include:
- What is serotonin?
- How does a lack of serotonin affect us?
- How does serotonin work in our bodies and brain?
- How to increase serotonin levels naturally?
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a natural chemical found throughout the body and brain. It acts as a neurotransmitter where it is responsible for communication between brain cells and other nervous system cells. It is largely found in the digestive tract and also found among blood platelets, in the brain, and in other areas of the central nervous system.
Serotonin is produced from the essential amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is derived from the foods we consume. That is why a healthy diet is essential for efficient levels of tryptophan. A deficiency of tryptophan can lead to low serotonin levels which can be responsible for mood disorders such as depression and anxiety
Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy chemical” or “feel-good chemical” because with high levels of serotonin, mood elevation and overall positive well-being result. Serotonin has a wide variety of impacts associated with both physical and mental health. It’s an essential chemical that helps with eating, sleeping, digesting, controlling blood vessel constriction, bone health, blood clotting, and most importantly the role it plays in giving us a positive mood.
Thus, serotonin also helps with:
- reducing anxiety
- reducing depression
- regulating memory, emotion, social behavior, learning, and libido (sexual desire)
How does a lack of serotonin affect you?
As mentioned above, tryptophan deficiency can be responsible for low levels of serotonin. Serotonin deficiency can have a negative impact on our mood, most commonly resulting in depression. Other impacts that can result from serotonin deficiency are:
- anxiety and panic disorders
- eating disorders
- obsessive compulsive disorder
- bipolar disorder
- seasonal affective disorder
- attention disorders
- post-traumatic stress disorder
Unfortunately, there is no real way to measure the amount of serotonin in the brain. That is why when we believe we are experiencing any of these symptoms or disorders, it is most likely a case of low serotonin levels that need to be adjusted.
There are other symptoms associated with a lack of serotonin that you may be experiencing or heard of such as:
- easily irritated
- isolation from family and friends
- lack of motivation
- low self-esteem
- suicidal thoughts or tendencies
- feeling dependent on others
- digestive problems
- overeating or undereating
- poor focus, concentration, and overall cognitive function
How does serotonin work?
Serotonin works to carry signals between nerves, thus regulating the communication between them. Here is a short video that describes the process of serotonin formation and its communication among nerve cells if you are interested in the science behind it.
The most common method in society to increase serotonin levels is the consumption of antidepressants. The most prescribed type of antidepressants are SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) that work to increase serotonin levels in the brain by blocking brain receptors that reabsorb serotonin, thereby leaving more serotonin for our use. Heavy prescribed SSRIs include Celexa, Prozac, Lexapro, and Zoloft.
Antidepressants are regarded as an effective treatment for depression and anxiety, but are scientifically proven to come with a vast array of side effects that can be even more detrimental to your mental health. Also, antidepressants are habit-forming meaning they can be highly dependable and addicting.
They may also not work for some people at all and for others, the process may be a trial and error where you will have to experiment with different types to see what your best fit is. This process can take months. And according to the World Health Organization, more than 300 million people in the world suffer from major depressive disorder, and unfortunately antidepressants only work for 50% of that population.
Therefore, I have included below some beneficial tips how to increase serotonin levels naturally with my number one recommendation.
6 Ways How to Increase Serotonin Levels Naturally
1) Consume 5-HTP (fastest and easiest way)
- There are natural supplements that solely work to elevate your mood by increasing serotonin levels in the brain much like antidepressants except these are natural. 5-HTP is a very popular one that proves to be successful. 5-HTP enters the brain and is reformed into the natural “happy chemical” serotonin. You do not have to be depressed to take 5-HTP.
- Read everything you need to know about 5-HTP including 5-HTP uses, benefits, side effects, dosage, and combination with medication.
- In the above article, I also give my strongest 5-HTP recommendation that works great for me.
- I take my 5-HTP everyday and have noticed steady mood improvements. 5-HTP is made from pure ingredients and is non-habit forming meaning you will not become addicted to it nor need to depend on it. Dosage depends on the size of capsules but it is generally safe and efficient to consume anywhere between 100-300mg a day. However, much higher doses have been recorded as safe. The bottle I take is 100mg per capsule and I used to take 3 capsules per day (one during each meal). However, over the months my mood has been consistently elevated so I have lowered my doses to two and even one capsule per day. Eventually, you will not need this product to elevate your mood and it is not intended for long-term use (years). After months on it, it is generally advisable to keep lowering your doses (7 capsules/week to 6 capsules/week and so on) until you are not consuming it anymore.
- Do not abruptly stop your doses. Nonetheless, I highly recommend this natural supplement to boost your serotonin levels naturally. It does work!
2) Consume High Carb & Protein Diet
- Foods can definitely increase serotonin levels. A diet high in simple carbohydrates can increase insulin levels and therefore allow more tryptophan (the natural precursor to serotonin) to enter the brain. Foods that are high in simple carbohydrates include pastas, bread, potatoes, pastries, baked-goods, and even popcorn. The calming effect of serotonin can be felt in half an hour or less after eating these foods. That is why you may feel a sense of relief and a bit fatigued after eating a nice, fuel-filled meal. An excess amount of carbohydrates can cause high blood sugar levels that over time are associated with cerebral atrophy and dementia.
- Another good source of serotonin through foods is complex carbohydrates such as carrots, sweet potatoes, blueberries, apples, corn, green vegetables, and beans and lentils.
- You can boost serotonin levels in the brain by also eating foods rich in tryptophan since tryptophan is the natural precursor to serotonin. Foods rich in tryptophan include chicken, salmon, turkey, beef, and eggs.
- Diets with good amounts of carbs and L-tryptophan is a great way to naturally increase your serotonin levels. Read more about healthy foods that can help combat mood disorders such as depression.
- Exercise can effectively release healthy neurotransmitters in the brain such as serotonin. The more frequent you exercise, the more serotonin will be released in your system. Exercise also releases “feel good” chemicals called endorphins.
- Some scientific studies have actually explained that exercise may be as equally effective in increasing serotonin levels than antidepressant medication and that exercise may be a better alternative to mood disorders than prescriptions.
- How much exercise do you need? Honestly, it doesn’t have to be a full gym workout. It can just be going out for a walk or job. The most important thing is to be consistent with exercise. Walk or jog at least 2 or 3 times a week if you can. If you are already going to the gym frequently, then keep up this routine. Right now, I go to the gym around 3 times a week and don’t plan on stopping. It keeps my mind and body in good shape.
- Read about the effects of exercise on depression.
4) Get Plenty of Sunlight
- Sunlight is an easy way to boost serotonin levels. In fact, the brighter the sun, the higher the serotonin synthesis. Lack of sunlight may actually explain why some forms of depression occur in colder months such as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a depression that erupts during the colder, darker months.
- Sun exposure can increase cognitive function for everyone according to a scientific study, both healthy subjects and those who suffer from depression.
- It doesn’t have to be a blistering, hot day to get your sunlight in you. Going out on cloudy, autumn or spring day will expose you to enough natural light to boost serotonin levels compared to sitting in your house with the lights on. It`s a good idea to get your sunlight early in the day to set the mood for you for the rest of the day. Maybe combine some exercise with your sun exposure. Go for a walk around your neighborhood in the morning.
5) Other Natural Supplements/Vitamins
- I recommended 5-HTP above because it is the quickest natural precursor to serotonin. However, combining natural supplements/vitamins is also a great way to boost serotonin levels. In fact, I take a wide range of vitamins/supplements a day to ensure healthy mood balance. Not to mention, taking vitamins helps largely with your physical health.
- Read this article on the best supplements to increase serotonin.
- Some really great vitamins/supplements to take are B-complex vitamins, vitamin D, turmeric, and omega-3 fatty acids to regulate your mood. These are filled with essential micronutrients, minerals, and antioxidants.
- A study found that those deficient in vitamin B which regulates serotonin synthesis are more prone to develop symptoms of depression.
- One of the biggest and simplest things you can do to increase serotonin levels and regulate your mood is to give yourself a break. Are you always up and at it? Constantly working? Stressed out? Just relax and give yourself some downtime. And most importantly, get a good night’s sleep to allow yourself to be energized and refreshed for the next day.
I hope these tips have helped. We all want the key to happiness. Some of these things you can to boost serotonin levels are a lot simpler than you think. If you have any comments or questions, I’d love to address them.