Why is it important to learn how to increase serotonin? Because it’s a natural mood booster that makes us feel happier and improves our mental health, among many other normal bodily functions. It’s actually quite easy to do, especially when incorporating serotonin foods and exercise into regular lifestyle habits.
Every day, people are taking more and more responsibility for their personal health and wellbeing. Staying healthy is a lot more than not struggling with an illness. Overall health is about both the mind and body.
This is why it’s important to find natural ways to increase serotonin, a chemical in the body that plays a key role in physical and mental health.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical neurotransmitter, similar to dopamine, norepinephrine, or GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid), that controls many aspects of the way the body and brain work.
Many people think that serotonin is produced in the brain, but approximately 90 percent of it is actually located in the gut, present in the intestines and GI tract.
One of serotonin’s main functions is to regulate and enhance mood, although it also plays a role in some of the following:
- Stomach, intestinal, and bowel health
- Sexual functioning
- Bone strength and density
- Blood clotting and wound healing
- Mental health and motivation
Having healthy serotonin levels can make a big difference in a person’s day-to-day life. Research suggests “…that serotonin plays a role, not only in the treatment of depression, but also in susceptibility to depression…”
In other words, low serotonin may be behind many of the symptoms of depression or anxiety. It can cause mood swings, from irritable to impulsive, and even be the reason behind sugar and other junk food cravings.
There’s a reason that balanced serotonin levels affect mood and wellbeing. This neurotransmitter is associated with regenerative sleep, memory and learning functions, healthy digestion, and appetite regulation.
When the body and mind are running at peak productivity, we are less likely to experience dips in the way we feel emotionally.
However, when the metaphoric “dark cloud” does inevitably show up over our heads, healthy levels of serotonin can help us move through these issues much more quickly.
How to Increase Serotonin Naturally
From serotonin foods to other types of organic serotonin boosters, it is possible to naturally enhance our levels of this neurotransmitter. The good news is that in the process, we can build habits that will continue to sustain healthy living for years to come.
Popular Ways to Increase Serotonin Naturally include:
- Foods that boost serotonin and Tryptophan
- Serotonin supplements
- Sunlight and Being in Nature
- Avoid Sugar
- Getting a Massage
Perhaps one of the best ways to up our levels is to have a diet of serotonin rich foods. These are easy and delicious foods you might already have around the kitchen.
What Are Foods That Boost Serotonin?
“Serotonin Foods” are those that contain the amino acid tryptophan, which converts into serotonin in the brain.
Protein and other foods that increase serotonin include:
- Poultry, like turkey and chicken
- Salmon is another lean protein rich in tryptophan
- Eggs, especially hardboiled or poached, also make the protein list
- For vegetarians and vegans, tofu and soy products are a good source
- Dairy, such as milk and cheese contains tryptophan
- A handful of nuts or seeds has healthy fats and is an ideal serotonin booster
- Even pineapples and bananas are good for some fruity variety
- Green leafy vegetables and avocados
In addition to many of these foods containing protein or tryptophan, some of them are rich in other vitamins and nutrients that promote serotonin for improving our mental health.
Vitamin B-6 aids the body in producing serotonin and can decrease depression symptoms. To get a healthy dose of Vitamin B-6, eat foods like nuts and seeds, avocados, and bananas.
Vitamin B-12 deficiencies can be a cause of mood problems but it’s easy to boost by eating food such as green leafy vegetables, fish, cheese, and even broccoli.
A Magnesium deficiency can cause stomach issues such as cramping or nausea, and is also related to low levels of serotonin. To increase magnesium levels, look to foods like almonds, cashews, pumpkin seeds, spinach, potatoes, black beans, salmon, or chicken breast.
While on the subject of serotonin rich foods, it should also be mentioned that other foods should be avoided because they can have a negative impact on mental health.
Sugar and refined carbohydrates, like white flour, should be avoided whenever possible. It’s true that they can give us a quick mental boost, but it is short-lived and the crash that happens usually within an hour drains our energy and results in sluggish mental focus and acuity.
Foods with serotonin are an excellent source for gaining momentum in the quest to be healthier and happier. However, there are additional ways to get a natural increase of serotonin.
Exercise is a Serotonin Booster
Let’s face it, staying healthy doesn’t come free and, yes, we need to exercise on a regular basis, but this doesn’t have to be dreadful.
What’s important to know is that exercise helps tryptophan convert to serotonin and make it’s way to the brain. In the end, this is what boosts our mental wellbeing and healthy bodily functions.
If you’ve never kept a regular exercise regimen or it’s been a long time, the key is to start slow and do something you enjoy.
Consistency matters most. Start with regular 45-minute walks around the neighborhood, at a livelier pace than your regular stroll. Low intensity exercise, like walking, a pleasant nature hike, or even bike rides are good because you can do them every single day.
It might seem like a challenge at first, but once you make the time, you will notice a difference in how you feel.
For those that are already physically active, try increasing the intensity in small chunks to make bigger gains.
What’s more, if you can exercise outside, you get the added boost of the sunlight as a natural serotonin booster. There is data that shows bright light can help our skin manufacture serotonin. Just don’t forget to wear and protect yourself with sunscreen.
There are, of course, supplements on the market that claim to boost serotonin. Not all of these products are equal though. If you decide to take a supplement, pick products from companies with a reputable and verifiable history.
It’s important to have a clear understanding of the purity of supplements that we choose to put into our bodies.
Some of the essential vitamins and nutrients mentioned earlier with serotonin foods can also be taken as supplements too. These include:
- Vitamin B-6
- Vitamin B-12
- Vitamin C
These vitamins and minerals either directly aid in serotonin production or they act in conjunction with tryptophan to help convert it into serotonin.
Addiction, Depression and Serotonin
It’s a natural instinct for us to want more of the things that make us feel better. However, when it comes to alcohol and drugs, substance use can actually lower levels of serotonin.
This can create a cycle of use where a person self-medicates with drugs or alcohol so that they feel better. It may work for a short time in the beginning, but over time it actually has the opposite effect and makes matters much worse.
Impact of Drugs and Alcohol on Serotonin
Alcohol and recreational drugs have a profound negative impact on the way we feel mentally and physically. A common symptom of addiction is depression, which we know is linked to depleted serotonin levels.
Just like with sugar and refined carbs, any temporary positive feelings caused while under the influence of alcohol or drugs will be completely negated when the effects wear off. Certain types of drugs like MDMA (Molly, Ecstasy) literally flood the brain with serotonin and the crash is much worse than with sugar.
This is due to the biological function of “homeostasis,” which is the body’s attempt to keep a relatively stable state of balance. What goes up must come down, and this occurs with an equal reaction. The highs are high and the lows are even lower. So it’s best to stay away from drugs or alcohol to keep serotonin levels at an optimal state.
For those struggling with substance use, addiction treatment can help restore normal serotonin levels as the brain returns to its normal function after a period of sobriety.
In some cases, health care professionals might prescribe serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI’s), also known as antidepressant medication, which makes more serotonin available to the brain.
Even though taking antidepressants to normalize serotonin in the body can help overcome bouts of depression, the ultimate goal is find out how to increase serotonin naturally to avoid relying on medication to feel better.
This isn’t always possible for everyone, but for many people, a little serotonin boost can do wonders for improving mood and overall mental health.