Have you heard the phrase “I need a serotonin boost”, possibly from one of your friends or on social media? If you’re unfamiliar with how serotonin contributes to your body, it’s a useful chemical produced by your brain. While many people know it to contribute to “feeling happy”, it’s a mood-stabilizing hormone that can affect your sleep, eating habits, and even digestion.
However, those who have a mental health condition or deficiency may have lower levels of serotonin. While you may be prescribed something like an SSRI (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) to increase serotonin production, there are a few natural ways you can help your body in the process. While these methods shouldn’t be used in place of a mental health professional’s advice and treatment, they can help individuals that are looking for ways to adjust their habits to increase serotonin naturally.
Your diet can significantly influence your mental health. While the food you eat won’t directly provide serotonin, high-protein foods are a primary source of the amino acid called tryptophan. Tryptophan is converted to serotonin in your brain as you digest foods like turkey and salmon.
Eating strictly tryptophan-rich foods isn’t enough, though. Your brain has something called the blood-brain barrier that controls the flow of chemicals in and out of the brain. However, these foods are usually rich in other amino acids that are more likely to get past the blood-brain barrier. This is why many nutritionists will suggest eating more salmon, rich in Omega-3 fatty acids, over turkey, which doesn’t have as high amino acid counts to compete with the tryptophan.
While sources of caffeine like coffee also increase serotonin levels, it has a limited value. The crash you feel after you stop drinking is the sudden withdrawal your body feels as it’s deprived of the high levels. To avoid this crash, it’s important to balance your diet with a mixture of nutrients like carbs and proteins that research suggests helps with stress management.
Regular exercise is important not only for physical health but mental health. Regular exposure to stress can lead to heart-related problems another other health concern in the future because of the strain it puts on your system. With regular exercise, your heart rate increases, promoting blood flow to relax stress-fueled muscle tension and distress. Not only does an increased heart rate promote blood flow for clearer thinking, but it also triggers the need for your brain to process new chemicals.
According to a study on the effects of aerobic exercise and the release of serotonin, there’s evidence that regular exercise increases the amount of tryptophan that can cross the blood-brain barrier. While exercise is also an activity recommended by mental health professionals to treat conditions like depression and anxiety, it can be a beneficial pastime for those that find themselves regularly fatigued, stressed, or sedentary. Experts from online counseling services like MyTherapist encourage the addition of regular aerobic exercise to help reduce the risk of the development of mental health conditions.
An active hobby doesn’t necessarily mean making the gym your second home. These combine physical and mental stimulation that promotes brain activity, a healthy increase in heart rate, and a positive mental experience. Hobbies like meditation, outdoor activities, and entertaining games have been shown to contribute to a reduction in stress and increase in productivity and mood.
While an increase in serotonin is what contributes to a positive mood, it’s possible that putting yourself in a positive environment and pleasant activity can help the production of serotonin. According to the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, one study found a correlation between positive mood inductions and increased serotonin synthesis. While everyone’s reactions to hobbies and brain-activating activities will be different, it’s important to put yourself in a positive environment to avoid the risk of increased stress and anxiety.
You may be familiar with the term “seasonal depression” – while this phenomenon generally occurs around the holiday season, it’s not always directly correlated with the increased stress of finding gifts, meeting with or avoiding family, and worrying about finances. In fact, it’s more closely correlated with the low light of winter and lack of sunlight exposure.
Sunlight helps increase serotonin levels with researchers suggesting your skin may be a contributing factor to serotonin synthesis. By spending a few minutes a day outside, opening blinds and curtains, and moving indoor activities near windows or even outside, you can increase your serotonin production boost. For people that live in areas with frequently cloudy weather or are sensitive to sun exposure, consult your mental health professional on alternative solutions.
It’s important to remember that everyone’s inner workings are different – chemical balances, heart rates, serotonin synthesizers, etc. If you’re concerned about your mental health and possible serotonin deficiency, there are steps you can take to naturally boost your body’s ability to create and synthesize serotonin. Making these changes to your regular routine can also increase your health benefits and positively affect other mental health benefits. However, it’s always a good idea to consult your doctor and therapist about any concerns you may have in order to have a professional contribution to your routine changes.
 Nutrient and Stress Management https://www.longdom.org/open-access/nutrient-and-stress-management-2155-9600-1000528.pdf
 Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review https://www.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/fpsyg.2015.01890/full
 In vivo measurements of brain trapping of 11C-labelled α-methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077345/
 Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3779905/