The Secret to Naturally Improving Your Serotonin Levels and Mental Health

Read on to learn about different ways to increase serotonin naturally.

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Improve Your Serotonin Levels and Mental Health

Ways to raise serotonin levels and improve mental health. Image/Shutterstock

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.

Food

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[1] 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[2] helps with stress management.

Exercise

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[3] 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.

Active Hobbies

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[4] 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.

Bright Light

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[5].

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.

Benefits of Serotonin

Dr. Jennifer, MD, DDS and Owner at Macleod Trail dental clinic. As a medical professional, she provided insights on the benefits of the Serotonin for the body.

Sleep Regulation: As per my observation, Serotonin also plays a vital role in regulating the sleep-wake cycle. It helps modulate the production of melatonin, a hormone that regulates our sleep patterns. Serotonin levels typically rise during the day when exposed to sunlight, signaling wakefulness, and decline at night, allowing melatonin levels to rise and promote sleep. Adequate serotonin levels are essential for maintaining a healthy sleep pattern and promoting restful sleep. Imbalances in serotonin signaling can disrupt our sleep-wake cycle, leading to insomnia or other sleep disorders.

Appetite Control: As a medical doctor, I believe that Serotonin is crucial in regulating food intake and affecting appetite and satiety. Serotonin helps modulate the activity of our brain regions involved in hunger and cravings. Balanced serotonin levels can help control our cravings for high-calorie or comfort foods and promote healthier eating habits. Additionally, Serotonin signaling in the gut communicates feelings of fullness to the brain, regulating meal size and frequency. Imbalances in serotonin levels can contribute to overeating, binge eating, or other eating disorders.

Cognition and Memory: Serotonin is involved in various cognitive processes, including attention, concentration, and memory. It influences the activity of neurotransmitter systems that play a role in learning and memory formation. Adequate serotonin levels support optimal cognitive function, helping individuals focus on tasks, retain information, and make decisions. Serotonin also modulates mood-related aspects of cognition, influencing how individuals perceive and respond to their environment.

What Causes a Lack of Serotonin?

Genetic Factors: A predisposition to lower serotonin levels can be inherited.

Dietary Deficiencies: Lack of nutrients essential for the production of serotonin, such as tryptophan.

Chronic Stress: Long-term stress can deplete serotonin levels over time.

Lack of Sunlight: Reduced exposure to sunlight can diminish Vitamin D levels, affecting serotonin synthesis.

Hormonal Changes: Shifts in hormone levels may affect serotonin production and regulation.

Always consult a healthcare provider for guidance tailored to your specific health condition and before making any significant changes to your diet, exercise, or supplement regimen.

Who Should Not Take Serotonin?

Dr. Paul Daidone, MD says, individuals considering serotonin supplements or medication that affects serotonin levels should consult a healthcare professional, especially if they:

Are taking medications that can impact serotonin levels, like SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors) or MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors), due to the risk of serotonin syndrome.

Have medical conditions that might be affected by altered serotonin levels, such as certain heart conditions or serotonin syndrome susceptibility.

RELATED14 Ways Sleep Podcasts Can Improve Your Mental Health

Final Verdict

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.

Sources

Health Insiders relies on peer-reviewed studies, academic research institutions, and medical associations. We avoid using tertiary references. You can learn more about how we ensure our content is accurate and current by reading our editorial policy.

[1] How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs

[2] Nutrient and Stress Management

[3] Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise—A Review

[4] In vivo measurements of brain trapping of 11C-labelled α-methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states

[5] Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology?

Author
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Dr. Meghan Scott, BScH, BScAHN, MBBS, RD

Meghan has nutrition counselling experience in acute and long term care, and in private practice. She is an experienced sports nutriti...

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