Like dopamine and norepinephrine, serotonin is a naturally-occurring molecule that effects much more than just our happiness. In addition to promoting a balanced mood, serotonin is also responsible linked to our ability to get a good night’s rest, retain critical information and learn new skills, and experience pleasure. In fact, Psychology Today refers to serotonin as “The Confidence Molecule” in the way that it helps to booster self-esteem, feelings of self-worth, and allowing us to experience a sense of belonging. In modern medicine, many pharmaceuticals are designed to prevent certain cells in the brain from reducing the amount of serotonin left in circulation – this surplus is used to combat clinical depression and other mood-related conditions.
Although an easy guess as to where serotonin is produced would be the brain, this actually isn’t true. Approximately 95 percent of the serotonin in the body is manufactured naturally in the lining of your gut, while only the remaining 5 percent is produced in the brain. While the role serotonin plays in influencing psychological symptoms as a result of the changes it makes in the chemistry of the brain isn’t fully understood, most of the medical community and beyond understands that foods, supplements, and medications designed to increase serotonin generally have positive effects on mood elevation. Conversely, when the levels of serotonin in the brain are too low, this deficiency may cause a range of negative psychological and physical consequences.
What Happens When Serotonin Levels Are Too Low?
While most people have a basic understanding that low serotonin levels most often linked to depression, serotonin deficiencies are also commonly connected to insomnia, poor memory, anxiety, low energy, aggression, and many more psychological symptoms. With regard to depression specifically, one study (among many) revealed that low levels of serotonin caused significant mood reduction and depressive symptoms. In another study that performed an overview on the effectiveness of conventional pharmaceutical drugs that increase serotonin levels, researchers found that these solutions do produce significant results in reducing the symptoms of depression.
Why Choose Natural Serotonin-Boosting Alternatives?
Although decades of clinical research support the theory that there is a strong link between serotonin levels and general feelings of wellness and positive mood, recent research is calling for treatment methods that naturally increases serotonin in the brain without the need for pharmaceuticals. Whether influencing diet, lifestyle choices, or encouraging physical exercise, the general idea is that by promoting behaviors that naturally produce more serotonin, we are setting ourselves up for better longevity in treatment. While taking pharmaceuticals can be effective in raising these levels of serotonin, this form of treatment is not long-lasting without lifestyle changes that support the body’s ability to naturally produce this neurotransmitter.
From dietary alterations and natural supplements, to lifestyle changes and exercise, here are several natural methods to boost serotonin levels and elevate mood.
1. Exercise Regularly
Yes, regular exercise is linked to increases in serotonin levels in the brain, which disseminates down to promoting positive mood and overall wellness. In addition to improving the overall oxygenation of the blood and circulatory system during periods of exercise, research shows that exercise has the ability to increase extracellular serotonin. This is probably why regular weightlifters, runners, and athletes generally have higher levels of energy as well. Similar studies also show that regular aerobic exercise can be quite effective in treating mild clinical depression, which is not only linked in increases in serotonin levels, but an increase in plasma tryptophan. In simple terms, this substance is also linked to higher production of serotonin.
2. Enrich Your Diet
Have you ever noticed that when you consume healthier foods such as leafy greens or lean proteins, you not only feel better physically, but your mood improves as well? This is likely due to the natural occurrence of tryptophan in many of the healthier foods we eat. This amino acid makes the synthesis of serotonin possible, so increasing your intake of foods with high levels of tryptophan are known to boost serotonin levels and improve mood. Conversely, research has shown that a low-tryptophan diet causes the levels of serotonin in the brain to drop. Some examples of foods that boost serotonin levels naturally include wild-caught salmon, nuts and seeds such as almonds, eggs, and pineapple.
3. Enjoy Bright Natural Light
In regions of the world that experience harsh winters accompanied by grey skies and shorter days, many people experience a condition known as seasonal depression. While the cold certainly doesn’t help, a likely explanation for this phenomenon is the absence of bright natural light. In fact, research has shown light therapy to an effective treatment for non-seasonal depression. This is due to the positive correlation between serotonin synthesis and the amount of sunlight exposure one experiences. In addition to promoting the natural production of serotonin in the brain, regular exposure to sunlight also increases the production of Vitamin D, an essential nutrient needed by the body to function properly.
4. Enjoy Peppermint Tea
Similar to foods that are rich in the amino acid tryptophan (which promotes the natural synthesis of serotonin), fresh peppermint has also been measured to contain high amounts of this substance as well. According to Self Nutrition Data, fresh mint contains approximately 166mg per 200-calorie serving. While you are more likely to absorb higher amounts of tryptophan by eating the full peppermint tea leaves, you can also enjoy similar benefits by regularly drinking an organic peppermint tea. Peppermint tea also offers a natural source of energy free from caffeine or other stimulants.
5. Mindfulness Meditation
The practice of mindfulness meditation is designed to help individuals become more in tune with their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, instead of attempting to change or modify them. These acute changes in mood states are not only known to release higher levels of the neurotransmitter dopamine (also linked to mood and happiness), but increases in serotonin as well. One study revealed that these self-regulated mood states can influence the natural synthesis of serotonin in the brain.
6. Take a 5-HTP Supplement
5-HTP is one of the most common natural supplements used to boost serotonin levels, available in most pharmacies, grocery stores, and of course on Amazon. Like tryptophan 5-HTP is an amino acid that the body naturally produces, and is used to activate the synthesis of serotonin. In fact, some research even shows that for patients with depression who are resistant to prescribed selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, 5-HTP proves to be an effective alternative treatment for depression disorders. One study even states that “The therapeutic efficacy of I-5-HTP was considered as equal to that of fluoxetine.” For reference, fluoxetine is the generic name of Prozac.
7. Enjoy Moderate Amounts of Coffee
Interestingly enough, coffee can actually be used as a natural way to boost the brain’s natural supply of serotonin. Researchers have found that moderate amounts of caffeine can actually increase the brain’s serotonin levels, which probably explains the boost in mood coffee drinkers experience when they have their first cup of the day. If you want to boost your personal daily coffee experience, try taking L Theanine with your morning cup. This amino acid is known to help ease the mind and protect brain cells, and consuming it with caffeine improves mental clarity and attention (according to WebMD). In addition to having L-Theanine with your coffee, there are several other ways to boost your coffee experience, offering more sustainable energy and mood elevation throughout the day.
8. Get a Deep-Tissue Massage
Regular massages not only relieve enormous tension built up in the muscles and improves body circulation, but has been studied to increase both serotonin and dopamine levels. One study observed the levels of cortisol (stress hormone), serotonin, and dopamine immediately following massage therapy, and found that both serotonin and dopamine showed an average increase of 28%. Additionally, this study also revealed that massage therapy decreased cortisol levels 31% on average. So go ahead – treat yourself to that Swedish massage you’ve been dreaming about. Your brain will thank you later.
9. Take a Quality Probiotic
If you’ve gotten this far into the article, you already know that about 95% of the body’s natural serotonin is produced in the gut. That means that when we eat foods with heavy preservatives, or go on a regimen of antibiotics, our healthy gut bacteria if often wiped out or significantly reduced. This decreases our body’s natural ability to produce serotonin and derive the nutrients we get from the foods we consume. Probiotics are designed to introduce active healthy bacteria cultures into the body to help replenish bacterial deficiencies we may have in our intestinal tract. Research shows that probiotics have the ability to stabilize microbial communities in the body, which can lead to higher levels of serotonin production over time.