Serotonin is an important brain chemical that helps to elevate your mood and stop you from feeling down or depressed. While there are chemical ways to increase your serotonin levels, there are also numerous natural ways too. This article gives some of the natural ways that you can increase your serotonin levels to get feeling happy, fulfilled, and energized again.
1. Understand the serotonin/food myths. Unfortunately, there are a lot of myths surrounding food and increased levels of serotonin. These myths include:
- Eating a lot of banana will automatically increase serotonin. Bananas do contain serotonin. That serotonin, however, is unable to cross the blood-brain barrier and be absorbed by humans.
- Foods rich in tryptophan automatically increase serotonin. This is false. Most foods that contain tryptophan, an amino acid, compete with other amino acids to be absorbed by the body’s transport system. Eating a lot of turkey, which is rich in tryptophan, will not automatically give you more serotonin.
2. Avoid caffeinated foods, especially energy drinks. Caffeine suppresses serotonin, which could also help explain why it’s a hunger suppressant as well. Energy drinks contain large amounts of sugar, which the body processes quickly, but which produce an energy-zapping low after the insulin has finished surging. If you have to drink caffeinated products, wait until after you’ve eaten, doctors recommend.
3. Eat dark chocolate. Eating dark chocolate improves serotonin levels partly because of resveratrol. Resveratrol boosts both endorphins and serotonin levels. Remember to reach for dark chocolate instead of milk chocolate, as milk chocolate contains far less cocoa (the stuff that produces serotonin) than dark chocolate.
4. Eat healthy fats, such as omega-3 fatty acids. Omega-3 fatty acids are hypothesized to affect the functionality of serotonin in the brain. People with low serotonin levels commonly have low DHA levels, which is an essential building block in the brain, and which needs to be replenished with foods such as fish oils, which are high in omega-3 fatty acids. Look for omega-3 fats in:
- Nuts, seeds and seed oils, such as flaxseed oil.
- Fish, such as salmon, and fish oils.
5. Shun the simple carbs and embrace the complex carbs. Complex carbohydrates are absorbed by the body differently than simple carbohydrates. Simple carbs like white rice and white bread raise your blood sugar levels quickly, causing a spike in insulin, which drops after a while. Complex carbs are absorbed more slowly by the body and therefore avoid the massive peaks and troughs brought upon by simple carbs.
- Simple carbs: White bread, white rice, “normal” pasta, candies, cakes, and other refined sugar products.
- Complex carbs: Legumes like peas and lentils, whole grain breads, whole grain pastas, brown rice, starchy vegetables like sweet potatoes and parsnips.
6. Get enough light. Light probably helps serotonin synthesis. Research has found a positive correlation between serotonin synthesis and total hours of sunlight during the day.
- Get natural light during the day, not artificial light during the night. Natural, daytime sunlight is better at giving you serotonin than artificial LED, fluorescent, or UV light. Getting artificial light, especially at night, has the added disadvantage of blocking melatonin production, which helps your body get a good night’s sleep.
7. Exercise regularly. Exercise is a great way to boost your serotonin levels. The results are clear: exercise causes an increase in tryptophan, which is a precursor to serotonin. The tryptophan persists well after exercising is finished, suggesting that mood elevation may be present for hours after the exercising has finished.
- If you can’t find the time to exercise regularly, try walking or 30 minutes to an hour per day. At the very least, this moderate exercise will help burn calories and boost tryptophan levels, causing an increase in serotonin.
- Work out in at intensity levels with which you are familiar. Consistent serotonin release is linked with exercise that people feel comfortable with, not exercise that pushes people off the edge, an English study has found.
8. Understand that stress may interfere with serotonin. Prolonged periods of stress can deplete serotonin levels. Serious and systematic stress can have an impact on the body’s ability to produce and synthesize serotonin. This means that you should stay away from stressful situations as much as possible, and find healthy ways to deal with stress once it comes your way.
9. Sleep right. When we’re feeling down, it’s tempting to sleep, sleep and sleep some more. But quality sleep is far more important than quantity. Force yourself to get up early, but allow for a rejuvenating nap midday if you need it (just don’t exceed one hour).
10. Invest in massage. Several studies show that massage therapy helps cut down the stress hormone cortisol while boosting serotonin levels and increasing dopamine. This double-pronged benefit makes massage particularly valuable.
11. Relive happy memories. Though it may sound corny, relieving happy times may be enough to give your brain a serotonin boost. This may directly increase serotonin levels and keep you from fixating on less happy times, if you are prone to depression.
- The inability to think of happier times is called “state dependent recall.” If you can’t think of happier times, try talking to friends or family and looking at old journals or pictures.