Have you heard of “happy hormones?” Certain hormones can naturally lift your mood, giving you an instant feeling of mental well-being. And one of the key happy hormones is serotonin. Let’s take a look at how to increase serotonin levels naturally.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is what’s known as a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are tiny chemical messengers in the brain that help relay communication between nerve cells.
Serotonin receptors are also chiefly responsible for moderating your mood, your sense of well-being, and your happiness.
They can also help regulate your eating and sleeping habits.
But like everything in life, serotonin levels needs to be in balance. If you don’t have enough serotonin in your brain, your good mood may suffer. By contrast, overly-increased serotonin levels may cause irritation, confusion, and an increased heart rate (serotonin syndrome).1,2
And so, a “happy” medium is required.
What Happens When You Don’t Have Enough Serotonin?
If you don’t have enough serotonin in your brain, you might experience a wide variety of mood-related conditions. That’s not exactly a pleasant place to find yourself. But what causes these low serotonin levels?
Though the exact cause of low serotonin levels is still a mystery, some of the commonly recognized theories include:
- Genetically having fewer serotonin receptors
- Low levels of vitamin D (potentially not enough sun)
- Low levels of the amino acid tryptophan (which converts to serotonin)
- Recreational drugs (which can lead to serotonin depletion)
- High levels of the stress hormone cortisol
- Blood sugar issues that affect the transportation of tryptophan across the blood-brain barrier3-7
Turns out, the foods you eat can also play a significant role in your serotonin levels.
Happy Foods That Boost Serotonin Levels
Serotonin isn’t found in food, but the amino acid tryptophan is – and tryptophan helps your body to produce serotonin. Amino acids combine to form proteins, which means that tryptophan is found in many protein-rich foods.8
Here are some key “brain foods” which may be helpful in increasing serotonin levels:
- Salmon and other fatty, wild-caught seafood
- Eggs (choose omega-3 eggs)
- Cheese, whole or low-fat milk, and other dairy (stick to Southern European A-2 dairy)
- Leafy greens
- Nuts and Seeds (like macadamia, almonds, walnuts, pistachios, flaxseed)
- Foods high in folic acid (vitamin B9) such as citrus fruits (when in season), leafy greens, asparagus, beets, and broccoli
- Foods high in vitamin B6, such as green bananas, shrimp, tuna, and spinach9-11
*Don’t forget to choose mood-boosting meats that are grass-fed or pasture-raised.
What About Fermented Foods?
Interestingly, eating foods that are fermented are also great choices to potentially help boost serotonin – but for a very different reason. You see, about 95% of serotonin is produced in your gut. So, the production of serotonin is highly influenced by the “good” bacteria that hangs out there.12
So, also start eating some fermented foods. Think:
- Goat or coconut milk yogurt
- Kombucha (low sugar only please)
A Fun Fact About Carbohydrates
Most anyone will admit that carbohydrates can be comfort food to your soul – especially when you’re feeling tired, rundown, or moody. And, there may be some scientific truth to this.
Some studies have shown that carbohydrates may help get tryptophan into the brain faster. Which means hello, serotonin!13
Just don’t go overboard on white bread and pasta. Instead, look to carbs like sweet potatoes, (green) bananas, raw beets, or cassava.
Other Brainy Tips to Boost Serotonin Levels
Diet isn’t the only thing that may be helpful in raising serotonin levels in the brain.
You can also help elevate your mood by:
Getting a good night’s sleep – In addition to helping with stress, sleep allows the body to produce more serotonin.
Reducing stress – Stress hormones, like cortisol, play havoc with serotonin.
Exercising – Exercise is renowned for its positive effect on mood; it also encourages serotonin production.
Getting out into the sunshine – Bright light has been shown to boost mood, and vitamin D helps the body to make serotonin.14-17
Boost Serotonin Naturally
Serotonin is absolutely essential to your brain, your health, and your well-being. To ensure you’re doing the very best by your serotonin levels, think high-protein foods in your diet, exercise, and sleep.
You can also purchase amino acid mixtures with tryptophan as a dietary supplement, but it’s much easier to get from your food.
Of course, if you’re being troubled by mood-related conditions, you should always talk to your doctor. Mental health should always be treated just as seriously as any other health condition.
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