People often think of Serotonin in relation to mental health concerns such as anxiety and depression. However, Serotonin is responsible for many bodily functions. There are several natural ways to support and boost serotonin levels in your body without turning to medication.
Read on to discover Serotonin's many roles throughout your body, what medical conditions are associated with serotonin level imbalances, and five ways to boost serotonin levels without medication.
Note: If you are concerned about your mental health or are having suicidal thoughts, please reach out to your local mental health center. You can also call or text 988, which is the national Suicide & Crisis Lifeline.
In your nervous system, Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, but in your other body systems, it works as a hormone. Both terms are fancy ways to say that Serotonin functions as a chemical 'messenger' throughout your body.
Serotonin is often called the 'feel good' hormone as it is associated with overall mood regulation, including happiness. It acts throughout your body, influencing
Serotonin is not the only factor involved with these bodily functions. Usually, your body's complex system of neurotransmitters, hormones, and organs work together as a team. However, medical conditions become evident when your body has trouble keeping balance.
Most people have heard of Serotonin's role in regulating mood and emotions, but research continues to show other areas of influence. Low levels of Serotonin are seen in
The effect of increased physical activity on overall well-being cannot be understated. Aerobic exercise increases Serotonin and dopamine, which are both neurotransmitters involved with emotional health.
Seasonal affective disorder occurs throughout winter months when there are fewer sunlight hours and people spend more time indoors. So it should come as no surprise that sunlight exposure affects your system's levels of Serotonin.
Wear sunscreen if you plan to be outside for more than about 15 minutes. This time would be great to incorporate physical activity such as a walk or jog.
Light therapy boxes have also become popular in recent years. They may be a good option for cloudy climates or people who do not tolerate being outside for extended periods.
A combination of the essential amino acid tryptophan, vitamin B6 and magnesium creates Serotonin. Tryptophan can have a sedative effect, and you often hear about it around the holidays. Turkey is a great source of tryptophan, which may contribute to the sleepiness people often feel soon after Thanksgiving dinner!
Other foods high in tryptophan include
Eating one of these foods with a complex carbohydrate, such as whole wheat toast, brown rice, or oatmeal can enhance your body's ability to use tryptophan.
Chronic stress is associated with several negative health outcomes, including decreased serotonin levels. Stress-relieving activities lead to several benefits. A few ideas include
There are several supplements available that may increase Serotonin levels.
You should speak with your healthcare provider(s) before starting any over-the-counter supplements, medications, or treatments. Just because something is available without a prescription does not mean it is safe for you and your health journey. For example, Serotonin syndrome is a life-threatening condition; it occurs when there is too much Serotonin in your body.
You should not take any of the following supplements if you are taking a prescription medication that can increase serotonin levels, including many of the most widely prescribed anti-depressants. Fluoxetine, escitalopram, and sertraline are examples.
St. John's Wort has long been used as a natural anti-depressant. However, research has never shown clear evidence to support its use. St. John's wort is a supplement that interacts with several prescription medications. You should not start St. John's wort without speaking to your healthcare provider(s).
5-HTP and SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine) are other supplements used by people hoping to increase Serotonin. Research has not yet shown a clear link between these improving anxiety and depression symptoms.
Tryptophan is also available as a supplement.
Probiotics: Interestingly, there are relationships between gut bacteria and your body's cells that account for almost 90% of your body's serotonin production. Research is ongoing, but several studies have found that certain bacteria trigger your digestive system to produce more Serotonin. Therefore, probiotics may increase serotonin production by helping you maintain healthy gut bacteria.
Serotonin, other neurotransmitters, and hormones contribute to overall emotional health and well-being. Decreased levels of Serotonin are associated with many medical conditions, most notably anxiety and depression. Excessive levels of Serotonin may lead to a life-threatening condition called Serotonin Syndrome.
For most people, the body maintains an adequate level of Serotonin. Occasionally you might be interested in ways to boost the amount of circulating Serotonin. The boosts described today will not cure severe or chronically low levels of Serotonin, but they may contribute to an improved mood and sense of well-being. Most of the ideas in this article can be incorporated as part of a healthy lifestyle:
Small changes add up over time to make lasting changes. If this seems overwhelming, start with one thing. Over time you will feel a sense of increased happiness and contentment.
Asking for Help
Everything mentioned so far is meant to be informative. If you are reading about ways to increase your serotonin levels, there is a chance you are feeling anxious, down, depressed, or maybe even hopeless. The symptoms of anxiety, depression, and other mental illnesses vary from person to person.
If you or someone close to you has noticed changes in your behavior, it is time to reach out for professional help. There is a national mental health crisis phone line - dial 988 to speak to a mental health professional. They can also help you find local services.
If you are having thoughts about self-harm or suicide, call 911 or go to the closest emergency room.
Cleveland Clinic. Serotonin: What Is It, Function & Levels
Journal of Nutrition & Food Sciences. Nutrient and Stress Management
National Institute of Health. How to increase Serotonin in the human brain without drugs.
Nature.com. Associations of neurotransmitters and the gut microbiome with emotional distress in mixed type of irritable bowel syndrome