So you want to raise the levels of serotonin found in your body, and you want to do it without any supplements or prescriptions. You’ve come to the right place.
Perhaps you’re feeling a little low, grumpy, upset, or discontent. Does this sound about right? If so, you can do something about it right this minute.
In this article, we’ll briefly examine the role of serotonin in the body and brain before looking at several effective methods of increasing its production.
What Is Serotonin And What Does It Do For Us?
Serotonin is one of a number of neurotransmitters we rarely ever pay much attention to in our daily lives. Yet the levels present in your body and brain can play a huge role in your mood and behavior.
Serotonin is often thought of as a mood-stabilizer; lower levels generally result in a depressed state, while higher levels are accompanied by a more peaceful, content, and even euphoric feeling. It’s no wonder you’re looking to boost your stockpiles.
What you may not know is that serotonin also plays a pivotal role in the functioning of your gut where 80-90% of all your stores are found. The healthy functioning of your intestinal system is reliant on a steady and reliable source of serotonin. It is also thought to play a role in hunger and the craving of certain foods (as you’ll see in just a second, what you eat also plays a big role in how much of this neurotransmitter you have).
In fact, serotonin plays a role in a great number of biological and psychological functions; but you’re not here for a science lesson, so we’ll skip the details and get to the interesting bit.
How To Increase Serotonin In Your Body
This isn’t the only article on the topic of raising your serotonin levels. Unfortunately, there are many others that suggest things which simply aren’t effective when you look at the science. Again, we’re not here to go into the heavy research of it all, but rest assured that the advice below has not been provided on a whim; it has been carefully thought out and presented based on the facts.
1. What You Eat Matters
Much of the misleading advice out there centers on diet, so that’s where we’re going to start off.
You see, serotonin is most often produced within the body and not consumed directly (although it does exist in some foods). One of the main things that is required to synthesize serotonin is an amino acid called tryptophan. It is this basic fact that leads many to suggest eating foods high in tryptophan as a solution to low serotonin levels.
There is, however, far more to it than this.
Tryptophan, while important, is not the only amino acid out there. There are many more to be found in all the foods we eat and, unfortunately for tryptophan, they are often more abundant.
This isn’t a huge problem in the gut where it can be absorbed and used readily, but the brain is a more complicated beast. It has a barrier to stop unwanted nasties from entering, but this also controls the absorption of amino acids from the blood. Now, your blood carries amino acids around in its platelets, but there is limited space for them. The different amino acids have to compete. Because tryptophan is relatively scarce, less of it is able to enter the blood in comparison with the others.
Alright, I know you weren’t here to learn the science, but stick with it…
The long and short of it is this: if you eat foods that contain lots of these other amino acids, then you are limiting the tryptophan that can reach your brain, where it is turned into serotonin.
So while proteins like meat, eggs, and cheese are all good sources of tryptophan, they are also excellent sources of a whole range of other amino acids. Eating protein, then, can actually reduce the levels of tryptophan in your blood.
The solution to this dilemma is the humble carbohydrate. Much scorned for being a cause of weight gain, bloatedness, and other undesirables, carbs can play an important role in boosting the serotonin levels in your brain (and thus improving your mood).
When you eat carbs, the body converts them into sugar and this enters the bloodstream. We all know what comes next – insulin is released to regulate your blood sugar levels and store this fuel in your muscles and organs. The interesting bit (and I can tell you’re interested if you’re reading all these fine details and not just cutting to the good bits) is that many amino acids are also absorbed during this process. Tryptophan is less readily absorbed and so stays in the blood, meaning it can increase in concentration as its competitors are sucked up by the muscles.
This is one reason why you often feel better after a sugary drink or snack – you are giving the tryptophan more of a chance to reach the brain.
In essence, then, the perfect meal to lift your mood would be something high in tryptophan, but also high in carbohydrates.
But wait, there’s more. The fatty acids found in Omega 3 can have a positive impact on the functioning of serotonin in the brain (again, we won’t go into too many details). This means that you can get more bang for your buck when it comes to the tryptophan you consume.
And the most common source of Omega 3 – fish like Salmon – is already high in tryptophan so it’s a win-win (as long as you follow the rule above about consuming carbohydrates at the same time).
According to this source, some of the most tryptophan-rich foods commonly available are:
- crustaceans like crab, crayfish, and lobster
- oily fish
- game meats
- soy protein
- some seeds
If you want to raise your serotonin levels through your diet, add the above foods into your meal plans; just be sure to eat a good portion of carbohydrates at the same time (complex, unrefined carbs are probably best to promote the slower, more even release of insulin to prolong the length of time where concentrations of tryptophan in the blood are high). This way you will give the tryptophan a better chance of reaching your brain in sufficient quantities.
But what, there’s more…
2. Get Out In The Sun
The production of serotonin in your brain is directly influenced by the amount of sunlight you are exposed to. Studies have shown serotonin levels are lowest in the winter months and that production rises with increased length of exposure and brightness of light.
What’s more, exposure to sunlight is the main way that your body produces vitamin D which, like Omega 3 fatty acids, increases the effectiveness of serotonin in the brain.
3. Your Activity Levels Make A Difference
Many studies have been undertaken to investigate the effect of exercise on mood, and the link is now fairly widely agreed upon. Research has shown that aerobic exercise, in particular, is associated with an increased production and release of serotonin in the brain.
One reason for this is that when under physical strain, your muscles not only require energy, but also various amino acids. These are the same amino acids we discussed earlier in the diet section; by increasing the absorption of these into muscles, more tryptophan can proliferate in the blood and reach the brain.
So a regular brisk walk or bike ride is going to bring a smile to your face simply because it gets your heart racing a little faster. Of course, you needn’t do your exercise outdoors, but if you do, your mood will benefit from other things such as a connection with nature, and the sunlight factor described above.
It gets better…
4. Get Yourself A Massage
While the science still isn’t entirely clear on why it works, massage therapy has been shown to increase the levels of serotonin in the body. Perhaps it’s the human touch itself, or the connection it provides with another person, or something else entirely. I’m sure the reason is less important than the effect – the only thing you really need to know is that having someone give you a massage is a real mood booster.
The effect on serotonin is not alone either, massage has been shown to decrease cortisol levels (the major stress hormone) and increase dopamine levels (another feel good neurotransmitter).
5. Think Back To Happy Times
If you want to boost your serotonin levels, but none of the above are viable options at the time, then there is a really simple method you can do anywhere and at any time. All you have to do is recall pleasant memories from your past.
Ok, you’re probably thinking that this couldn’t possibly have an impact on the serotonin production or secretion in your brain, but it does. One study points to a correlation between self-induced mood states and serotonin in certain parts of the brain.
In other words, if you make yourself happy by recalling positive memories, you can increase the amount of serotonin in your brain. Conversely, remembering sad memories can reduce those same levels.
Now, there is one last method to share with you…
6. Get Your Ohm On
You guessed it; one of the many benefits of meditation is an increase in serotonin floating around your body and brain. Many studies have suggested this link, so the scientific community is pretty confident of the effect.
A simple 30 minutes of mindfulness meditation, then, can be enough to send the levels of mood-boosting serotonin soaring.
Serotonin has a powerful influence over your mood, so wanting to increase your levels is a wise move. The perfect way to give yourself a boost would be to go for a jog on a sunny day before eating a meal rich in tryptophan and carbohydrates while thinking back to happy days, then meditating for a little while and ending with a massage. Simple!