How to Boost Serotonin Naturally: By 9 Foods & 10 Lifestyle Tips

Jul 11, 202410 min
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Dr. Megha
MBBS | Freelance Medical Writer
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What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) that helps to transmit messages between nerves at a cellular level throughout your body.

Its main role is mood stabilisation and promoting overall emotional well-being, although it also has a wide impact on physical health, such as wound healing, sleep, coordinated movements, gut health, and sexual wellness.

Where is serotonin produced?

Unlike the common assumption, serotonin is largely not produced in our brain. Surprised? Well, yes, it has been found that around 90-95% of serotonin is produced in the intestine by its EC 

(enterochromaffin) cells. The rest, 5-10% produced in the brainstem of the central nervous system (CNS).

Serotonin Vs Tryptophan 

We read above that serotonin is synthesised from its precursor protein, tryptophan. Let's get a basic understanding of how to differentiate between the two.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which cannot be synthesised by our body and has to be obtained through diet. Unlike serotonin, it is available through food sources. Consuming foods rich in tryptophan can increase the levels of serotonin in our body. 

Why is Serotonin Considered a Natural Mood Stabilizer?

Serotonin is known as the “feel good” chemical messenger because of its significant role in mood regulation. You feel more focused, calmer, and emotionally stable when your serotonin levels are normal. 

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to mood disorders, mainly depression and anxiety. Researchers have said that although the exact cause behind these disorders is unknown, a few theories revolve around low levels of neurotransmitters in the brain, including serotonin levels.  Moreover, in people diagnosed with depression, treatment with antidepressants such as SSRI ( selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), has shown improved mood. 

Why is it Important to Learn How to Increase Serotonin?

As serotonin has a multitude of effects on the well-being of our body, it is vital to maintain it at healthy levels.

The potential benefits include:

  • Improved mood: as discussed above, serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer and helps to maintain a calm and focused mind.
  • Memory: serotonin has proven to be great for your brain in terms of preventing memory decline. A 2017 study showed that higher levels of serotonin have a linkage to slower progression of age-related dementia and its associated conditions, like Alzheimer's disease.
  • Good-quality sleep: serotonin and other neurotransmitters help in the synthesis of melatonin, a hormone that is called the natural “clock” of your body and is in turn responsible for the regulation of your sleep-wake cycle.
  • Better gut health: As seen in the beginning of this piece, serotonin is mostly produced in the gut. It plays a protective function by eliminating toxic products and aiding in better digestion. It also has a role in reducing appetite.
  • Sexual health: Serotonin may play a role in regulating one's sexual desire, along with dopamine, adrenaline, and oxytocin. A study done in 2016 showed reduced sexual desire in individuals who were on antidepressant medications such as SSRIs and were more prone to developing sexual dysfunction.
  • Wound healing: in the blood, serotonin is released by platelets, which helps in clot formation. Serotonin helps in the narrowing of blood vessels, which reduces the blood flow, thereby promoting the formation of clots.
  • Immunity: serotonin may promote better immunity functions, according to a study. Although the complexities behind it aren't fully decoded, it's becoming clear that there's a strong association between serotonin and immunity and immunity-based diseases.
  • Nausea and vomiting: nausea, a sensation that precedes vomiting, is triggered when too much serotonin is released into your gut, more than it can be digested. This activates the vomiting reflex, resulting in vomit.

How Food May Boost Your Mood

Did you know that eating the right food can put you in the right mood? The kinds of foods we eat affect our moods more than we think. 

For a person who's been diagnosed with depression or anxiety, along with medications, consuming certain types of foods that help boost serotonin also helps to alleviate mood. dietary influence on mood by. Although direct food sources of serotonin aren't available, consuming foods rich in tryptophan can help the body produce more serotonin.

In the upcoming section, we'll be walking you through the different types of foods that have the potential to boost serotonin naturally.

9 Serotonin Foods to Increase Serotonin Naturally

Ready to get yourselves on a serotonin-power diet? Look no more; here's a highly informative list of foods that may help you:

Eggs

I bet you find these precious drops of protein on every diet list. Well, there's a science-backed reason behind it.

  • Eggs are considered one of the richest sources of protein. The proteins present in eggs have the ability to increase the blood plasma levels of tryptophan. 
  • Additionally, eggs are also an excellent source of several vitamins and antioxidants.
  • Keep in mind to include the egg yolk. No, it isn't ‘bad’ for your health. In fact, it's the opposite. Egg yolks are a rich source of tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids.
  • The healthiest preparation includes sunny-side-up or poached eggs, which are prepared using little to no oil.

Salmon

  • It is a fish extremely rich in omega-3 fatty acids, which promote the overall health of the eyes, skin and bones. 
  • It is also a great source of lean protein and contains tryptophan,  making it an excellent food choice to naturally increase serotonin.
  • The vitamin D in salmon makes it perfect for boosting bone and teeth health and immunity.
  • It has been studied that for most people, consuming 2 portions of salmon or any other oily fish a week provides enough tryptophan.

Poultry 

Our main focus is on turkey and chicken, as all sources of poultry are not good sources of lean protein. 

  • Turkey, commonly consumed in the West for Thanksgiving, is a rich source of lean protein and less fat. 
  • It is also a good source of tryptophan, which helps boost the synthesis of serotonin.
  • It has also been observed that dark turkey meat contains more vitamins and minerals compared to white turkey meat.
  • In India, chicken is the most commonly consumed poultry, which is again an excellent source of lean protein and is best if included as part of their diet at least 2-3 times a week.

Spinach and green leafy vegetables 

Dark green vegetables, especially spinach, contain an impressive amount of tryptophan, iron, folate and vitamin C.

  • Spinach is packed with key nutrients that are essential for the synthesis of serotonin.
  • Other than low serotonin levels, depression may also be caused due to vitamin and mineral deficiencies; folate deficiency also shares an association with the symptoms of depression.
  • Additionally, the presence of iron and vitamin C makes spinach a smart option for individuals with anaemia.
  • You may consider combining it with preparations such as salads, omelettes, and smoothies.

Nuts

Nuts are an overall good source of healthy fats, fibre, and protein. Nuts that contain a fairly good amount of tryptophan include:

  • Almonds, cashews, peanuts, walnuts and pistachios. Approximately 30g serving of these nuts contain anywhere between 60-90 mg of tryptophan.
  • A handful of nuts is a great snacking option in between meals. It helps curb hunger by imparting a feeling of fullness.
  • A 2019 study observed that consuming a handful of walnuts a day reduced the risk of depressive symptoms.

Seeds

Seeds are a go-to option for vegans and vegetarians when it comes to sources of protein and tryptophan. 

  • Pumpkin, chia, squash, and flax seeds are good sources of tryptophan.
  • You can pair it up with nuts or sprinkle it on top of your favourite yoghurt or porridge.

Milk and dairy products 

  • Milk is a dense source of calcium, and promotes bone and teeth health. Interestingly, it has been concluded that there's an association between increased calcium intake and improved mood and an overall better mental health outcome.
  • Milk, along with other dairy products such as cheese and yoghurt, contains alpha-lactalbumin, a protein that helps to tryptophan levels in the blood and improve the synthesis of serotonin.

Soy products - tofu and tempeh 

Another accessible choice for vegans and those who don't prefer animal proteins. 

  • Tofu is a versatile protein rich in tryptophan and isoflavones, which has been linked to a lesser risk of depressive symptoms. 
  • 100 g of tofu contains roughly 235 mg of tryptophan,  making it an excellent substitute for meat.
  • Tempeh is a fermented soy product that is an incredible food option as it contains multiple nutrients ranging from proteins, vitamins, and minerals to prebiotics.
  • Along with antidepressant effects, tempeh has also shown several other health benefits, such as gut improvement, anti-cancer and anti-ageing properties.

Pineapples

You might be wondering, why pineapple out of all the fruits?

  • For decades, it has been shown that pineapples contain a good amount of tryptophan to naturally boost serotonin.
  • A cup of sliced pineapple contains approximately 10 mg of tryptophan.
  • It also contains bromelain, an enzyme with excellent antioxidant and anti-inflammatory properties.

Why are Carbohydrates Important in Boosting Serotonin?

Commonly, people believe that consuming large amounts of foods containing tryptophan is enough to naturally boost the synthesis of serotonin. To an extent, it is right. However, the amount of tryptophan actually available for absorption in the blood will be relatively less. This is because, along with tryptophan, there will be other amino acids as well, competing to get absorbed into the brain. 

So what is the solution here? The secret lies in combining your tryptophan-rich foods with complex carbohydrates, such as whole-grain breads or rice. Carbohydrates trigger the release of insulin, which promotes the absorption of other amino acids, leaving tryptophan in the blood. This enables tryptophan to be transported to the brain, ultimately leading to the synthesis of serotonin. 

Can eating foods high in tryptophan make a difference in mood? 

Yes, eating foods high in tryptophan could have an impact on one's serotonin levels, thereby improving the mood. Always remember to pair it with a good source of carbohydrate for maximum impact.

Other Lifestyle Ways to Boost Serotonin and Mood

Apart from the foods we eat, our lifestyle also plays a significant role in boosting our mood. In today's world, most of us are constantly chained to our desks and mobile phones and it's high time we get out! 

Here are 10 lifestyle tips that may help you boost serotonin naturally:

1. Sunshine

The next time you wake up and find the morning sun rays sifting through the blinds, don't shut them out! 

Instead, get exposed to a good amount of it for at least 15-20 minutes. 

Exposure to bright light (light therapy), be it from the sun or any other source, has been linked to improved levels of serotonin. It also is an excellent source for the activation of vitamin D which promotes immunity and a better mood.

It is particularly beneficial for people suffering from seasonal affective disorder, where a drop in serotonin levels is observed during the winter due to poor sun exposure. 

2. Regular exercise 

Now, this doesn't necessarily mean you have to perform herculean tasks every day.

Anything that gets you out of bed will do — like your favourite sport, bicycling, a brisk walk, or hitting the gym.

There is evidence showing that regular exercise increases the levels of tryptophan, which is then converted to serotonin. 

Exercise also releases endorphins, called “natural painkillers,” which relieve pain and combat stress.

3. Probiotics 

The inclusion of probiotics (good bacteria) in diets has been shown to alleviate symptoms of depression. 

Studies show that probiotics could help increase tryptophan levels in the blood. After all, our gut is called the “second brain” for a reason.

4. Meditation 

Meditation has the potential to calm your mind and ease your thoughts. Research has also shown that people who practice meditation regularly have a rise in the level of serotonin as well as other neurotransmitters such as dopamine.

5. Massage therapy 

Massage is one of the most effective alternative methods and has been shown to increase serotonin and decrease excessive cortisol (stress hormone) levels.

Massage using moderate pressure in particular has shown a decrease in mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, and stress. 

6. Altruism 

Lending a helping hand to others in need has shown some evidence of promoting changes in the brain linked to happiness and satisfaction.

The “feel good” effect in altruism is attributed to serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin.

It also helps to improve social networks and increase one's self-esteem.

7. Spending time with loved ones 

Spending more time and socialising with your family, friends, and loved ones has the potential to boost your serotonin levels and improve your mood. Moreover, it also helps to strengthen your bond with them.

Keep in mind to surround yourselves with people who genuinely care about your well-being and keep a safe distance from the ones who let you down. 

8. Green space 

Green space is a broad term that includes environmental and aesthetically pleasing areas such as reserves, parks, and forest-like environments. This aids in naturally boosting serotonin levels.

Individuals have noted relatively lesser amounts of stress, anxiety, and depression from exposure to green spaces.

9. Laughter

“Laughter is the best medicine”-- sounds cliche, right? But it's no joke. Laughter is indeed one of the best methods out there for better mental health. 

Laughing has a natural antidepressant effect by increasing serotonin production and also releasing endorphins.

10. Rest and rejuvenate 

Last but not least, take a rest! Remember, if you don't give your body the rest it deserves, it will find ways to shut itself down. 

Rest is a factor that is constantly overlooked in our fast-paced world. It is an all-in-one solution to combat stress and related illnesses and burnout, and it is essential to maintaining overall good mental and physical health.

Can I have too much serotonin?

It is not possible to have too much serotonin through natural methods.  However, an overdose of medications such as antidepressants may lead to excess serotonin levels. It could also lead to a severe drug reaction called "serotonin syndrome." Symptoms may range from mild (diarrhoea, fever) to severe (seizures, muscle rigidity). Please take medications under the consultation of a medical professional and report if you experience any side effects.

Conclusion 

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that plays a pivotal role in stabilizing mood and helping combat mood disorders such as depression and anxiety. In addition to conventional methods like taking pills and supplements to increase serotonin levels, it is vital to focus on natural approaches. Including foods containing tryptophan along with carbohydrates is the key to naturally boosting serotonin. Adopting healthy lifestyle habits also contributes to a holistic approach to improving serotonin levels and fostering overall well-being.

References 

  1. https://www.healthdirect.gov.au/serotonin
  2. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22572-serotonin
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4471964/
  4. https://summitmalibu.com/blog/foods-that-increase-serotonin-naturally/#What_is_Serotonin
  5. https://psychcentral.com/health/serotonin-foods#takeaway
  6. https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin
  7. https://www.myfooddata.com/articles/high-tryptophan-foods.php
  8. https://www.verywellhealth.com/what-is-serotonin-5189485#toc-how-to-increase-serotonin
  9. https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/how-to-increase-serotonin#without-medication
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Dr. Megha
MBBS | Freelance Medical Writer
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