Improving your mood naturally: 7 ways to boost serotonin
Did you know that your mood can be significantly affected by levels of serotonin in the body? We suggest 7 natural methods for boosting this important neurotransmitter.
Do you suffer with the following?
- Loss of enjoyment of activities you used to enjoy
- Periods of depression
- Loss of appetite for previously favourite foods
- Poor sleep – unable to get to, or stay asleep
- Low mood, especially on cloudy darker days
- Significant sweet cravings
- Periods of anger and rage
- Slow bowel motility
- Increased levels of pain, perhaps even fibromyalgia
- Development of memory issues
These are all very common symptoms associated with low levels of serotonin.
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter – a chemical messenger responsible for transmitting information from one nerve cell to another. Serotonin acts in a way to help elevate mood, but also calm the body as well.
What can I do to raise serotonin naturally?
There are many ways in which you can help improve serotonin levels naturally. Conventional testing usually involves the use of SSRI medications such as citalopram. In some cases this may be the right short term solution, however SSRI medications do not go without their side effects, so whenever possible we always want to look for what can be achieved naturally.
Those with low serotonin will often see improvements by including some of the following changes:
- Exposure to sunlight
- Daily exercise
- Addressing nutrient deficiencies
- Considering supplementation
- Optimise tryptophan intake from food
- Consider role of oestrogen
- Address digestive issues
*Disclaimer: This article is not a substitute for personalised medical advice. It is recommended that you consult a practitioner to assist with any changes you want to implement.
For those interested in the science behind these 7 factors, we provide more detail below.
Exposure to sunlight
Serotonin production, from an area of the brain known as the raphe nuclei, is triggered by something known as the tectum. Stimulation of the tectum depends on adequate light. Thus, exposing yourself to sunlight daily is important for natural serotonin synthesis. This is often why in the winter many people get significant changes in their mood.
Include some daily exercise
Several lines of research suggest that exercise increases serotonin function in the human brain. This is thought to be down to activity increasing the firing rates of serotonin neurons, resulting in an increased release and synthesis on serotonin. Secondly, there is an increase in the brain of the serotonin precursor tryptophan following exercise. It is tryptophan that crosses the blood brain barrier to eventually get converted into 5HTP, and then serotonin.
Address certain nutrient deficiencies
Iron is an important Co Factor for serotonin production as it is involved in the conversion of tryptophan into 5HTP, and 5HTP to serotonin. Thus, serum iron and ferritin levels should be checked to evaluate if low iron might be impairing serotonin production. Other important Co factors in serotonin production are vitamin B6, magnesium, B12 and folate.
Poor sleep is probably one of the most common symptoms of low serotonin. Serotonin is converted to melatonin (sleep hormone) in the presence of certain enzymes that are dependent on B12 and folate, and also adrenaline. Too much adrenaline can disturb sleep, but interestingly too little can have the same effect, in that the conversion into melatonin from serotonin is inadequate to induce sleep.
Both 5HTP and tryptophan are precursors to serotonin, and thus may be able to offer a boost in serotonin levels. 5HTP is one step away from serotonin production while tryptophan is 2 steps away, however tryptophan crosses the blood brain barrier more readily. Typically 5HTP seems to work best, especially in combination with P-5-P a form of vitamin B6, magnesium citrate and vitamins B12 and folate/folic acid. St Johns Wort has been shown to have a similar effect to SSRI medications, helping to boost serotonin levels.
Optimise Tryptophan intake from food
Increasing consumption of tryptophan-containing foods is unlikely to have any significant impact on serotonin levels/production because most people eat adequate amounts of protein. However, it would not do any harm to be aware of eating foods rich in tryptophan. Such foods include: Shrimp, mushrooms, snapper, haibut, chicken, scallops, turkey, spinach, lamb, beef, liver, salmon.
Consider the role of Oestrogen
Oestrogen increases the activity of serotonin receptors in the brain. During points of lower oestrogen in the menstrual cycle you might find this influences your serotonin levels. As females approach and enter menopause, oestrogen levels can dip significantly, thus negatively impacting serotonin levels.
Nowadays there is an epidemic of younger females with low sex hormone production. This is, in part, due to higher levels of stress through modern lifestyles. Also significant under-eating and over-training tends to drive oestrogen and progesterone levels down.
Address any digestive issues
The gut is the main site for serotonin production; therefore it makes sense to ensure the digestive system is being well looked after. If you are suffering with significant symptoms relating to your digestive system, you may want to work with someone to address this. It is likely that food and lifestyle changes will be enough, but in some cases running stool tests and food sensitivity tests can also be of benefit.
If you want to learn more about your current health, and what tweaks you may be able to make to feel better, take our free quiz.
You might also be interested in reading our top tips for reducing stress.