Natural Ways to Increase Serotonin

Serotonin is a hormone manufactured by the body that helps nerves communicate with one another. It is generally associated with feelings of relaxation. SSRI, or serotonin reuptake inhibitors, are antidepressants that keep more serotonin in the bloodstream.

Serotonin is a hormone found in the brain, pineal gland, blood platelets and in the digestive tract. It is a neurotransmitter and also makes blood vessels to constrict (a vasoconstrictor). Researchers at the National Institutes of Health believe too little serotonin in the body might contribute to some forms of depression. It is also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HTP. This is available as a supplement and is sometimes recommended to patients by their doctors for mild symptoms of depression.

Many antidepressants in the SSRI category work specifically to prevent serotonin from being depleted from the bloodstream. Studies on people who have a consistent meditation practice of many years, have been shown to have high levels of serotonin. Whether it is from meditation or through prescription drugs, the science demonstrates that serotonin can contribute to feelings of calm.

Serotonin regulates sleep, mood and appetite, according to Elizabeth Somer, RD, author of Food and Mood. Serotonin is manufactured from tryptophan, which is in the bloodstream. After a person consumes a lot of carbohydrates or sugars, more larger amino acids are moved out of the bloodstream---except tryptophan. Later, tryptophan is manufactured into serotonin.

Melatonin is manufactured from serotonin. People with sleep difficulties may have lower levels of melatonin or experience delayed sleep or wake up very early. Doctors can assess each case and recommend either 5-HTP, which is serotonin, or melatonin, which is made from serotonin.

If you experience seasonal affect disorder during the winter months, you could ask your doctor to assess your symptoms to see if taking SSRIs or simply supplementing with 5-HTP may be enough.

Season affect disorder (SAD) is characterized by increased cravings for carbohydrates, malaise, very low energy and a low-grade depression. It is common for people living in cold climates with long, wet, snowy winters, to experience SAD. Serotonin levels tend to be low in people with SAD.

To maintain healthy serotonin levels, abstain from keeping very late hours at night. Circadian rhythms for humans are tied to waking and sleeping cycles. If you believe you might have low serotonin levels, encourage yourself to get adequate rest each night. Doing so will help keep your serotonin levels normal. Getting up very early every morning may not allow your body to manufacturer healthy levels of serotonin in the body.

If you believe that you experience bouts of depression that appear to become more frequent or become more serious, see your doctor. You may have low levels of serotonin or have another hormonal imbalance that can be treated. Do not self-diagnose. It is not wise to simply supplement with melatonin or 5-HTP unless you are under a doctor's care to do so.

Natural Ways to Increase Serotonin

Increased serotonin elevates mood, which helps alleviate depression. Natural methods of increasing serotonin may be as effective as medication.

Exercise naturally stimulates both serotonin and dopamine, hormones that when increased, improve mood. Just 20 to 30 minutes of active exercise daily is likely to improve serotonin levels and make you feel better.


To function effectively, you need enough sleep, but not too much sleep. By going to bed at the same time every evening and sleeping seven to eight hours a night, you will increase your natural hormone levels and feel better. If you can't get enough sleep at night, a nap of up to one hour will help.

Spend time with loved ones

The feel-good hormone oxytocin is increased in the presence of family and close friends. Find the time to relax with loved ones and increase your feel good hormones.

Stay away from stimulants

While stimulants do give you a lift, it is a temporary one. By reducing the amount of coffee and alcohol you drink and the amount of sugar you eat, you will avoid blunting the effect of serotonin and other feel-good hormones.

Eat healthy protein and fat

To work effectively, your hormonal processes need fat and protein. Make sure to eat a well-balanced diet that contains sufficient "good fat." Wild salmon, tuna, avocados and nuts are sources of healthy protein and fat.

Fish oil

Although eating plenty of fatty fish or taking a fish oil supplement won't directly raise your serotonin levels, the essential fatty acids are important for brain function and mood regulation.


Whether you actively meditate or simply spend time doing a hobby you love or sit and enjoy a pleasant garden, beach or park, the concentration and relaxation have a positive effect on your serotonin levels.

Sources of Serotonin

Serotonin is manufactured in your body using the amino acid tryptophan, so it is important that we get enough tryptophan via foods and supplements to create it. Because tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, finding sources of it will contribute to an increase in serotonin levels. Some foods, supplements and herbs can improve your intake as well as counter depression, insomnia and weight gain. If you are taking an antidepressant medication that may affect serotonin please check with your doctor first before taking a tryptophan supplement. Muscle pain or stiffness, shakiness or feeling weak may be signs of an adverse reaction.

The Serotonin Power Diet

The Serotonin Power Diet, a book by Judith J. Wurtman, Ph.D. and Nina Frusztajer Marquis, M.D., suggests that you should have a serotonin snack 30 to 60 minutes before your next meal, such as pretzels, cheerios, popcorn or cherry licorice bites. This may take the edge off your appetite and energize you. This diet allows you to eat less, lose weight and feel good about yourself. It will assist you in weight management if you are on serotonin specific reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Paxil, Prozac, Zoloft or Celexa.

Serotonin is said to boost feelings of relaxation, self-esteem, security, well-being and optimism, and when we have high levels we may be able to concentrate more easily and sleep more deeply. Serotonin also improves pain levels. Also, rain and dark winter weather can cause a decline in serotonin levels, so try to get plenty of sun, fun and exercise.

Serotonin-Increasing Foods & Foods That Have Tryptophan

Turkey is one of the main foods that contain tryptophan, and it is the reason you feel sleepy after a big turkey dinner. People with insomnia will sometimes eat a turkey sandwich before bed to increase serotonin production. Eating a high carbohydrate diet of pasta, pretzels, millet, buckwheat and potatoes will also increase the level of tryptophan in your body. Some other food sources are evening primrose seed/oil, bananas, avocados, brown rice, peanuts and sesame seeds. Try taking them by themselves and on an empty stomach for best absorption.

Herbs and Supplements

5-HTP helps to create serotonin, and it has been available in several European countries as a medicine since the 1970s. It has been prescribed there for depression, obesity, headaches, insomnia, PMS and fibromyalgia. Oatstraw, yucca, angelica root, burdock root and dandelion have also been used here and elsewhere for many years.

St. John's Wort

For centuries, herbalists used St. John's wort to treat ailments that included wounds, cuts, burns, anxiety, insomnia and depression. Today, this herb is a popular remedy for depression. According to the National Institutes of Health, certain studies and data suggest that for mild to moderate depression St John's wort could be as effect as some SSRIs. However, more research is necessary to show its true efficacy in treating depression. A chemical called hyperforin found in this herb may help inhibit serotonin uptake.


In traditional Chinese medicine, ginseng is an herbal remedy used for ailments like depression, insomnia and fatigue. Herbalists claim that ginseng improves a person's sense of well-being and combats physical and mental stress. According to the National Center for Complementary and Alternative Medicine, chemicals in ginseng called ginsenosides appear to be responsible for the medicinal properties associated with this herb.

Ginseng can increase serotonin levels. However, taking serotonin-increasing drugs or herbal supplements like ginseng and St. John's wort can cause an accumulation of serotonin in the body. This could lead to a condition called serotonin syndrome, which can cause serious health problems.


The immediate precursor of serotonin, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), is sold online and at health food stores. Advocates and retailers of this product claim it elevates serotonin levels, alleviating problems with anxiety, sleep, compulsive disorders, migraines, fibromyalgia and overeating. A study done by the "British Journal of Psychology" showed no effects on major depression. Marty L. Hinz, M.D., president of clinical research for NeuroResearch Clinics, Inc., reminds the consumer that "these nutrients have tremendous potential due to their chemical properties...only fully realized in the hands of a professional."


Available to online, SAMe is a new natural way to increase serotonin, but should be used with caution. According to Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, SAMe, or S-adenosyl-L-methionine, is a naturally occurring molecule in the body that affects numerous other important molecules--including, hormones, fatty acids, DNA, proteins, cell membrane molecules and neurotransmitters. Researchers at the Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center believe that SAMe "may be linked to the synthesis of neurotransmitters such as serotonin and dopamine" and are testing it for use in the treatment of depression. The Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center cautions not to use it if you are taking other SSRIs. So far research as to how effective it is has been inconclusive.


Omega-3 fatty acids are considered "essential fatty acids" because they are essential for a healthy brain and body. Studies from the University of Maryland Medical Center show that people who have a diet higher in omega-3 suffer less from feelings of hostility and depression. Only found in a few food sources, mainly fish and nuts, the easiest way to incorporate omega-3 into your diet on a regular basis may be in pill form via fish oil capsules.


After researching herbs and learning about side effects, acupuncture may be another alternative. It may involve getting poked with needles, but it actually produces pleasure: the "Newsweek" article entitled "Learning From China" by Anne Underwood and Melinda Liu shows that acupuncture triggers the release of endorphins--natural opiates made by the body--and increases serotonin. Other natural ways to increase serotonin include exercise, sunshine and meditation.

Post a Comment