Ever find yourself sobbing—uncontrollably—while watching a viral kitten video? Or devouring an entire pint of ice cream after a terrible breakup? We have serotonin, the elusive “happy hormone,” to blame. On a whim, it can make or break our mood. In many ways, think of this neurotransmitter as the bouncer at the hottest night club. It controls who gets in and who gets kicked out (… apparently, I’m craving a GNO). Unfortunately, a deficiency in serotonin can lead to a host of issues—i.e., anxiety, depression, and sugar cravings. But fear not: there are plenty of natural ways to give this chemical a boost. It’s time to learn how to increase serotonin naturally—because we all deserve even more happiness.
Featured image by Riley Reed.
What is serotonin?
As mentioned, serotonin is a neurotransmitter. In fact, it’s one of our four main neurotransmitters (like dopamine). It acts as a chemical messenger, playing a crucial role in regulating mood, appetite, sleep, and more. When you’re happy, you can thank serotonin. It’s known as the “happy hormone” for a reason. It has feel good effects, promoting general sentiments of joy and well-being.
Serotonin is primarily found in two places: the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal tract. And it’s involved in a wide range of bodily functions: regulating appetite, sleep, and body temp. It also helps control muscle movement, as well as the contraction and relaxation of blood vessels.
Why do women need serotonin?
Everyone needs serotonin—let’s make that clear. However, women specifically require adequate levels of serotonin. It helps regulate the female menstrual cycle, alleviates symptoms of premenstrual syndrome (PMS), and reduces the risk of postpartum depression. Serotonin also plays a critical role in regulating mood and reducing anxiety. Given today’s mental load, proper serotonin levels are key.
How to Know if You Have Low Serotonin
Unfortunately, it’s a bit nuanced. In fact, it’s difficult to determine if you have low serotonin levels—as the symptoms vary from person to person. However, some common signs of low serotonin levels include the following:
- Persistent feelings of sadness, anxiety, or depression
- Difficulty sleeping
- Changes in appetite or weight
- Low energy or fatigue
- Lack of motivation or interest in activities you once enjoyed
- Increased feelings of aggression, irritability, or impulsiveness
If you suspect that you have low serotonin levels, it is important to speak with a healthcare professional for a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.
How to Boost Serotonin Levels, Naturally
With all of that in mind, what are natural ways to increase serotonin?
No surprise here. Consistent exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels in the brain. When you exercise, your body releases endorphins, which are known to improve mood and reduce stress levels. In addition, exercise can also increase the number of serotonin receptors in the brain, allowing for greater uptake of the neurotransmitter. When it comes to serotonin, a little bit of functional movement goes a long way.
Get Enough Sunlight
Especially in the early morning. Sunlight is a natural source of vitamin D, which is linked to serotonin production. Studies have shown that exposure to sunlight can increase serotonin levels in the brain. If you live in an area with limited sunlight, consider using a light therapy box, which mimics the effects of natural sunlight. Sunlight is also crucial for blood sugar balance!
Eat A Balanced Diet
What you eat affects every aspect of your well-being—including your serotonin levels. Consuming foods high in tryptophan, an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin, can help increase serotonin levels. What are foods high in tryptophan? Turkey, chicken, eggs, cheese, and nuts.
Practice Relaxation Techniques
Inevitably, stress wreaks havoc on the body, especially serotonin. Whether or not your levels are low, meditation, deep breathing, and yoga can significantly reduce stress and increase serotonin levels. In addition, practicing mindfulness can help increase serotonin levels by promoting a positive outlook and reducing negative thought patterns.
Last but not sleep, clock your zzz’s. Sleep plays a critical role in regulating serotonin levels. Data shows that lack of sleep decreases serotonin levels in the brain. Getting enough sleep is key—and not just for improving mood! It impacts overall well-being, including hormones and blood sugar regulation. Aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
Foods to Eat to Boost Serotonin
Along with lifestyle changes—like regular exercise, getting enough sunlight, practicing relaxation techniques, and getting enough sleep—nutrition also plays a key role in regulating serotonin. To boost your mood and energy, consider adding the following foods to your plate:
All of these are sources of tryptophan, which helps increase serotonin production.