Have you ever had those days wherein everything feels blue? Your relationships are awry, you are overwhelmed with work, and your health is in an utter slump.
Do you crave a magical supplement that could instantly make everything better? Spoiler alert: you already possess it! Serotonin, also dubbed as the happiness hormone is a neurotransmitter manufactured by the human brain to combat the doldrums that life throws at us.
In this article, we will be learning how to increase serotonin levels in your body.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin, scientifically known as 5-hydroxytryptamine(5-HT) is a chemical messenger that is responsible for impacting physiological activities like digestion and healing wounds to stabilizing mood by regulating anxiety and elevating happiness levels. It can be found in blood platelets and plays a role in the central nervous system.
Low levels of this messenger have been intricately related to depressive symptoms. With optimum levels of serotonin, we feel calmer, focused, relaxed, and emotionally stable
How to Increase Serotonin?
Here are 10 scientifically proven ways to boost serotonin:
1. Exercise regularly
The benefits of “working out” are innumerable. It is as if nature rewards us with feel-good elements after some strenuous exertion. People with less depressive symptoms indicate a decrease in serotonin levels while physically active people have low levels of depressive symptoms.
It has been found that serotonin plays a major role in regulating the circadian rhythm, libido, appetite, and mood which can be stimulated by progressive levels of aerobic exercise. The Aerobic exercise targets endurance and strength primarily conditioning the heart over a prolonged period and includes activities such as:
Known colloquially as the ‘runner’s high‘, is merely a spike of endorphins and serotonin that leads to improved mood. This effect is due to increasing tryptophan, an amino acid that builds serotonin which peaks during vigorous physical exercise.
According to the European Journal of Applied Physiology, individuals were made to draw out their blood and perform an attention test before and after working out. It was found that those who had increasing serotonin levels in their blood post-exercising performed better. The neurological benefits of exercising are potent in reducing illnesses like Alzheimer’s, insomnia, multiple sclerosis, and ADHD.
2. How to Increase Serotonin with Food?
Foods such as walnuts, kiwis, pineapple, and bananas boost serotonin levels in the body but the structure of serotonin does not allow it to pass via the blood-brain barrier. It is therefore essential to incorporate a holistic diet consisting of serotonin building blocks that build serotonin.
Tryptophan which is an essential amino acid that makes serotonin is not directly produced in the body. It must be taken in through the diet we have. Foods that naturally boost serotonin levels are:-
Protein is the best source for tryptophan and eggs are loaded with protein. You can make an omelet, have it with a salad, or simply boil it for that healthy dose of serotonin.
2. Green leafy vegetables
Vegetables such as spinach, broccoli, kale, and arugula contain vitamins C and K along with minerals such as iron and calcium.
3. Soy Products
Tofu, soy milk, or soy sauce are another great source of dietary tryptophan.
An amazing source of protein and calcium, milk maintains healthy teeth and keeps up with bone health.
Filled with fatty acids like omega-3 which support healthy skin and eyes, have enormous quantities of tryptophan. They are also a good source of vitamin D.
Our bodies react to stress by eating more, this is done by including more tryptophan which is enriched in carbohydrates. More tryptophan means more serotonin! Some foods rich in carbohydrates are bread, beans, popcorn, potatoes, corn, and spaghetti.
Some foods that affect serotonin levels and cause them to decrease are:
- Artificial sweeteners
3. How to Increase Serotonin with Sunlight?
Exposure to sunlight is the standard therapy for seasonal depression which occurs due to changes in seasons. A particular course of highs and lows is usually followed by people with seasonal depression which indicate having low serotonin levels mainly in the winter months.
Some early symptoms of SD are:
- Weight gain
- Increased need for sleep
- Irritability and anger
- Poor concentration
The body maintains the sleep-wake cycle by taking in cues from daylight. Sunlight triggers an increase in serotonin levels while darkness triggers melatonin responsible for inducing sleep. Our bodies need serotonin to produce melatonin. There is intriguing evidence to suggest that lower light levels in winter disrupt the circadian rhythm and manifest symptoms of SD.
We all have a hardwired ‘sunlight hunger’ we need to feed. Exposure to sunlight regularly helps us sleep better and makes us more alert and focused during regular times of the day.
Another variant of this is light therapy or bright light therapy wherein there is exposure to bright light mostly artificially stimulated. During this, the individual sits near a device called a light therapy box that radiates bright light mimicking sunlight. It is recommended to get 5-15 minutes of sunlight for adequate vitamin D and serotonin levels.
4. How to Increase Serotonin with Social Support?
Human beings have adapted to surround themselves with people. In primordial days, ostracization from the tribe meant death. Our brains have evolved in a way to perceive loneliness as ostracization. This can be detrimental to our mental health conditions especially when our brains think it is death. Low amounts of serotonin turnover can be a potential result of social isolation.
When we feel loved, our bodies produce ‘oxytocin‘ that shows bonding. In addition to that, surrounding oneself with a positive social network can provide emotional nurturance, a sense of belongingness, and intangible support during times of stress. Serotonin has an antidepressant effect on us. There is a litany of risks that are associated with isolation but the benefits are multiple.
If you struggle to socialize, you can seek social support in the following ways
1. Online platforms
Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Reddit have a lot of communities wherein you can talk and share your life with people.
2. Join a fitness class
Physical activity increases serotonin and doing it with people around is doubly beneficial. Making friends while exercising promotes healthy lifestyle behavior and improves mood.
Volunteer at a community or for a cause you feel passionate about, you might bump into like-minded people who share the same feelings about something as you do.
Increasing serotonin levels is a critical mediator of happiness and well-being.
According to the research, having a network of supportive relationships indicates better health, longevity, and higher levels of well-being. Something to note here is that social support must always add to your happiness and not subtract it so you must surround yourself with a company that is good for you and your health.
5. How to Increase Serotonin with Massage?
There is a reason why more people are adding massages to their wellness routine. According to a comprehensive review by the University of Miami School of Medicine, massages have the effect of lowering levels of anxiety and depression by minimizing the cortisol or stress hormone.
Regular massage therapy increases the levels of serotonin as well as dopamine which activates the brain’s reward system. What massages do is increase serotonin naturally subsequently decreasing the chances of anxiety disorders.
As anxiety is reduced, more melatonin is produced. Having a massage treats symptoms of insomnia and adds a calming effect producing serotonin. Physical touch is highly associated with increased serotonin.
Here is an easy step-by-step guide to self-massage:
- Target the painful spots
- Lower the shoulders and keep the back straight
- Rotate the fingers in circles around the tight areas
- Repeat in the opposite direction for a few minutes
6. How to Increase Serotonin with Meditation?
Wherever there is calmness in the body, chances are there is serotonin. Meditation is a state of total mindfulness wherein the mind is made to let go of the incessant internal monologue. It is an intentional practice taken from the Buddhist philosophy to be present and ground oneself.
Latest researchers on brain and meditation suggest that regular practice helps alter the physical structure of the brain for good, also called neuroplasticity. It dampens the activity in the amygdala which is the emotional reactive center and increases grey matter which further enhances retention and improves memory. It is one of the most effective ways to relieve stress.
It is no wonder that meditation remains one of the most popular remnants of ancient wisdom. It is powerful yet subtle in its approach. Many studies have also revealed that meditation reduces pain-related neural activity in the anterior cingulate cortex hinting at the inhibition of pain.
A peculiar yet astounding phenomenon, wherein highly-trained meditators stuck needles into their tongues and cheeks but reported not feeling any pain shows the pain-numbing effect it has on the body.
They seem to have lower pain sensitivity and feel analgesic effects during mindfulness. Mindfulness meditation has splendid effects that increase serotonin levels. So if you haven’t hopped onto the meditation bandwagon yet, you are missing out and it is time you do.
7. How to Increase Serotonin with Psychotherapy?
Psychotherapy or counseling helps detangle the excessive chaos in our heads. By a shift in thinking patterns and adopting healthy behaviors, we can influence our brain chemistry. Therapy is an extensive boon to people with mood disorders. A study of people who were given psychotherapy for 4 months, showed significantly higher activity of serotonin and manageable symptoms of depression.
There are legions of therapies that are used while treating depressive symptoms. Some of them are- Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Rational emotive behavioral therapy (REBT), Psychodynamic therapy, social-skills training, guidance, and psychoeducation
The combination of psychotherapy along with some supplements has been effective in managing chronic depressive symptoms. There is ample evidence that supports efficient, manageable treatment for adolescents with depression by psychotherapy.
8. How to Increase Serotonin with Anti-depressants?
Anti-depressants are used to treat depressive disorders and some affective disorders. They are often used dependently with other medications. There are various types of anti-depressants-
1. Selective Serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs)
SSRIs or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are used by individuals who have acutely low levels of serotonin. Their basic mechanism is they prevent serotonin from being reabsorbed, thus making it stick in the channel for a long, raising brain serotonin. Some popular SSRIs are:
Despite the hate, SSRIs get because of their side effects, it is strange to note that they are usually the first choice to treat depression symptoms because they manifest fewer side effects than other anti-depressants. They are effective in treating a hoard of other mental health concerns such as OCD, phobias, bulimia, and PTSD.
2. Selective Noradrenaline reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs)
While SSRIs increase serotonin levels, SNRIs that is selective noradrenaline reuptake inhibitor increases both serotonin as well as non-epinephrine levels by blocking the reuptake of both serotonin and norepinephrine. Norepinephrine increases the fight and flight response so with it being present, chances are the focus is intense and prolonged.
3. Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs)
Noradrenaline and specific serotonergic antidepressants (NASSAs) are recommended because the side effects related to sexuality are fewer. A popular NASSA is Zispin.
4. Serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors (SARIs)
Serotonin antagonists and reuptake inhibitors or SARIs are traditional antidepressants that are unpopular these days but are prescribed if others don’t work.
It is important to note that anti-depressants should be consumed with prior consultation with a physician since overdose could potentially lead to a variety of unwarranted side effects.
9. How to Increase Serotonin with a Smile?
“A warm smile is the universal language of kindness”
-William Arthur Ward
It was Charles Darwin who first championed the idea that smiling can cause the brain to interpret emotions positively creating a ripple effect and producing internal states of happiness in his ‘facial-feedback theory’.
In addition to that when we smile, our brain releases chemicals called neuropeptides that provide armor against stress. There is also a boost of other neurotransmitters such as dopamine, endorphins, and yes, serotonin.
It is worthwhile to know what benefits faking a smile can lead to. In a research conducted by the author of Smile: The Astonishing Powers of a Simple Act; Ron Gutman found that one smile can generate the same level of brain stimulation as two-thousand bars of chocolate!
The behavioral and psychological implications of smiling are plentiful. Laughter and smiling show that two or more people are bonding creating an illusion of belongingness. When we are visibly smiling, those around us feel better too. It is no wonder they say, that laughter is infectious. The same goes for smiling. Smiling seems to create a buffering effect on negative emotions. Increasing serotonin with a smile is simple, free of cost, and requires zero external help.
Some simple techniques to smile more:
1. Engage with others
As social animals, we thrive best in social groups where we feel belong. The simple act of spreading laughter can be a good answer to how to increase serotonin.
2. Make a joke about yourself
Life gets simpler when you find humor in everything, even yourself. Approaching life with a little humor turns tough times easier.
3. Fake it till you make it
Have you ever noticed that you start feeling a lot better if you smile? Yes, you look good smiling. Forcing a smile can potentially cause a surge of feel-good emotions. The next time life seems to be a mess, flash those pearly whites and fake a grin ;)
10. How to Increase Serotonin with Gratitude?
Gratitude means being thankful for the abundance in life, no matter what the situation is. Keeping a gratitude journal encourages expansive thinking and finding a silver lining. When we engage in gratitude, our brain releases serotonin in the hypothalamus. The feel-good hormone is a natural antidepressant that can be enhanced by various gratitude exercises such as:-
1. Keeping a Gratitude Journal
Keeping a gratitude journal has legions of benefits. Knowing how to increase serotonin means understanding the effect daily activities have on the brain. This simple technique is counting our blessings and the things we are grateful for.
A simple activity of doing this can:
- Increases self-esteem
- Helps sleep better
- Grows positivity
- Grounds you
- Provides clarity
Some prompts to engage in gratitude are:
- Compliments I would like to give myself
- Significant assets in my life
- Learnings from my latest challenges
- People I am grateful for
- Events I am grateful for
2. Write a Thank you Letter to Someone
Writing is cathartic. It is even more cathartic if done with good intentions and positively. Reach out to someone and pen down your feelings towards them. Whether it is someone close or someone you just met, thank them for being a part of your life. The benefits that you reap by practicing gratitude are immense making it a win-win for everybody.
3. Give Appreciation for Someone’s Work
In a world that is constantly in a state of flux, rawness, and genuine appreciation are something we all crave for. A simple thank you goes a long way. Maya Angelou said “people don’t remember what you said but they remember how you made them feel. A public display of appreciation is a major factor in cultivating good relationships.
11. How to Increase Serotonin with Supplements?
Some individuals have naturally low levels of serotonin. To maintain optimum levels of serotonin, it becomes essential for them to seek external sources to reach the balance. Some common supplements used are
1. Tryptophan Supplements
L-tryptophan is an amino acid responsible for serotonin production. Low levels of the amino acid fail to manufacture the desired requirement of serotonin. Tryptophan supplementation induces sleep and improves mood.
S-Adenosyl-L-methionine or SAMe are recommended for mood stabilization. Some studies show that SAMe increases serotonin and dopamine production in the brain.
3. St. John’s Wort
Individuals suffering from milder forms of depressive disorders are recommended St. John’s Wort. It helps increase serotonin synthesis and relieve symptoms of insomnia.
4. Omega-3 fatty acids supplement
Research on omega 3 shows that people who consume a diet rich in fatty acids are less prone to depression than a population with less consumption. Omega-3 supplements could be taken via sources such as algae and seaweed.
5. Vitamin C
Vitamin C is a catalyst to produce serotonin. It usually comes as ascorbic acid. Healthy levels of serotonin demand consuming vitamin c.
Magnesium deficiency is prevalent across the globe. This element has a direct role in balancing serotonin. It also hosts a variety of metabolic functions.
7. B Vitamins
Taking B vitamins enhances the effects of SAM-e B9, also known as folic acid. It acts as an antidepressant by altering serotonin binding sites in the brain. Vitamin B12 or the energy vitamin has been linked to depression if it occurs in low levels in the body. Taking Vitamin B12 supplements can help you feel concentrated and attentive throughout the day.
Each one of us is different in terms of genetics, personality, and brain chemistry. There is no definitive answer to ‘how to increase serotonin?’. Potential improvement is trying what is best for you. The time required to restore serotonin levels to an optimum level is not set in stone. It is established that serotonin is crucial to living a long and healthy life.
In conclusion, there are numerous ways by which you can progressively or rapidly increase serotonin levels. The goal of optimum serotonin can be achieved with the help of both medications and lifestyle altercations. Adopting these 10 methods on how to increase serotonin in your life can amend your health drastically and elevate overall well-being.
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1. What is one natural way to increase serotonin?
Ans. One natural way to increase serotonin is to do exercises and workouts.
2. Which food has the highest level of serotonin?
Ans. Salmon, poultry, spinach, milk, and soy products have the highest levels of serotonin.
3. Which fruits help in releasing serotonin?
Ans. Pineapples, bananas, kiwis, and tomatoes help in releasing serotonin.