If you’ve ever fallen down the Google rabbit hole, researching ways to boost your mood (or is that just me?), you’ve likely heard about serotonin, a neurotransmitter in the brain that’s linked to better mood and overall satisfaction. And it’s tempting to wonder how to increase serotonin, since it seemingly is the thing that makes you happier.
However, serotonin actually offers up quite a few additional benefits for your health. Besides helping regulate mood, serotonin is also needed for motor skills and cognitive functioning. It’s also included in nerve function that regulates blood pressure, heart rate, and the digestion system. So it’s pretty darn important.
While boosting your brain’s serotonin could help boost your mood, too, it’s not a panacea for every mental health issue. Integrative psychiatrist James Lake, MD, warns that managing depression—or even just a bad mood—is much more complicated than zeroing in on serotonin. “Serotonin is certainly an important neurotransmitter and important in that equation, but there are numerous other neurotransmitters that are important, too,” he says. Besides serotonin, dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins all play important roles in regulating mood. And if you’re truly struggling with what you believe to be a serious mood or mental health condition,
With this in mind, there are several ways to naturally boost your serotonin levels. Keep reading to see what they are.
Scroll down for 5 tips on how to increase serotonin.
1. Tweak your diet. Depending on what you eat, you could be replenishing the serotonin in your brain—or depleting it. “Nutritional deficiencies can directly lead to problems with replenishing serotonin,” Dr. Lake says. This is something Well+Good Council member and psychiatrist Drew Ramsey, MD preaches on the reg. “We now have real evidence to back up what’s good common sense: that eating well doesn’t just benefit your body, but it also benefits your brain,” he previously told Well+Good.
Dr. Ramsey has said that the Mediterranean diet is especially beneficial for boosting happiness because omega-3 fats, vitamin B12, zinc, magnesium, and iron boost brain health while lowering inflammation.
2. Get consistent, good sleep. “People who are depressed or have other mental health problems are often not sleeping enough or sleeping too much,” Dr. Lake says. And this could affect your body’s ability to use or make serotonin. One study in rats found that being chronically sleep deprived could affect the brain’s serotonin receptors, making them not as sensitive to the positive effects of serotonin. (The finding was on rats though, which isn’t totally conclusive for humans.) Aim to get between seven to eight hours of good sleep a night.
3. Take a vitamin D supplement. Multiple studies have connected vitamin D deficiencies with mental health conditions; the thinking goes that vitamin D (along with omega-3 fatty acids) helps facilitate serotonin production. Talk to your doctor to see if a vitamin D supplement is something worth considering.
4. Go for a walk in the sunshine. One way to get enough vitamin D is by spending some time outside, which is why many people tend to feel a drop in mood during the winter months. If you’re feeling down, try making afternoon walks a prioritize to up the amount of vitamin D you’re getting, which in turn may help boost your serotonin levels.
5. Take steps to lower stress. Surprise, surprise: stress is totally messing with your serotonin. “Stress is a chronic inflammatory condition, both in the brain and in the body itself,” Dr. Lake says. “It can indirectly result in damage to neurons that produce serotonin or the other parts of the brain that are involved and the serotoninic pathways that make the system work less effectively.” In other words, stress causes inflammation, which is bad news for your brain. Prioritizing self-care, therapy, and other stress-reduction tactics could go a long way towards better health, including better serotonin levels.
Does serotonin have any side effects?
Like all good things, it is possible to get too much serotonin. But this generally only happens as a rare side effect of certain SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a type of medication commonly used to manage depression and anxiety), or combining SSRIs. According to the Mayo Clinic, the body’s serotonin levels can artificially become too high, causing symptoms like increased nervousness, insomnia, nausea, diarrhea, tremors, and dilated pupils—and should be addressed immediately with medical attention.
Again, Dr. Lake emphasizes that regulating mood and managing depression is really complicated; it isn’t as easy as finding a way to boost your serotonin and that’s it. But doing so can help with milder mood issues. Give the above tips a shot and see how you feel. And if they don’t work, talk to a mental health professional who can offer other science-backed ways to improve your mood.
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