Say Hello to Serotonin!
For many, the reduced amount of natural light, bright colors, and warmth during winter results in the blues, lowered energy, and chaotic cravings. Serotonin, the chemical messenger mainly produced and stored in the intestinal tract, also plays a role in these factors.
While only about 5% of the body’s serotonin is found in the brain at any time, it has emerged as a powerful mood stabilizer.
Effects of Adequate Serotonin Levels1
- more focused
- less anxious
- more emotionally stable
The exact mechanism of how serotonin supports folks with anxiety and depression is still unknown, but the consensus, according to recent studies, is that low levels of serotonin are linked to alterations in mood and behavior.2
The most common medical therapy to keep serotonin levels high is called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These block reabsorption of serotonin and allow for higher levels in the blood to be maintained.
SSRIs can be extremely beneficial to individuals with depressive disorders. However, they can also have side effects that are downright frightening. If you are looking to boost your serotonin levels naturally, consider the strategies below.
Note: If you are currently taking any medication for mood disorders, including anxiety and depression, you must consult your doctor before making any changes to your regimen.
5 Natural Strategies to Boost Serotonin Levels
1. Shift Your Perspective
A growing body of evidence suggests serotonin and mood work as a two-way street. Studies link positive mood to higher levels of serotonin and negative mood to lower levels, suggesting serotonin can influence mood, and mood can influence serotonin levels.3
This is the first time studies have found that changing your mind to have a more positive, optimistic outlook can actually change serotonin levels and allow you to maintain a healthier and more positive mental makeup.
2. Soak Up Some Bright Light
Studies show serotonin is produced in larger quantities during the brightest time of day. Studies also show serotonin production is higher in summer compared to winter.3 Serotonin is a natural precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin, and studies find the more bright light exposure we have during the day, the more melatonin is produced at night.4
Circadian science tells us we need more sunlight and more sleep. One study conducted in sunny San Diego found middle-class, middle-aged adults spent less than 4% of their time, or 58 minutes per day outdoors, and much of that time was spent in their car. People in less sunny climates generally spend even more time indoors.
If you don’t have access to outdoor bright light, light boxes have also been shown to boost both mood and serotonin levels.3,6
In a review of 12 studies evaluating some 774 patients for preoperative (before a surgery) stress, worry, and situational anxiety, melatonin was found to be an effective agent for occasional anxiety. The study concluded melatonin may be as effective as standard treatments for occasional surgery-related anxiety.7
There is growing interest regarding melatonin as a treatment approach for occasional anxiety. Recently, animal studies have focused on the effect of melatonin on chronic stress and occasional anxiety and found melatonin displays long-term mood support, while addressing behavioral issues linked to worry and stress. Melatonin is associated with improved working memory and reduced responses to stress.7
3. Mood-Boosting Exercise
Exercise has been shown to boost serotonin levels and mood. Working out has also been shown to raise tryptophan levels, the amino acid precursor to serotonin. Regular exercise and exercise fatigue has been shown to boost tryptophan levels and block branched-chain amino acids, which inhibit tryptophan production.
Studies show this exercise surge in tryptophan in the brain is linked to increased serotonin levels and more stable mood.3
4. Mood Food
It has been long thought that eating foods containing high levels of tryptophan would boost mood by raising blood tryptophan levels (and then serotonin would be raised in concert).
While more research needs to be done here, studies show that while the amount of food-based tryptophan in, say, turkey, is higher than most foods, it is still a tiny amount compared to the massive number of other amino acids competing for the same transport system to deliver these amino acids to the brain. Many of the common higher tryptophan foods, according to this study, do not raise brain tryptophan or serotonin levels.3
Other foods that contain high levels of serotonin, such as bananas, also will not change the levels in the brain, as serotonin does not cross the blood-brain barrier.3
Chickpeas: The New Mood Food
One study evaluated tryptophan content of chickpeas and found two-thirds of the tryptophan in chickpeas was free form and not bound to a protein. Most other high tryptophan foods are protein-bound and therefore deliver minimal bioactivity compared to chickpeas. The study concluded that chickpeas may very well be a viable way to boost tryptophan and serotonin levels and as a result—your mood!3
What do you do to protect your mood and your neurotransmitters? Let us know in the comments below.
5. Bacopa Moneria for Mood Support
The bacosides in the Ayurvedic herb Bacopa monniera has been reported to support natural production of tryptophan (5-HT) levels in the hippocampus, hypothalamus, and cerebral cortex resulting in natural higher levels of serotonin.8 Bacosides present in the Bacopa extract has been known to improve cognitive function by modulating different neurotransmitters, including serotonin, GABA, and others.8 This study provided molecular evidence to support the possible mechanism of the bacosides in bacopa on the serotonergic pathway.8
In another study, bacosides A and B were found to significantly improve speed of visual information processing, learning rate, and memory consolidation, while supporting healthy mood with maximal effects after 12 weeks of administration. The study also suggested that bacopa might improve higher order cognitive processes like learning and memory.9
What do you do to support your mood? Let us know in the comments below.