5 Ways to Boost Serotonin Naturally for Mood Support

These natural, and Ayurvedic, ways to boost mood are easy to access, and fun enough to get you out of a rut.

In This Article

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 

  • happier 
  • calmer 
  • 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.  

sun happy vitamin d pitta summer sunflowers

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 

We recommend "Anxious Teens? Melatonin Balances the Circadian Clock": https://lifespa.com/anxiety-melatonin-circadian/

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 

lifespa image, garbanzo beans, chickpeas in white bowl, rosemary

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. 

We recommend "Harness Sattva: 10 Steps to a Peaceful Ayurvedic Day": https://lifespa.com/take-the-royal-pace-challenge/

References

  1. http://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health/serotonin#functions2 
  2. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/27353308 
  3. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/ 
  4. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/3185865 
  5. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8018787 
  6. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23520221
  7. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6464333/
  8. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4564644/
  9. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5075615/ 

 

15 thoughts on “5 Ways to Boost Serotonin Naturally for Mood Support”

  1. Rhodiola Rosea herb is the best source of Serotonin I’ve found. Being a vegetarian I don’t eat meat and being a raw foodist I don’t eat much fruit. I suggest you read the Rhodiola Revolution by Dr. Richard Brown and his wife…Two psychiatrists. He teaches at Columbia Medical School and his wife graduated from NYU…They use Rhodiola in their practice. I have seen it totally cure a schizophrenic..who was very very sick for over 20 years. Added to this was ginseng and Eluethero…All to strengthen the entire endocrine system..Rhodiola Rosea has changed the lives of our family and friends and have gotten many people off meds.

    Reply
    • Thank you for saying this. depression runs in family and i have struggled with it, always looking for natural sources. 5HTP vitamins have also helped me a great deal

      Reply
    • The main cause of schizophrenia is obscured by almost everyone. The main reason is spiritual! God promised to cause the prideful to become crazy and this disease is only the fulfillment of that promise. And anyone who thinks, oh he is not talking about me, will have to reconsider! If you do your own will or do not pray before doing, then dear, it is unavoidable that you are a schizophrenia perspective. Best of blessings to avoid this popular disease!

      Reply
      • There are many who are very prideful and never have schizophrenia. I am not denying a spiritual connection to this, or any disease, which is very deep, complicated and personal. What a person with severe mental illness goes through is horrific, and to suggest they suffer only because they have been ” prideful” is judgemental, shallow, and prideful of you.

        Reply
    • Thank you Mary. I was looking for a functional or integrative md herbalist in my area. I will check out Dr Brown. I’m curious was the person who was cured of schizophrenia being followed by a provider or did they stumble upon that combo of herbs themself?

      Reply
  2. There is some opinion on the conventional explanation for depression by the psychiatric fraternity that it is a “chemical imbalance” that such a statement is a disingenuous and unethical if it leads to the issuing of a medical script without drawing the patient’s attention to the fact that a serotonin deficiency can be modified by lifestyle and nutritional factors. The nutritional factors go beyond “mood food” , as the body is capable of copiously producing its own serotonin …and the fact that this is very closely bound to gut health where 90% of serotonin is produced. I would like to see you include gut health as a 5th way to boost serotonin.

    Reply
    • Agreed. Particularly intestinal inflammation as the source of imbalance in serotonin levels in the brain. It is no good to discuss the serotonin pathway in isolation. It’s all about balance and we need to consider the Kyneurenine pathway as well.

      Reply
  3. Serotonin is mainly produced by the microbiome or gut bacteria. Some probiotics either in fermented foods or as supplements would be another good way to keep serotonin levels higher in the body and brain. There is a growing number of research that is leading the depression starts in the gut theory. So eating a probiotic rich diet would be the first step to overcoming depression.

    Reply
  4. I hear a lot about melatonin and it’s benefits, but I do not hear much how the body will stop producing its own if supplementation continues over time, and the potential danger this is. Dr. Douillard I’d like your thoughts on how to wean off melatonin to regain and reboot ‘normal’ functioning of the pineal gland. Thanks!

    Reply
    • Hi Meg,

      Dr. John has written on that in many of his articles and developed a melatonin product specifically for that.

      The product is Low Dose Melatonin:
      https://store.lifespa.com/product/liquid-melatonin-3mg/

      You would wean down by using less and less as appropriate, as each drop of that product is .1 mg of melatonin, allowing for greater customization of dosing.

      Dr. John recommends when people start it, start with just a few drops and then slowly increase until you find a dose that works for you. One can then wean down a bit as needed. The low doses of melatonin promote one’s own system to generate more melatonin.

      You can learn more here:
      https://lifespa.com/?s=low+dose+melatonin

      Best,
      LifeSpa Staff

      Reply
  5. I’m a bit late to this mood good thing. And it’s grabbed my attention.

    I was diagnosed bipolar 15 years ago. And about a year ago I suddenly got annoyed with the whole setup and stopped my meds. I’d been on lithium and 5 other mood related drugs, and I was having issues with a broken thyroid and damaged kidneys.

    The psych I was seeing spent about zero time suggesting food, exercise and lifestyle changes, and I didn’t make the connection. His main concern seemed keeping me on the meds and not investigating alternatives.

    Since stopping all meds, I’m feeling a bit more alive, and am taking a serious interest in getting better through self education and lifestyle changes.

    In retrospect, I could have taken greater personal responsibility Back then, but I was desperate and just handed myself over to the medicine dispensing system.

    I’m a bit wiser now, and am grateful for the new research and articles like this one. Thank you.

    Tam

    Reply
  6. Getting very good results with L-theanine extract powder, small amts of matcha and raw cacao, bacopa, brahma, all helping to lessen need for caffeine, notably coffee

    Reply
  7. Pranayama particularly the SKY breathing (sudarshan kriya) by art of living leads to increased serotonin and you sleep like a baby. I do it everyday. Works not just for me but millions.

    Reply
  8. I have had much luck enduring winter in the northeast with Integrative nutrition, ashwaganda, fish oil and vitamin D. If I need more I take your “happy caps”. My question is are any of these herbs safe for my 11 year old daughter? She has increasing anxiety, from life in general and onset of puberty. Her sugar intake is much higher than I would like it to be… but her tastes lean towards sweets and carbs…

    Reply

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