There are a number of ways to boost serotonin levels without medication including spending time outdoors, adjusting your diet, and more.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) involved in many processes throughout your body, from regulating your mood to promoting smooth digestion.
It’s also known for:
- promoting good sleep by helping regulate circadian rhythms
- helping regulate appetite
- helping with learning and memory
- helping promote positive feelings and prosocial behavior
If you have low serotonin, you might:
- feel anxious, low, or depressed
- feel irritable or aggressive
- have sleep issues or feel fatigued
- feel impulsive
- have a decreased appetite
- experience nausea and digestive issues
- crave sweets and carbohydrate-rich foods
Read on to learn about different ways to increase serotonin naturally.
You can’t directly get serotonin from food, but you can get tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in your brain. Tryptophan is found primarily in high protein foods, including turkey and salmon.
But it’s not as simple as eating tryptophan-rich foods, thanks to something called the blood-brain barrier. This is a protective sheath around your brain that controls what goes in and out of your brain.
In a nutshell, tryptophan-rich foods are usually higher in other types of amino acids. Because they’re more abundant, these other amino acids are more likely to cross the blood-brain barrier than tryptophan.
But there may be a way to bypass the system. Research suggests that eating carbs along with foods high in tryptophan may help more tryptophan make it into your brain.
Try consuming tryptophan-rich food with 25 to 30 grams of carbohydrates.
Snacking for serotonin
Here are some snack ideas to get you started:
- whole-wheat bread with turkey or cheese
- oatmeal with a handful of nuts
- salmon with brown rice
- plums or pineapple with your favorite crackers
- pretzel sticks with peanut butter and a glass of milk
Exercising triggers the release of tryptophan into your blood. It can also decrease the number of other amino acids. This creates an ideal environment for more tryptophan to reach your brain.
Aerobic exercise, at a level you’re comfortable with, seems to have the most effect, so dig out your old roller skates or try a dance class. The goal is to get your heart rate up.
Other good aerobic exercises include:
Spending time in the sunshine appears to help increase serotonin levels, and
To maximize these potential benefits, aim to:
- spend at least 10 to 15 minutes outside each day
- take your physical activity outside to help increase the serotonin boost brought on by exercise — just don’t forget to wear sunscreen if you’ll be out for longer than 15 minutes
If you live in a rainy climate, have a hard time getting outside, or have a high risk for skin cancer, you can still increase serotonin with bright light exposure from a light therapy box.
If you have bipolar disorder, talk with your mental health professional before trying a light therapy box. Using one incorrectly or for too long
Spending time in nature has also been shown to increase serotonin.
Some dietary supplements may help jumpstart the production and release of serotonin by increasing tryptophan.
Before trying a new supplement, check with your healthcare professional. Notify them if you also take:
- prescription medication
- over-the-counter medication
- vitamins and supplements
- herbal remedies
Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Always read the label and take the recommended dosage.
Research suggests the following supplements could help increase serotonin and reduce symptoms of depression.
Tryptophan supplements contain much more tryptophan than food sources, making them more likely to reach your brain. A
SAMe appears to
This supplement can easily enter your brain and produce serotonin. A
St. John’s wort
While this supplement seems to improve symptoms of depression for some people, research hasn’t shown consistent results. It also may not be ideal for long-term use.
Note that St. John’s wort can make certain medications, including some cancer drugs and hormonal birth control, less effective.
People on blood clotting medication should not take St. John’s wort as it interferes with the drug’s effectiveness. You also shouldn’t take it with medications, particularly antidepressants, that increase serotonin.
You can take probiotic supplements or eat probiotic-rich foods, such as yogurt, and fermented foods, such as kimchi or sauerkraut.
Serotonin syndrome warning
Use caution when trying these supplements if you already take medication that increases serotonin. This includes several types of antidepressants.
Too much serotonin could cause serotonin syndrome, a serious condition that can be life threatening without treatment.
If you want to try replacing antidepressants with supplements, work with your healthcare professional to safely taper off antidepressants for at least 2 weeks first. Abruptly stopping can have serious consequences.
Massage therapy helps increase serotonin and dopamine, another mood-related neurotransmitter. It also helps to decrease cortisol, a hormone your body produces when stressed.
While you can see a licensed massage therapist, this might not be necessary. Try swapping 20 minutes of massage with a partner, family member, or friend.
Too little serotonin can negatively impact your mood, but could a good mood help increase serotonin levels?
Thinking about something that makes you feel good can help increase serotonin in your brain, which can help promote an improved mood in general.
- visualizing a happy moment from your memory
- thinking about a positive experience you had with loved ones
- looking at photos of things that make you happy, such as your pet, a favorite place, or close friends
Keep in mind that moods are complex, and it’s not always that easy to change your mood. But sometimes engaging in the process of trying to direct your thoughts toward a positive place can help.
Chronic stress is known to be linked with a host of health problems, which is why reducing stress is so important.
Some ways to reduce stress include:
- practicing yoga
- going to therapy
- practicing deep breathing exercises
- listening to calming music
- saying affirmations
- practicing gratitude
- taking a warm bath
- trying aromatherapy
Yes, partaking in bouts of sleep deprivation
However, do note that disrupting your sleep should only occur in moderation and you should talk with your doctor first.
Socializing is imperative for many aspects of wellness and
Spending time with animals also has its benefits. Cuddle your pet or try volunteering at an animal shelter for an extra boost of serotonin.
Helping others feels good for a reason: Research has shown that kindness can increase serotonin as well as oxytocin and dopamine. One study found that giving support (over being on the receiving end) is an underrated way to boost mood.
It’s been said that laughing is the best medicine. A 2016 review looked into the therapeutic benefits of laughter on mental health and found that laughing can lower stress hormones such as cortisol which, in turn, decreases the stress response.
If you’re looking to increase serotonin to improve mood-related symptoms, including those of depression, these methods may not be enough.
Some people may have lower serotonin levels due to their brain chemistry, and there isn’t much you can do about this on your own. In addition, mood disorders involve a complex mix of brain chemistry, environment, genetics, and other factors.
If you find that your symptoms are starting to impact your day-to-day life, consider reaching out for support from a mental health professional. If you’re concerned about the cost, our guide to affordable therapy can help.
Depending on your symptoms, you may be prescribed a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) or another type of antidepressant. SSRIs help keep your brain from reabsorbing the serotonin that’s released. This leaves more available for use in your brain.
Keep in mind that you may only need to take SSRIs for a few months. For many people, SSRIs can help them get to a place where they can make the most out of treatment and learn how to effectively manage their condition.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter, affecting everything from your mood to your bowel movements. If you’re looking to boost your serotonin, there are a few things you can try on your own. However, don’t hesitate to reach out for help if these tips aren’t cutting it.