You may be able to increase your serotonin levels without medication by 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 quality sleep by helping regulate circadian rhythms
- helping regulate appetite
- helping with learning and memory
- helping promote positive feelings and prosocial behavior
Researchers haven’t reached
Past research believed that low serotonin levels could be the cause, but more recent research hasn’t found this to be the case. It seems most likely that your brain chemicals, environment, and genetic factors all play a role in their development, but more research in this area is still needed.
Read on to learn about different ways to relieve symptoms of mood disorders like depression and potentially increase serotonin naturally.
You can’t directly get serotonin from food, but you can get tryptophan, an amino acid
But it’s not as simple as eating tryptophan-rich foods, thanks to something called the blood-brain barrier. This protective sheath around your brain 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.
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.
Other good aerobic exercises include:
Research suggests that serotonin tends to be lower after winter and higher in summer and fall. Serotonin’s impact on mood supports a link between this finding and the occurrence of seasonal affective disorder and mental health concerns linked to the seasons.
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.
- Remember 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.
Spending time in nature has also been shown to increase serotonin.
Some dietary supplements may help the production and release of serotonin by increasing tryptophan.
Before trying a new supplement, it’s best to check with a healthcare professional because some supplements may interact negatively with other medications and remedies.
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, talk with a healthcare professional. They may help you safely taper off antidepressants. Abruptly stopping medications, including antidepressants, can have serious consequences.
Keep in mind that supplements are not regulated by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). It may be best to choose supplements that undergo quality control through third-party agencies to ensure they contain the ingredients listed on the label in the correct amounts.
Always read the label and take the recommended dosage.
Research suggests the following supplements may help increase serotonin and reduce symptoms of depression.
Tryptophan supplements contain more tryptophan than food, 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.
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 affect 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 memory
- thinking about a positive experience 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.
Some ways to reduce stress can include:
Socializing is imperative for many aspects of wellness. Older
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
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 affect 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.
The following includes frequently asked questions about raising your serotonin levels without medication.
How can I increase my serotonin levels quickly?
You may be able to increase your serotonin levels and improve your mood quickly by getting outside for some fresh air and sunlight. Engaging in exercise, like walking at a moderate pace, may also help.
What triggers low serotonin?
But the theory that low serotonin levels cause depression is a theory that many experts remain conflicted about. The causes of depression are likely more complex and involve multiple factors.
Can I have too much serotonin?
Too much serotonin can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially life threatening condition that occurs when toxic levels of serotonin build up in the body. This typically happens due to interactions between medications or medications and supplements.
Too much serotonin can also be associated with psychosis.
Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter. It affects 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.