Natural Serotonin: Importance & Ways to Boost
Known as the “feel good hormone,” serotonin is responsible for our mind and body functions. This chemical helps stabilize your mood and plays a role in managing your gut health. While supplements can be taken to boost your serotonin levels, there are ways to boost your natural serotonin through lifestyle and diet changes.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for your mind and body functions. Neurotransmitters are brain chemicals that bring information through your brain and body by sending signals from one nerve cell to another. This critical chemical is made by one amino acid, tryptophan. Yep, the same tryptophan that gets a bad rep around Thanksgiving for making your sleepy and lethargic after your turkey dinner. Your body needs tryptophan to make serotonin and when your body experiences a depletion in tryptophan, it can impact your mood and behavior. Specifically, a deficiency of serotonin levels in your body can cause mood swings, a poor appetite, and lack of willpower. This can lead to conditions like anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and even chronic pain.
While serotonin is manufactured in your brain, an even larger amount of it is made in your enteric nervous system or your gut brain. Additionally, tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is NOT produced by your body; therefore, you must get it from an external source like a supplement, or your food.
Why We Should Care
Two neurotransmitters that have a strong influence on our behavior and our addiction habits are serotonin and dopamine. Dopamine is our “main focus” transmitter and it leaves people wanting more. Whether it is through sex, gambling, or even social media, dopamine releases will always give you the feeling of wanting more. Conversely, serotonin is our “well-being” neurotransmitter. It keeps our moods under control and helps with sleep, anxiety, and depression.
A great analogy to the relationship of serotonin and dopamine comes from WithOutAGym.net and starts with two glasses of milk. Each glass has fifty units of milk, for a total of 100 units. We only have 100 units to work with so to increase the units in one glass, we must borrow from the other glass. When we are living a healthy and balanced life, each glass remains at about fifty units. However, if we become unbalanced through high dopamine/low serotonin, low dopamine/high serotonin, or low dopamine/low serotonin, addictions can impact our behaviors.
With a low serotonin and high dopamine scenario, we are constantly focused on what we have not achieved. Because dopamine levels are higher, we tend to escape these feelings of being unaccomplished with fleeting instances of happiness that stimulate our dopamine levels. Basically, your “happiness target” is constantly moving, making it impossible to achieve.
With a high serotonin and low dopamine scenario, you may find it difficult to focus and organize your life. Decision-making, impulse control, and self-awareness become challenging. In this situation, you may make more rash decisions and possible self-medicate yourself. You are looking for any type of instant-gratification to increase your dopamine levels.
Finally, when both serotonin and dopamine are levels are low, you may experience symptoms of depression. While you may seek feelings of instant gratification, nothing will satisfy you given the imbalance of both chemicals in your brain.
This issue of serotonin and dopamine balances in the brain has become an increasingly popular topic, given our use of technology for instant gratification. From shopping to social interactions, there is a school of thought that says technology is causing us to forget that meaningful relationships, job satisfaction, and happiness are in our control to manage. However, our happiness is under our control and there are ways to boost our natural serotonin through diet and lifestyle changes.
Ways to Boost Your Natural Serotonin
Your diet and your lifestyle can play a major role in impacting your natural serotonin levels.
Lifestyle changes include:
- Sunshine: this is a great excuse to take a break during the workday and go for a quick walk. Experiments with rats showed sunlight exposure was directly related to the production of serotonin in the brain.
- Social Connections: in our hyper-digital age we often forget the power of human connection. A study from Stanford University School of Medicine found increased time with friends and family increased the release of the hormone oxytocin, which in turn triggers a serotonin release.
- Massage: what a great way to do something healthy for yourself. Studies have shown that massages boost serotonin levels. While it is not clear if this is related to the massage itself or to physical contact, in our opinion, it does not matter. Either way, go and get a massage.
- Exercise: endorphins to the rescue once again. Numerous studies have shown that exercise increases the production and release of serotonin in the body.
- Diet: According to healthline.com, foods high in protein, iron, riboflavin, and vitamin B-6 all contain large amounts of this tryptophan, which is the key ingredient to building serotonin levels in your body. Serotonin isn’t found in food, but tryptophan is. Add these foods to your diet for a tryptophan boost:
- Dairy: Eggs, Cheese
- Protein: Tofu, Salmon, Tuna, Halibut, Turkey
- Vegetables: Spinach, Turnip Greens, Cauliflower
- Other: Nuts and seeds, Buckwheat, Quinoa, Pineapple
While our site can give you tons of healthy living advice, getting moving outside of your home, with friends, and or at-home with a library of workout videos are ways to boost your natural serotonin, leaving your smiling and feeling great.