Serotonin is most commonly known as a chemical your brain naturally produces to support positive emotions. It is made from the chemical compound 5-hydroxytryptamine and acts as a neurotransmitter, meaning that it sends signals from your brain to your body through the bloodstream.
Since serotonin is transported through the bloodstream, it has a wide distribution of cells and impacts almost every part of your body. Out of the 40 million brain cells in the body, a majority are influenced by serotonin. Some of the various functions across your body serotonin helps with are:
- Sexual Function
- Bone Health
- Blood Clotting
- Healing Wounds
The body needs serotonin to function happily, meaning people may take medication to help the brain produce more serotonin. However, the reasons for taking medication may vary; some may take it to help regulate a serotonin deficiency while others may use it for social purposes. No matter the reason, one must be careful with how much medication one takes.
Just like any drug, it is possible to develop a dependency on the medication for serotonin production. This means the more you take or the longer you take it, the more dependent your body becomes on the drug to create this “happy chemical”. However, did you know there are ways to enhance serotonin production naturally?
Here are some different ways to boost serotonin without medication or any withdrawal symptoms:
Have you ever heard of “feel-good foods”? That is because research has found that 90% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the gut, making a healthy diet key to one’s mental health.
Drinking coffee will increase your serotonin levels for as long as you take it, but once dependent on it can have the same withdrawal effects as drugs. However, many foods will boost serotonin levels without withdrawals.
Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids and tryptophan has been found to boost serotonin levels and reduce depressive symptoms. Cold-water fish like salmon are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which help transport serotonin to the brain by triggering nerve cell receptors. Tryptophan, an amino acid that’s converted to serotonin in your brain, can be found in high-protein or starchy foods like turkey or whole wheat bread.
While there are many mood-boosting foods, having a well-balanced diet is important to help your body function the best it can. Who would’ve thought the saying “you are what you eat”, stands true even in regards to your mood!
They say “movement is medicine” for a reason! Exercise triggers the release of tryptophan into your blood, meaning more serotonin through the veins. Research has linked poor physical fitness to depression, whereas regular physical activity has been found to encourage positive mood, prevent disease, and even reverse some chronic conditions.
Movement of any level will do the trick. Research has found that regular exercise for 30 minutes a day will improve one’s overall mood, but benefits can be felt within just 5 minutes of raising one’s heart rate. All you have to do is find an activity you enjoy, get your heart rate up, and have some fun!
Oh, the great outdoors! Spending time in the sunshine and fresh air has been shown to positively impact mood. Research also suggests there is a connection to lower serotonin levels during the winter seasons, explaining the occurrence of seasonal affective disorder and mental health concerns linked to seasonal change.
Previous generations spent most of the day outdoors, whereas today a majority of us sit inside at a desk under synthetic light. By spending just 10 to 15 minutes a day outside you will experience positive changes in your mood, even more so if you can exercise while outside. If you aren’t able to get outside for whatever reason, research has found that you can still increase serotonin levels with exposure to bright light.
Participating in activities that make you feel good encourages serotonin production. Achieving goals both big and small, trying new things, or even just thinking back to happy memories all are ways to enhance your mood and release serotonin. By focusing on the good, we can help ourselves feel good too!
Your body produces cortisol when put under any sort of stress. Cortisol is a hormone that helps the brain control your body’s fight or flight system, but when the body is put under constant stress cortisol builds up and has been linked to many different health problems.
Research has found that massage therapy decreases cortisol while increasing the body’s “happy chemicals” such as serotonin and dopamine. During a massage, your body lets go of any stress it is holding on to and relax. A study found that those who participated in massage therapy on average experienced a decrease in cortisol levels of 31%, while their serotonin levels increased by 28%.
Meditation actively relaxes the mind and has been found to reduce stress, create inner peace, and release serotonin. Practicing meditation even for just a few minutes a day has been found to have many positive effects on overall health.
However, most people feel they won’t be able to meditate effectively. Thankfully there are many different apps to help guide beginners through the practice. Here is a list of some of The Best Meditation Apps for Recovery.
When to Seek Help
While these methods will help boost serotonin levels, they are not a substitute for professional help. There is no shame in taking medication, seeking professional help, or doing what is best for your unique situation.
We are Healthy Life Recovery, a drug and alcohol recovery center dedicated to helping addicts discover joy on the road to recovery. If your loved one is experiencing serotonin depletion or withdrawals due to substance abuse and you think recovery is the answer, contact us today to learn more about our outpatient programs.
Bouchez, Colette. “Serotonin and Depression: 9 Questions and Answers.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/depression/features/serotonin.
Bruce, Debra Fulghum. “Exercise and Depression: Endorphins, Reducing Stress, and More.” WebMD, WebMD, https://www.webmd.com/depression/guide/exercise-depression.