If you are dealing with depression, anxiety or insomnia, your body may be running out of serotonin. Low serotonin level is also associated with panic attacks, irritability, obesity and fibromyalgia.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, appetite, sleep and concentration. It is a natural feel-good chemical produced in the brain that also influences learning and memory.
Having inadequate levels of serotonin may be attributed to several factors that impede the production of serotonin within the body such as poor diet, lack of physical activity, use of caffeine, alcohol and artificial sweeteners, and stress. Good thing there are also numerous ways to increase serotonin levels naturally.
You can actually increase serotonin levels through diet and changes in lifestyle. Here are a few tips to boost your serotonin levels.
- Eat tryptophan-rich proteins: Include red meat, turkey, cottage cheese, milk, chicken, eggs, soybeans, tofu and nuts into your diet to increase your tryptophan intake. Tryptophan from food increases the synthesis of serotonin in the brain. This essential amino acid is converted to 5-HTP, which is a direct precursor of serotonin.
- Consume the right types of carbohydrates: Some individuals feel better with a low carbohydrate diet, but others seem to respond positively to a high carbohydrate diet. Nonetheless, it is not the quantity that is important but the quality of carbohydrates you consume. Complex carbohydrates such as oats, whole grain, barley, buckwheat, yam and sweet potato are recommended to help raise serotonin levels. Carbohydrates stimulate the production of insulin that supports the absorption of all other amino acids except tryptophan in the muscles. This in turn gives way for tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier without competition. When tryptophan is absorbed in the brain, it will be synthesized into serotonin.
- Increase your intake of Vitamin B6, B12 and folate rich foods: Vitamin B6, found in whole grains, seeds, nuts, legumes, Brussels sprouts, cauliflower, bananas and avocado, is important in the production of serotonin and other neurotransmitters. Similarly, vitamin B12 together with folate supports the manufacture of serotonin. Liver, kidney, eggs, fish, cheese and meat are rich in vitamin B12, while foods packed with folate include green leafy vegetables, whole grains, legumes, broccoli and cabbage.
- Avoid caffeine, alcohol and sugar: Caffeine, alcohol and sugar have stimulating effects. These can temporarily increase energy and improve focus and mood. However, when the effects wear off, it can cause a sudden drop in serotonin levels in the brain.
- Exercise regularly: Exercise stimulates the production of serotonin and other feel-good neurotransmitters like dopamine and endorphins. Any form of exercise can help improve serotonin levels, but light exercises are recommended rather than strenuous ones, as these can raise stress hormone levels. Light exercises include walking, jogging and dancing.
- Spend time under the sun: Spending some time under the sun early in the morning can help regulate the production of serotonin. High intensity light signals the body to produce serotonin which results in improved mood and increased energy levels.
- Have a good night’s sleep: Having adequate sleep allows the body to produce enough serotonin. Sleep also counteracts stress and inhibits the manufacture of stress hormones like cortisol which can otherwise lower serotonin levels. Boosting your serotonin levels can significantly improve your mood, regulate sleep and control your appetite.