You just want to feel better: more energy, improved mood, and to be able to feel joy as palpably as you feel…less desirable…emotions. I get it! Learning how to increase serotonin levels may help you feel better. Fortunately, there are several low-to-no cost ways to improve serotonin processing in your body.
How does serotonin improve mental health?
Low serotonin levels contribute to the presentation of depression, anxiety, and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Serotonin is a mood stabilizer. But rather than feeling stable or blah, it promotes feelings of well-being and contentment.
Additionally, healthy serotonin levels can help to hone your focus, which is helpful when depression or SAD leave you feeling apathetic and overwhelmed. (Such a weird combination, right?)
The chemical also helps to regulate sleep and normalize digestion. These two go hand-in-hand, as digestion takes place when our parasympathetic nervous system is active. That’s usually during periods of rest and sleep. More on that later!
Symptoms of low serotonin
Low serotonin levels correlate to the following pathologies
- Depression, Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and other mood problems
- Anxiety and panic disorders
- Sleep problems
- Digestive ailments
- Suicidal thoughts
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Why are my serotonin levels low?
There are several potential causes for low serotonin.
Poor Gut Health I can’t over-emphasis the importance of a healthy gut. Your immune system and hormone production are strongly influenced by gut health. Imbalances in the gut can be the cause of depression or the product of depression. Imbalances in the gut can cause a decrease in serotonin receptors, so even when your body is producing adequate serotonin, it is not properly processed.
Low Amino Acids Amino acids are foundational materials for our brain. When we are low in amino acids, our brains cannot perform optimally. One amino acid, tryptophan, is not produced by the body. We must eat foods containing tryptophan. Several animal products contain tryptophan such as milk, eggs, fish, chicken and cheese. Vegan sources include leafy greens, sunflower seeds, soybeans, pumpkin seeds, mushrooms, peas and broccoli.
Address the root cause! Speak with your trusted clinician about your lifestyle, food intake, and medical records. You can then better identify your specific cause of low serotonin.
Herbs to Increase Serotonin
I often recommend herbal remedies because they are no-to-low cost solutions. Many herbs can be grown in pots, outside gardens, or purchased fresh or dried at reasonable prices. Include these herbs when cooking or making teas. You might also consider tinctures and supplements, though you may want to consult with an herbalist or clinician before doing so, as those are more potent.
Explore these 6 Herbs to Increase Serotonin
1. Green Tea increases serotonin levels via the amino acid L-theanine
2. St. John’s Wart contains hypericin and hyperforin. The latter helps serotonin bind to its receptors. St. John’s Wort also increases brain serotonin synthesis. Consult an herbalist or physician before use if you are currently using prescription antidepressants.
3. Tumeric promotes nuerotransmitter health, and its one of the easiest to include in meals, teas and beverages. Consider consuming with black pepper to improve absorption.
4. Basil and Tulsi (Holy Basil) is high in B vitamins, which are necessary for the production and regulation of neurotransmitters such as serotonin.
5. Ashwaganda increases serotonin levels in the brain. This herb is most commonly enjoyed as a tincture or supplement.
6. Ginseng naturally improves serotonin levels. It is commonly included in teas, pre-packaged drinks, supplements and tinctures.
You might also consider other adaptogenic herbs, plants that promote internal homeostasis. That means they maintain the balance of chemicals within the body. They accomplish that mighty feat by moderating how our bodies respond to stress.
Other Natural Ways to Increase Serotonin
In addition to adding herbs to your daily routine, there are other great ways to naturally boost serotonin.
Enjoy Aerobic Exercise About 30 minutes of moderate- to -rigorous movement naturally triggers the production of serotonin and endorphins (other feel good chemicals). I recommend dancing because it’s free and easy to do just about anywhere! You might also consider a vinyasa yoga class, speed walking, jogging / running, roller skating and other activities that increase your heart rate. (Ahem, sexy time.)
Tap Into Your Parasympathetic Nervous System The parasympathetic nervous system is our “rest and digest” response. With proper digestion, we can better break down meals, absorb their nutrients and their benefits. I recommend restorative yoga classes or yoga Nidra. Both are no impact, passive yoga classes that encourage your body to rest, restore, and digest with ease.
Limit Your Stressors (Yes, You Can!) Remember how stress can impact your digestion and vice versa? Consider limiting your stressors. Most people don’t realize that our brains cannot differentiate between real stress and “artificial” stress. Our brains and bodies respond the same way to being chase by a bear or stressing out over a movie. Binge watching intense shows and engaging in online arguments are two common ways that we unnecessarily increase our stress levels and sabotage our health.
Not sure if your hobby/ interest/ pastime is a stressor? Notice your breathing and your heart rate. Whenever your breathing is shallow and sparse, you’re likely under stress. Whenever your heart beat is elevated (or irregular!) you’re likely under stress. Evaluate if you truly need that stressor in your life.
Savor the Sunlight Sunlight naturally increases your vitamin D, which is essential to mental wellbeing. Low vitamin D correlates to several mood disorders and mental illnesses. Most guidance suggests limiting sun exposure to about 15 minutes because of harmful UV rays. But here is a consideration: most of those studies were conducted on people with less melanin. While no one is “immune” to harmful UV rays, people with more melanin are better protected against the sun. This also means that we need more sun to boost our vitamin D intake.
Consider pairing your vitamin D with foods rich in magnesium (or supplements) for optimal uptake.