People associate serotonin with happy feelings and regulated mood, but it is involved in many bodily functions. Serotonin is a chemical in the brain, intestines, blood, and connective tissues in the human body. It helps to transmit information throughout the nervous system, aids with blood vessel contraction, and, perhaps most famously, it has a large role in brain function. When you increase serotonin levels, you can relieve symptoms of depression or improve overall mood and digestion.
What Does Serotonin Do?
There are serotonin receptors all throughout the brain and they act as neurotransmitters, sending messages from one area to another. And while so many receptors are in the brain, most of the body’s serotonin is in the gut. With more research linking gut health to improved biological processes, including memory, appetite, and mood, it’s no wonder that the gut contains most of the body’s serotonin. Serotonin, also known as “the happy hormone,” helps you sleep, controls cravings, and plays a vital role in regulating the nervous system.
Serotonin is a byproduct of tryptophan, which is an essential amino acid that helps regulate mood and hormones. After you eat foods that are rich in tryptophan, it converts to serotonin in the brain and makes other essential amino acids available to the body. This process helps you reduce stress hormone production and keeps your mood stable.
The Serotonin Slump:
The “serotonin slump” occurs when the body is low in serotonin. Since it’s difficult to monitor your serotonin levels, the “serotonin slump” is somewhat theoretical. There are no blood tests that measure serotonin. At the same time, people with low serotonin levels all experience the following symptoms. Additionally, their symptoms improve after increasing serotonin levels. Those symptoms include:
- Restless sleep
- Craving carbs and candy
- Stomach troubles
- Abnormal sleeping patterns
- Reduced appetite
How To Naturally Increase Serotonin Levels:
You don’t always have to resort to antidepressants or supplements to increase serotonin levels. As we mentioned earlier, tryptophan is present in foods and the body converts it to serotonin after you consume it. Tryptophan doesn’t equal serotonin, though. In order to boost serotonin, you have to consume tryptophan-rich foods with complex carbohydrates. There are a few other things you can do to naturally increase serotonin levels, and they’re all listed below.
It’s All About Bananas:
A lesser-known fact about bananas is that they are naturally rich in tryptophan. Yes, they contain potassium, but they are also rich in complex carbohydrates. The combination of tryptophan and carbs is the perfect one-two punch for boosting serotonin production. You can eat half of a banana one hour before you go to sleep to have an easier time falling asleep.
Nuts And Seeds, Please:
If you love a good snack, then it’s time to get some trail mix together, but don’t add chocolate or sweets to it. You should only include nuts, seeds, and dried fruit. Most nuts and seeds are excellent sources of tryptophan, but they also contain fiber, omega-3 fatty acids, and antioxidants that keep your heart healthy. The reason to include dried fruit in your trail mix is because most dried fruit contains beneficial carbs!
Step Into The Light:
According to researchers, increasing exposure to bright light helps to increase serotonin levels. Doctors often recommend bright light exposure to people with seasonal depression, and some studies concluded that this same therapy also helps with nonseasonal depression. There is a profound reaction between bright light and the serotonin system. A recent study found that people, who worked indoors for an average of 30 hours per week, only received to 1,000 lux light exposure for 30 minutes per day in the winter and 90 minutes per day in the summer. These findings indicate that we are a natural light-deprived society; thus, the higher cases of seasonal depression. To get more light exposure, simply spend more time outdoors, even if it is a cloudy day. Scandinavia and the UK have light cafes to help combat people’s limited light exposure in the fall and winter months!
Check Your Gut:
Tryptophan-rich foods help battle depression and work to balance your mood, but so does a well-balanced gut. Recent studies linked a higher presence of beneficial gut bacteria to decreased symptoms of depression. Start consuming more probiotics and prebiotics to balance your gut and improve your mood.
Over time, the human species has seen a drastic decrease in daily vigorous exercise. Exercise has changed since the early days of hunting and gathering. We are a sedentary species now, and only engage in minimal exercise. Researchers believe that the lack of vigorous exercise plays a role in low serotonin levels and higher rates of depression. While you feel good after a workout, experts claim that the movement (i.e. the exercise itself) is the reward; thus, you increase serotonin while exercising.