How to Increase Serotonin Levels Published: March 14 2017
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a chemical that is responsible for sending messages from one cell to another. Although it is well known for its positive effects on feelings of well-being, it also serves other functions. Peripherally, it is used to regulate gastrointestinal movements in the GI tract. In the central nervous system, it is involved in regulation of processes such as sleep, appetite and mood. It is also involved in cognitive functions related to memory and learning. Given its effect on mood, serotonin is the target of several antidepressant medications. These medications can increase availability of serotonin in the brain, but can lead to severe side effects. In addition to medication, there are other ways to increase serotonin that may supplement the effects of medication or remove the need for it altogether.
Are there any scientifically proven ways to relieve depression?
Here are two scientifically proven ways to boost serotonin:
1. Prescription Drug Therapy
Prescribed drugs have evolved over time, and are considered majorly effective in treating lingering symptoms of anxiety and depression. Most antidepressant medications are categorized as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs essentially block the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain, creating a healthy buildup of the neurotransmitter. The serotonin accumulates between brain neurons so transmittal can be clearer and quicker, making the user experience relief from their symptoms of depression and anxiety.
Short-term side-effects of SSRIs include headaches, nausea, and lack of appetite. Long-term side effects often include decreased libido and regressed sexual health. SSRIs should only be taken after consulting with your doctor. Never abruptly discontinue use of these drugs as withdrawal side effects can be very serious. Even though SSRIs are effective in producing serotonin, not everyone is compatible with these medications. Fortunately, there are alternative methods for safely producing serotonin. While side effects are a high probability with prescription drug medication, Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES) devices spur serotonin creation with very little chance of side-effect: Less than 1% of patients experience a mild headache.¹
2. Cranial Electrotherapy Stimulation (CES)
There is ample evidence proving electrical stimulation an effective treatment for depression (Guilula and Kirsch, 2005; Gunther and Phillips, 2010). Electrical stimulation, as with our ? Fisher Wallace Stimulator, increases serotonin production. The stimulator is cleared by the FDA and effective in treating not only depression and anxiety, but symptoms of post-traumatic-stress disorder and insomnia. The device stimulates the brain, lowering the stress producing hormone cortisol, and increases your levels of serotonin. Research proves cranial electrotherapy stimulator (CES) devices “activate a broad hypothalamic response.” Users experienced a 50% increase in serotonin levels within 20 minutes of use, and remained at that level for the remaining treatment time: approximately 2 hours (Southworth, 1999)
What are some other ways to help Serotonin production?
1. Eat foods with tryptophan in them
Serotonin is not found in foods. The body manufactures it from a molecule called tryptophan. If food containing tryptophan is consumed, the body has the chance to manufacture more serotonin. However, the tryptophan found in foods competes with other molecules for absorption into the brain. It is possible that choosing to eat carbohydrates may increase the chance that tryptophan is used to produce serotonin in the brain. Consuming carbohydrates increases insulin, which leads to increased absorption of the molecules that compete with tryptophan for absorption. As a result, there is more tryptophan left to be absorbed into the brain. Therefore, eating the following foods that contain tryptophan along with carbohydrates is recommended to increase serotonin levels in the brain:
- Tofu or other soy products
- Nuts and Seeds
2. Take Supplements
It is important to consult a doctor before taking supplements but supplements may boost serotonin levels. Unlike tryptophan found in food, purified tryptophan from supplements can be easily absorbed in the brain and converted to serotonin. The chemical 5-HTP is another precursor to serotonin that can help to increase the levels of serotonin available in the brain. Although these are the more common supplements, there are others that may be suggested by a medical professional.
Some supplements that may be recommended include:
- Vitamin B6 (pyridoxine)
- Vitamin B9 (folic acid)
- Vitamin C
- Vitamin D
- Omega-3 essential fatty acids
3. Expose Yourself to Sunlight
Research suggests that sunlight therapy can remedy depressive symptoms (Golden et al, 2005), even if the symptoms are not seasonal (Even et al, 2008). For example, Lam et al, (2006) studied the results of 8 weeks of therapy they consisting of 30 minutes of daily morning exposure to a fluorescent white-light box. Light therapy was related to earlier response onset and a lower rate of adverse events relative to fluoxetine, a common antidepressant that targets serotonin. It is possible to see similar improvements by using natural sunlight instead of a white light. It has been found that among individuals who are depressed the more sunlight an individual regularly encountered, the better their cognitive function (Kent et al, 2009).
It is worth noting that whether a white light or natural sunlight is the source of light for therapy, it is necessary that the light enter the eye in order to impact serotonin production. When the light reaches the back of the eye and contacts a special area in the retina, serotonin production is triggered.
Individuals experiencing depressive symptoms are thought to have low levels of serotonin in their brain (Mahar et al, 2014).? Mental health requires a balance between three key chemical messengers in your brain; norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine. Exercise can work to restore this balance (Meeusen & De Meirleir, 1995).
Although there is some debate about the exact mechanism of serotonin’s involvement, there is no dispute among researchers that depressive symptoms can be alleviated through introduction of an exercise regimen (Josefsson, Lindwall, & Archer, 2014).
Given that exercise increases serotonin, it becomes important to examine how much exercise is necessary to achieve this effect and for our general health. According to the most updated recommendations from the Canadian Society for Exercise Physiology (CSEP), exercise is suggested 2.5 hours weekly with a focus on moderate to vigorous aerobic activity for sessions of 10 minutes or more. For increased general health, activities that target muscles and bones are also recommended at least two days per week.
5. Remember Happy Events
Some studies indicate the remembering happy events can lead to an increase in serotonin. One study by Perreau-Linck et al (2007) had participants recall either happy, sad or neutral memories from their lives and measured their serotonin levels during a PET scan. They found that remembering happy events increases serotonin production in the anterior cingulate, whereas remembering sad events decreases its production. Therefore, in order to increase serotonin production, it may be helpful to set aside time to remember the details of happy life events. Moreover, it may prove useful to practice mindfulness in order to monitor thoughts and reduce time spent remembering sad life events.
6. Get a Massage
Evidence suggests that getting a massage can be extremely beneficial for many reasons. One such reason is that a massage can increase serotonin levels. A review by Field et al (2005) suggests that not only is there an increase in serotonin during massage, but also an increase in dopamine, a neurotransmitter involved in interpreting reward, and a decrease in the stress hormone, cortisol. Overall, the benefits of massage extend from physical health into the realm of mental health, including providing an increase in serotonin production.
7. Avoid Alcohol
In addition to other well-documented negative health impacts of drinking alcohol, it appears that alcohol consumption may lead to changes in serotonin levels in healthy individuals. After 45 minutes of drinking, it has been found that blood serotonin concentration is significantly reduced and serotonin levels were similar to depressed individuals and dissimilar from controls (Pietraszek et al, 1991). Together, the data suggest that drinking should be avoided if one is looking to increase their levels of serotonin.
Meditation has been suggested to confer many different benefits to physical and mental health in terms of attention regulation, body awareness, emotion regulation, self-perception, and others. Evidence suggests that meditation can effectively modulate serotonin levels (Esch, 2014). Despite the fact that serotonin’s mechanism of action is still being examined, it is clear that there is a strong link between meditation practice and mental health with serotonin playing an important role.
If you are experiencing depressive symptoms, there are many ways that you can begin to move towards recovery. Often, it is very helpful to modify lifestyle choices, as indicated above, especially if the methods increase your levels of serotonin. In addition, it may be necessary to speak to a professional about the difficulties you face. Regardless of whether you prefer treatment that focuses on lifestyle change or a pharmacological treatment, a mental health professional will be able to help you navigate the road to recovery.
¹ Fisherwallace.com. “Frequently Asked Questions: Are there any side effects?”
Esch, T. (2014). The neurobiology of meditation and mindfulness. In Meditation–Neuroscientific Approaches and Philosophical Implications (pp. 153-173). Springer International Publishing.
Even, C., Schröder, C. M., Friedman, S., & Rouillon, F. (2008). Efficacy of light therapy in nonseasonal depression: a systematic review. Journal of affective disorders, 108(1), 11-23.
Field, T., Hernandez-Reif, M., Diego, M., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn, C. (2005). Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy. International Journal of Neuroscience, 115(10), 1397-1413.
Golden, R. N., Gaynes, B. N., Ekstrom, R. D., Hamer, R. M., Jacobsen, F. M., Suppes, T., ... & Nemeroff, C. B. (2005). The efficacy of light therapy in the treatment of mood disorders: a review and meta-analysis of the evidence. American Journal of Psychiatry, 162(4), 656-662.
Gilula, M. F., & Kirsch, D. L. (2005). Cranial electrotherapy stimulation review: a safer alternative to psychopharmaceuticals in the treatment of depression. Journal of Neurotherapy, 9(2), 7-26.
Gunther, M., & Phillips, K. D. (2010). Cranial electrotherapy stimulation for the treatment of depression. Journal of psychosocial nursing and mental health services, 48(11), 37-42.
Josefsson, T., Lindwall, M., & Archer, T. (2014). Physical exercise intervention in depressive disorders: Meta‐analysis and systematic review. Scandinavian journal of medicine & science in sports, 24(2), 259-272.
Kent, S. T., McClure, L. A., Crosson, W. L., Arnett, D. K., Wadley, V. G., & Sathiakumar, N. (2009). Effect of sunlight exposure on cognitive function among depressed and non-depressed participants: a REGARDS cross-sectional study. Environmental Health, 8(1), 1.
Lam, R. W., Levitt, A. J., Levitan, R. D., Enns, M. W., Morehouse, R., Michalak, E. E., & Tam, E. M. (2006). The Can-SAD study: a randomized controlled trial of the effectiveness of light therapy and fluoxetine in patients with winter seasonal affective disorder. American Journal of Psychiatry.
Li, D., & He, L. (2007). Meta-analysis supports association between serotonin transporter (5-HTT) and suicidal behavior. Molecular psychiatry, 12(1), 47-54.
Wurtman, RJ; Hefti, F; Melamed, E (1980). "Precursor control of neurotransmitter synthesis". Pharmacol Rev. 32: 315–35.
Young SN (2007). "How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs". J Psychiatry Neurosci. 32 (6): 394–9.
Southworth, Susan. "A Study of the Effects of Cranial Electrical Stimulation on Attention and Concentration." The Family Institute and Associates (1999): 43-53. Integrative Psychological and Behavioral Science. Web.