Serotonin is critical to your mental and physical health, and decreased levels can lead to a number of problems.
Improve your overall wellbeing with these top 10 serotonin boosters.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays many roles in the brain’s biochemistry, affecting your mood, sleep, appetite, self-confidence and gut health. Low levels of serotonin mean you’re more likely to become anxious, pessimistic and irritable, and suffer from issues including depression, irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) and migraines. Fortunately, there are a few ways to increase your serotonin levels for a healthier, happier you:
1. Bask in the sunlight
The benefits of sunlight on serotonin stretch back through the ages to a time before manufactured light. For the most part, human evolution occurred outside, with the sun as the main source of light, and it’s still recognised by our brains as such. Our internal clocks, or circadian rhythms, are biologically programmed to recognise sunlight as an indicator to wake up, and for our brains and bodies to kick into gear.
One of the most important benefits of sunlight over manufactured light is the ultraviolet (UV). Although UV light has
garnered a bad reputation as a primary cause of skin cancer, it’s an important source of vitamin D, which plays several key roles in your body, one being the production of serotonin. Take some time to get out into the sun (don’t forget the sunscreen!) and open your home and work spaces to as much natural light as possible.
2. Get moving
Numerous studies have shown exercise can be as effective as certain serotonin-enhancing medications in boosting
the production and release of serotonin. The most effective exercises for increasing serotonin are aerobic types that get the heart pumping, like cycling and running.
Research has also shown that if you over-exercise or feel forced into doing it, your serotonin may not improve. This is believed to be due to a neurochemical effect linked to ancient biological instincts – the difference between feeling as though you’re running because you’re hunting, or running because you’re being hunted.
Remind yourself why exercise is important to your mental and physical health, and incorporate it as an essential part of your life. Rather than feeling forced to exercise, make it a conscious choice towards improved health and happiness.
3. Keep stress in check
Cortisol is a hormone released during times of stress, which reduces serotonin in the body. High levels of cortisol mean decreased serotonin, which can increase your risk of mental health disorders, as well as physical symptoms from headaches to heart health problems. Try to pin down the areas of your life that are stress-inducing, and seek help from friends and family, or visit a mental health professional. Exercise, healthy eating and decent sleep are also essential in combatting stress.
Did you know?
Low serotonin levels are associated with poor memory, cravings for starchy and sweet foods, low self-esteem and aggression.
4. Overhaul your eating habits
Serotonin is largely produced in the gut, so maintaining a healthy digestive system can provide a great boost. Keep yourself hydrated and eat ‘brain-health’ foods, including complex carbs like veggies, fresh fruits, wholegrains and beans. It also helps to eat foods rich in L-tryptophan, found in chicken, salmon, tuna, eggs, leafy green veggies and nuts. Serotonin levels can be supported with dietary supplements that provide B vitamins.
5. Look back on the good times
Studies have shown the act of exploring happy memories increases the production of serotonin in the anterior cingulate cortex of the brain, a region just behind the prefrontal cortex that controls attention. Feeling pleasure can stimulate your brain so that it’s primed to reinforce those good feelings. Your brain rewards you for happiness, with happiness, so looking back on fond memories prepares the brain for more positivity. Look through photo albums, catch up with old friends, or focus on the way you felt during good times.
6. Use essential oils
Essential oils are used to reduce stress and anxiety through aromatherapy. The oils have been shown to not
only boost serotonin production, but also prolong the neurotransmitter’s positive effects. Bergamot, lemon oils, clary sage, Atlas cedar wood, eucalyptus and orange are among the most widely researched for positive effects on mood.
7. Take up yoga and meditation
Yoga and meditation reduce the impact of stress, act as self-soothing techniques for anxiety, reduce cortisol levels and improve energy levels. Yoga has been shown to increase the ‘firing rates’ of serotonin neurons, which increases serotonin production and release. Higher levels of tryptophan have also been recorded after yoga. Meditation affects regions of the brain that initiate stress responses, helping to decrease stress activity, while also increasing activity in the parts of the brain that produce positive feelings.
8. Schedule regular massages
Research shows that massage therapy decreases cortisol and increases both serotonin and dopamine, helping you feel more relaxed, generally happier and more motivated. Regular massages could boost your serotonin levels by about 30%, which will not only improve your mood, but can also reduce migraines and headaches. If you’d rather not
spend money on a professional, enlist the help of your partner.
9. Look after your gut bacteria
Restore your gut microbiome by taking probiotics regularly, and especially if you’re taking antibiotics. The gut-brain connection is essential, as gut bacteria can produce tryptophan, which in turn produces serotonin. Various mental health disorders have been linked to too few and not diverse enough gut bacteria. Looking after your gut and helping
to strengthen its connection to your brain can alleviate symptoms like abdominal pain and altered bowel function, associated with IBS.
Did you know?
Serotonin is produced in the brain and intestines. Between 80 and 90% is found in the gastrointestinal tract and in
blood platelets. As well as playing a part in your moods, the neurotransmitter also regulates bowel function, and affects your appetite while eating.
10. Consider acupuncture
The stimulation caused by acupuncture has been shown to increase serotonin activity in the brain during clinical trials. Often used to help treat depression and anxiety, this needling technique promotes relaxation and could have a notable positive impact on your mental health by enhancing the body’s ability to make use of serotonin.
FEATURE: CAITLIN GENG PHOTOS: FOTOLIA.COM
The advice contained here is strictly for information purposes. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, and treatment. Always consult your GP or a doctor for specific information regarding your health.