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Top 12 Foods That Are Rich In Serotonin & Ways To Increase It

Serotonin is a monoamine [1] , or simply put a chemical, that plays the role of a neurotransmitter. It is mostly found in the brain, but also in small doses in the stomach lining and the blood platelets. Scientifically, it is named 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT, but for common understanding it is called 'the happy chemical'.

Functions Of Serotonin

Since it relays messages from one part of the brain to the other; it has implications in almost every type of behaviour [1] ; be it hunger, emotional needs, motor, cognitive and automatic functions. It also affects the sleep cycles of the person. The internal clock is synced with the serotonin levels. [2] This chemical also plays a major role in regulating the mood - happy, sad, anxious are just a few aspects of its temperamental function.

Being in the stomach, it helps with easier bowel movements and digestion. It aids the blood platelets in timely clotting; thus helping with quick healing of scars and wounds. It controls the blood levels to push out any malignant food during diarrhoea or nausea. It also promotes healthy and strong bones.

Serotonin plays an important role in our sex lives. Low levels of this hormone maintain high libido.

Foods That Boost Serotonin Levels

We are what we eat. The more junk and fried food, unhealthy items we consume, the higher are our chances of feeling depressed, sluggish and negative emotions. When we ingest organic, wholesome food that nourishes us entirely, we have better anticipation of being in a 'feel-good' state.

1. Tofu

Although tofu [5] doesn't have direct serotonin, it contains three compounds namely tryptophan, isoflavones and complex carbohydrates that play a major role in the chemical production. Tofu is an excellent source of plant-based protein. One cup of tofu yields around 89 per cent of tryptophan.

Isoflavones increase the level of serotonin transporter protein. Also, complex carbohydrates stay for a longer period of time in the blood and don't break down easily. It is known to boost the production of this monoamine in the brain. These three compounds working together affect the mood cycles and sex hormones.

2. Salmon

Salmon is one of the richest sources of protein for seafood lovers. It provides excellent stamina and is also known as an aphrodisiac. It has good amounts of omega-3 fatty acids which help in the production of serotonin. The release of 5-HT in our bloodstream aids in regulating libido.

3. Nuts

There are a wide variety of nuts [8] easily available like almonds, macadamia and pine nuts. They contain a significant amount of omega-3 fatty acids, which help in the release of serotonin into the bloodstream. According to an experiment conducted between two groups of people, individuals who consumed walnuts for eight weeks had an improvement in Total Mood Disturbance score. However, different varieties produce dissimilar levels of 5-HT.

4. Seeds

There are plenty of options in the market when it comes to edible seeds [7] . A few of the common ones are pumpkin, watermelon, squash, flax, sesame, chia, basil seeds, etc. All of these have good levels of omega-3 fatty acids, which regulate the production of serotonin. Also, black seed or black cumin has a good percentage of tryptophan that increases brain 5-HT levels.

5. Turkey

Turkey contains tryptophan levels more than chicken or pork. It also has good levels of other amino acids as well. When turkey meat is paired along with some carbohydrate source, it functions better to boost the levels of serotonin in the brain, thus making us feel happy, maybe even drowsy.

6. Leafy vegetables

The [6] greens on our salad plate have a multitude of benefits. Not only are they rich in fibre and minerals, but they also contain essential fatty acids. Brussels sprouts, kale and spinach have a good percentage of alpha-linolenic acid, which helps in the production of serotonin.

7. Milk

Milk [9] and other dairy products contain alpha-lactalbumin, which is high in tryptophan. That's why a nice warm cup of milk is suggested before sleeping, as it induces serotonin, which makes us dozy. Females experiencing premenstrual syndrome can also consume milk regularly to improve mood irritability, erratic sleep and carbohydrates craving.

8. Eggs

Eggs are an excellent source of clean protein and they also contain essential amino acids and fatty acids. Eggs comprise of high tryptophan and are perfect for maintaining serotonin levels in our body.

9. Cheese

Cheese [9] is another dairy product which contains alpha-lactalbumin. The percentage of tryptophan is not very high, but it definitely contributes a mild fraction to balance 5-HT levels.

10. Fruits

Bananas, plums, mangoes, pineapples, kiwi, honeydew and grapefruit effectively produce serotonin because of their high serum concentration. Fruits like tomatoes and avocados are dense in nutrients, which assist in the development and balance of 5-HT levels.

11. Popcorn

Popcorn contains complex carbohydrates with low glycaemic index. These carbohydrates regulate the flow of serotonin, which in turn boosts our mood.

Top 11 foods that contain high tryptophan according to USDA [14]

Effective Ways To Balance Serotonin

1. Consumption of tea leaves like black, oolong or green tea increases the concentration of L-theanine, which is an amino acid. It raises 5-HT levels in the brain, thus, causing a relaxed and soothing effect. Green tea has the highest quantity of L-theanine. That's why it's suggested to have it every day to cause less stress and mental breakdowns.

2. Turmeric contains curcumin, an active constituent which helps serotonin to stay active for a longer time in the brain.

3. Magnesium, zinc and vitamin D supplements help neurons produce serotonin, thus lowering the chances of depression.

4. Rhodiola rosea extracts restore normal levels of 5-HT and help people suffering from insomnia, chronic stress, bipolar disorders and unstable emotions.

5. Saffron, magnolia bark and ginger are effective in treating mental disorders, by increasing serotonin in the brain.

6. Essential oils like lavender, rosemary, orange, peppermint, jojoba, etc., can be used for hair and skin massage. They increase the blood circulation and blocks serotonin reuptake, thus channelizing their antidepressant, relaxation qualities.

Lifestyle Changes To Increase Serotonin [12]

1. Stress reduction

The body releases cortisol hormones during stress. If the person gets anxious very often, the cortisol can drastically drop his or her serotonin levels. To combat our anxiety habits, we should practice meditation every day for ten to fifteen minutes. Journaling positive thoughts also help in channelizing our stress to a more creative approach. Drinking herbal teas, consuming nutritious food are all a part of our healthy lifestyle changes.

2. Exercise

Exhaustion caused by exercise can increase levels of tryptophan, thus regulating serotonin in the brain. It's important to work out even for at least half an hour every day. Needless to say, we feel internally happy and confident. Serotonin boosts our mood and self-esteem. People who exercise frequently are less prone to depression.

3. Yoga and meditation

Yoga and meditation help in finding our sacral chakra and balancing our thoughts. We learn to take things more lightly and not worry over small obstacles. It helps in self-awareness, problem-solving, nature attunement, etc. Thus we learn to stay stress-free most of the times. It's an effective way to increase serotonin and combat psychological imbalances.

4. Psychotherapy

Counselling from therapists in the phase of battling mental disorders increases serotonin activity and reduces the chances of chronic depression.

5. Music and dance therapy

Uplifting music that causes positive vibrations has been observed to increase 5-HT levels. Dance helps with the increase of tryptophan. Indeed any sort of creative outlet of emotions helps in improving our mood.

Physical Treatments To Increase Serotonin

1. Neurofeedback

Neurofeedback [10] is used usually in migraines, PTSD, fibromyalgia syndrome. EEG waves are applied to artificially change the brain activity; our behaviour and cognition also get simultaneously affected. After two to three weeks of treatment, the patient suffers less anxiety, fatigue and stress.

2. Massage therapy

Massage with essential oils, sometimes even normal oil reduces the cortisol hormone and increases serotonin level. This helps the person to relax and calm down. Regular usage is productive in fighting depression.

3. Acupuncture

This ancient Chinese therapy helps for easier blood circulation and relieving the stressed muscles. This increases serotonin activity in the serum, thus promoting better health [11] .

4. Light therapy

Photobiomodulation [4] , also known as Bright Light Therapy, balances the serotonin levels in just a few days. However, the side effects over long-term usage are still unknown. If used for a short span, they can definitely treat bipolar disorders.

Side Effects Of High Levels Of Serotonin

Excess levels of 5-HT [13] can cause serotonin syndrome, which is a life-threatening condition. It can be caused either by therapeutic medicines or accidental mixing of recreational drugs and medicines. This can cause hyper excitement, mental dysfunction, deformed cognitive status. The person might experience vigorous tremors and hyperreflexia.

Even autistic people suffer from heightened levels of serotonin. Pregnant women that suffer from hyperserotonemia usually give birth to children that have autism.

Thus overall, serotonin plays an important role in controlling our mood disorders and emotional activity. A fair dosage of this monoamine rich food is good to boost our energy and positivity level. We also need to make adequate changes in our lifestyle, to cope up with depression, stress and insomnia. But we should also take care not to go overboard. Balance is important.

View Article References
  1. [1] Frazer A, Hensler JG. Serotonin. In: Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition.
  2. [2] Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of Tryptophan and Serotonin on Mood and Cognition with a Possible Role of the Gut-Brain Axis. Nutrients, 8(1), 56.
  3. [3] Fernstorm JD. (1988). Carbohydrate ingestion and brain serotonin synthesis: relevance to a putative control loop for regulating carbohydrate ingestion, and effects of aspartame consumption. Suppl 1, 35-41
  4. [4] Tomaz de Magalhães, M., Núñez, S. C., Kato, I. T., & Ribeiro, M. S. (2015). Light therapy modulates serotonin levels and blood flow in women with headache. A preliminary study. Experimental biology and medicine (Maywood, N.J.), 241(1), 40-5.
  5. [5] Messina M. (2016). Soy and Health Update: Evaluation of the Clinical and Epidemiologic Literature. Nutrients, 8(12), 754.
  6. [6] Ko, S. H., Park, J. H., Kim, S. Y., Lee, S. W., Chun, S. S., & Park, E. (2014). Antioxidant Effects of Spinach (Spinacia oleracea L.) Supplementation in Hyperlipidemic Rats. Preventive nutrition and food science, 19(1), 19-26.
  7. [7] Perveen, T., Haider, S., Zuberi, N. A., Saleem, S., Sadaf, S., & Batool, Z. (2013). Increased 5-HT Levels Following Repeated Administration of Nigella sativa L. (Black Seed) Oil Produce Antidepressant Effects in Rats. Scientia pharmaceutica, 82(1), 161-70.
  8. [8] Grobe,W.(1982).Function of serotonin in seeds of walnuts. Phytochemistry. 21(4),819-822.
  9. [9] Weaver, Samantha & Laporta, Jimena & Moore, Spencer & Hernandez, Laura. (2016). Serotonin and calcium homeostasis during the transition period. Domestic Animal Endocrinology. 56. S147-S154.
  10. [10] Hammond, D. (2005). Neurofeedback with anxiety and affective disorders. Child and adolescent psychiatric clinics of North America. 14. 105-23, vii.
  11. [11] Lee, Eun & Warden, Sherry. (2016). The effects of acupuncture on serotonin metabolism. European Journal of Integrative Medicine. 8,(4).
  12. [12] Lopresti, A.L., Hood,S.D., & Drummond, P.D. (2013).A review of lifestyle factors that contribute to important pathways associated with major depression: Diet, sleep and exercise. Journal of Affective Disorders. 148(10), 12-27.
  13. [13] Crockett, M. J., Siegel, J. Z., Kurth-Nelson, Z., Ousdal, O. T., Story, G., Frieband, C., Grosse-Rueskamp, J. M., Dayan, P., … Dolan, R. J. (2015). Dissociable Effects of Serotonin and Dopamine on the Valuation of Harm in Moral Decision Making. Current biology : CB, 25(14), 1852-1829.
  14. [14] Tryptophan, USDA Food Composition Databases. United States Department of Agriculture Agricultural Research Service.
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