Brain and Body

5 Drug-Free Ways to Increase the Serotonin in Your Brain

January 18, 2016 | Kelly Tatera

woman posing in front of a sunrise
Photo credit:

High on life!

It’s no secret that the pharmaceutical industry capitalizes on making us feel happier, but what if we could do it without the help of any prescription drugs?

When it comes to serotonin, a neurotransmitter that many scientists view as responsible for maintaining mood balance, there are multiple natural ways to boost the serotonin in your brain.

Even if you don’t struggle with depression or mood problems, take it upon yourself to organically raise your happiness levels!

1. Mindfulness Meditation

A 2011 paper published in the Archives of General Psychiatry contrasts Mindfulness meditation to cognitive behavioral therapy in preventing depression. Instead of targeting dysfunctional thoughts, Mindfulness meditation aims to help individuals become aware of thoughts and feelings rather than trying to modify them or act on them.

Previous studies have shown that meditation increases the release of dopamine, a chemical associated with firing up feelings of pleasure, and researchers reported that self-induced changes in mood can influence serotonin synthesis.

Therefore, the interaction between serotonin synthesis and mood could be a two-way street, with serotonin influencing mood and vice versa. As meditation is an almost-guaranteed way to calm your anxieties and depressions and boost your mood, it’s an effective way to get that serotonin boost in your brain all naturally.

2. Try some acts of random kindness

It sounds cheesy, but random acts of kindness can create a “helper’s high.” A paper published in the Review of General Psychology reveals that study participants who performed five acts of kindness every week for six weeks saw a significant increase in happiness. Doesn’t hurt to try it out — the worst thing that can happen is you’ll make someone else’s day.

3. Exposure to bright light

Bright light is a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but research has shown that light is also an effective treatment for nonseasonal depression.

In fact, experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of exposure to sunlight or bright light every day. Several studies cited by the National Institutes of Health have shown that a strong positive correlation exists between exposure to sunlight and the amount of serotonin synthesis. Sunlight is the best way to get your light fix, but on those gloomy days, bright light boxes have a similar effect.

SEE ALSO: Blue Monday: The So-Called Most Depressing Day of the Year

4. Exercise

A comprehensive review of the relationship between exercise and mood found that “antidepressant and anxiolytic effects have been clearly demonstrated,” according to a paper published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience.

Research on exercise and the increase of serotonin in the brain has suggested that two mechanisms may be involved in the effect. First, motor (muscle) activity increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons, which increases how much serotonin is made and released, and second, exercise increases the amount of tryptophan (the starting material for making serotonin) in the brain post-workout. Further studies conclude that these effects continue even after you’ve stopped working out and it may be associated with improved mood.

5. Nourish yourself right

Research has shown that what we put in our bodies can play a key role in raising brain serotonin.

While it’s commonly believed that consuming foods that contain tryptophan will increase serotonin, the belief is unfortunately flawed. As Simon N. Young, editor-in-chief of the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience points out in an editorial, purified tryptophan increases brain serotonin, but foods containing tryptophan do not.

Another common myth is that bananas can improve mood because of their serotonin content. It’s true that bananas contain serotonin, but it’s not true that they can improve your mood — the serotonin never crosses the blood-brain barrier, a membrane that carefully filters materials headed to the brain.

Instead, go for foods that are naturally protein-rich with a balance of amino acids, such as lean meats, dairy products, and skinless white poultry.

The right diet can help you boost your serotonin levels without the help of any unnatural drugs.

Hot Topics

Facebook comments