For those of you wondering, serotonin (or 5-HT) is an inhibitory neurotransmitter that is believed to play a crucial role in our well-being and happiness. It is derived from the amino acid tryptophan. While a majority is located in the digestive tract (where it regulates the movement of the gut), the rest of your serotonin is used to regulate various other functions such as mood, behavior, appetite, sleep, blood clotting, bone density, and sexual desire.
It is commonly believed that serotonin will help regulate your mood by decreasing your chances of experiencing depression, anxiety, or other related feelings. Those who have very low levels of serotonin are at a much higher risk of depression. To help prevent this from happening, here are four ways you can keep your serotonin where it needs to be.
1. The right diet
Both tryptophan and carbohydrates promote the production of serotonin in your brain, though they are most beneficial when consumed together. Carbs provide a temporary spike in serotonin levels, while tryptophan allows for an ongoing increase in production.
- Tryptophan (protein) – chicken, turkey, fish, eggs, cottage cheese, nuts
- Carbohydrates – brown rice, nuts, legumes
Hormonal processes, including the production of serotonin, require essential fatty acids. Some good sources for this are eggs, dairy, wild salmon, mackerel, tuna, avocados, healthy oils and seeds.
By exercising for only 15 to 20 minutes a day, you naturally release both serotonin and dopamine hormones that help you to feel both happy and calm. More specifically, running, biking and yoga are known to boost serotonin production and promote release of the most serotonin.
It is important to remember that your attitude toward exercising changes its neurochemical effects. If you work your body too hard or feel forced to do so, the exercise may not have the desired effect.
3. Sunlight, milk and vitamin D
Vitamin D plays an important part in the production of serotonin, as well as many other vital functions throughout your body. The best way to stock up on this vitamin is to spend more time outside in the sun. Your body absorbs ultraviolet (UV) light from the sun through your skin, which results in the production of vitamin D. Not only that, but bright sunlight through your eyes can also increase serotonin activity.
If you still aren't able to absorb enough vitamin D, drink some milk. Vitamin D has been added to milk by order of the government because it was believed that people spent too much time indoors.
There are two amino acids that can be purchased and taken as supplements in order to boost your production of serotonin:
- L-Tryptophan – This amino acid is a protein building block that assists your body in making 5-hydroxy-tryptophan (5-HTP), which your body then turns into serotonin.
- 5-Hydroxy-Tryptophan (5-HTP) – This is a by-product of L-tryptophan and comes from an African plant called Griffonia. Your body turns this chemical directly into serotonin, and may even increase those levels by over 500 percent.
Looking at all of this information together, the best way to keep your serotonin levels in a comfortable spot is to take care of your body. Exercising, eating right, getting outdoors, and watching what you put in your body could have a huge positive impact on your mood and overall happiness. Not only does serotonin help fight off depression, but it can help balance your sleep and appetite. It is a very important molecule in your body that should not be taken for granted.