Before the late 1980s, if you’d asked average Americans what serotonin was, they might have just stared back at you blankly. But then something big happened in January 1988 that turned serotonin into a household word:
It took just two years for Prozac to become the most prescribed medication in the US.
Prozac introduced a new class of antidepressants called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). This got us talking more openly about depression (although we still have a long way to go!) and also got everyone familiar with serotonin as the “feel-good hormone.” Many people who have suffered from debilitating depression swear that SSRIs gave them their life back.
That’s all good. But …
We live in a pill-happy culture, and sometimes both medical professionals and patients forget that there are many ways to raise serotonin. SSRIs don’t work for everyone, and they can have a variety of side effects.
And just as eating vegetables is a more effective way to get nutrients than getting them in isolated pill form, boosting serotonin naturally can be even more effective for many people than taking an SSRI.
We know that your level of serotonin can affect a wide range of functions, organs and behaviors including:
- Impulse control
- Sexual desire
- Social behaviors
We also know that although your brain manufactures some serotonin and your serotonin level affects nearly all your brain cells, 90% of your serotonin is in your gut. Talk about a mind-body connection!
But what we don’t know is exactly how serotonin contributes to or alleviates depression. It’s likely that the picture is much more complicated than just "low serotonin equals depression," and "high serotonin equals happiness." It’s a good bet that other hormones and neurotransmitters play a role as well.
And that’s why boosting your serotonin naturally works so well. When you do it, you’re boosting (and lowering) a number of other things in your body — things like hormones and neurotransmitters that will all support you in feeling great.
It’s like eating a well-balanced diet compared to taking a multivitamin.
So how do you boost serotonin without a pill?
Below are nine of my favorite natural ways to boost your serotonin and get happy. They're surprisingly easy, and you won’t need to ask your doctor if any of them are right for you.
1. Eat foods rich in tryptophan.
Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and foods rich in it include foods like chicken, eggs, fish, nuts, sunflower seeds, pumpkin seeds and turkey.
2. Eat fermented foods, including raw milk yogurt and kefir, sauerkraut, and kim chi.
These help you absorb the nutrients you need for serotonin production and help keep your gut healthy — where most of your serotonin resides.
3. Avoid sugar.
Sugar gives you a temporary lift because it triggers an immediate release of serotonin. But sugar does all kinds of bad things, including mess up the bacteria in your gut, which ultimately can deplete your serotonin.
4. Move your body.
Moving your body boosts your serotonin and other endorphins. That’s why a vigorous workout that makes you sweat can give you what we used to call a “runner’s high.” But even a short walk can significantly improve your mood.
5. Get some sun.
I know we’ve all been told for ages to avoid the sun, but the sun is a serotonin booster. It’s healthy to get a little every day, as a small dose of daily sunshine is a powerful prescription for good health.
6. Do yoga and meditation.
Stress zaps your serotonin, your energy, and your health. Yoga and meditation calm your body and your mind — boosting your serotonin and having many other positive effects.
7. Sleep well — and enough.
Quality sleep allows your body to repair and rebalance. Most adults need seven to nine hours of sleep, and you’ll get the best sleep if you hit your pillow between 10 and 11 pm.
8. Get a massage.
Research has found that massages can increase serotonin and dopamine while decreasing the stress hormone, cortisol.
9. Spend time with the one(s) you love.
Sharing meaningful and fun times with those dearest to your heart boosts feel-good hormones and makes everything better!
Of course, there are many other natural serotonin boosters — everything from dark chocolate (which I didn’t include here because it leads most people to consume sugar, defeating the purpose), to natural herbs and supplements.
I’m also not recommending that anyone currently taking SSRIs go off them without working with your health care professional. The point is that we could all be happier if we stopped always associating serotonin with a doctor's prescription and started associating it with our life choices.
Because here’s the thing: Serious depression isn’t a choice … but serious happiness definitely is!
Photo Credit: Getty Images