Eating Nuts May Boost Your Serotonin Levels, New Study Finds
We’ve long known that nuts and seeds hold some pretty powerful health benefits. They’re high in protein and healthy fats, easy to digest, and contain important nutrients like selenium and magnesium.
And now, a new study shows that eating nuts could boost serotonin, the brain chemical responsible for feelings of happiness.
New learnings on the benefits of tree nuts.
Published in the journal 1Nutrients1, this study was a 24-week randomized controlled parallel trial on 131 participants, all of whom were either obese or overweight. For the study period, participants were put on a weight loss program that allowed for a daily 1.5-ounce snack. Some of the participants were given pretzels and others were given a mix of tree nuts (almonds, Brazil nuts, cashews, hazelnuts, macadamias, pecans, pine nuts, pistachios and walnuts). At the end of the study period, the researchers analyzed fecal and blood plasma samples to better understand the effects of the different snacks.
At the end of the study period, the researchers were able to draw a link between the consumption of tree nuts and a reduction in cardiovascular risk factors, including a reduction in blood pressure. The results also showed that participants who ate tree nuts had higher levels of serotonin. They observed significant increases (more than 60% higher) in levels of serotonin in their blood halfway through the study period and an 80% increase at the end of the 24 weeks.
The role of serotonin in health, metabolism, and the gut.
But wait, what does serotonin do again? As Aimee Harris-Newton, Psy.D., a double-board certified integrative and interventional psychologist previously told mbg, serotonin is a brain chemical messenger that relays messages between cells and receptors on other cells. Serotonin specifically is involved in feelings of happiness and contentment, and it plays a key role2 in sleep, mood, aggression, anxiety, pain, and sexual behavior.
Serotonin receptors are the main chemical targets of SSRIs, or select serotonin reuptake inhibitors, the most popular type of antidepressant. These drugs work by blocking the reuptake of serotonin in the brain, leaving more of this chemical available to your brain, though they can come with side effects.
If you want to promote healthy serotonin levels more naturally, this study tells us that nuts may be a good thing to snack on. That said, this research is only one piece of the puzzle. In fact, there is a long list of ways to support natural serotonin production through diet and lifestyle changes.
Other ways to boost serotonin naturally.
Listen to music.
Research shows that3 listening to music can activate reward centers in the brain, and lead to the release of serotonin and dopamine, another brain chemical responsible for feelings of satisfaction and happiness.
Have you ever heard of runners high? Research shows that about 30 minutes after exercise, your body releases both serotonin and dopamine.
Get some sun.
There’s a good chance you’ve either heard of or experienced seasonal affective disorder (SAD), a condition known as the “winter blues.” And that’s because sunlight helps your brain release happy chemicals by stimulating the production of serotonin. Part of this is because sunlight stimulates vitamin D production, which plays a key role in serotonin production.
However, it's rare for sunlight alone to provide adequate vitamin D, particularly in darker winter months. Prioritizing vitamin D is important year-round, but winter makes an extra strong case for supplementing your diet. (Check out our favorite vitamin D supplements here.)
Chronic stress can put your body and brain in fight or flight, and make it difficult to feel happy and at peace. Luckily, there are endless ways to fend off stress, including exercising, meditating, and supplementing. Check out these 14 best science-backed supplements for stress.
Tend to your gut health.
Did you know that more than 90% of your serotonin is produced in your gut4? Gut microbial imbalances have been linked5 to depression and altered serotonin activity. Here’s what to eat for a healthy gut (and mood), and here are a few foods to limit.
A new study shows that snacking on nuts is linked to higher levels of serotonin, which is known as the “happiness chemical.” To promote a healthy, happy mood you can start by eating more nuts—but be sure that the rest of your diet is in good shape too.
Gretchen Lidicker is an mbg health contributor, content strategist, and the author of CBD Oil Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Hemp-Derived Health and Wellness and Magnesium Everyday Secrets: A Lifestyle Guide to Epsom Salts, Magnesium Oil, and Nature's Relaxation Mineral. She holds a B.S. in biology and earned her master’s degree in physiology with a concentration in complementary and alternative medicine from Georgetown University.