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What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that sends messages between nerve cells and the body.

Serotonin production plays an essential role in many functions and processes, including sleep, digestion, bone health, and much more.

With the nickname of the “happy” chemical or the “happy hormone”, serotonin also has a vital role in a person’s mood and well-being.

Serotonin’s importance in both body and brain functions makes it an important brain chemical to be aware of, as changes in serotonin levels can impact your health.

A balanced level of serotonin in the neurons and body regulates many processes in the body and brain, but when serotonin levels are too little or too high, the effects can become harmful.

Where is Serotonin Produced?

Serotonin is widely known as a brain neurotransmitter, yet it is estimated that 90% or more of its production takes place in the GI tract, according to the Handbook of Experimental Pharmacology.

What Are the Benefits of Serotonin?

When serotonin levels are balanced, they have a positive impact on a person’s mood and emotions.

Low serotonin levels are widely known for their association with depression and low moods.

Balanced serotonin levels can promote healthy sleep, balance hormones, regulate body temperature and breathing, promote healthy intestine function, promote bone health, and much more.

What Role Does Serotonin Play in the Body?

Serotonin plays a vital role in most major organ systems, including the cardiovascular, pulmonary, gastrointestinal, and central nervous systems.


Who Should Not Take Serotonin?

While serotonin plays an important role in the brain and body, too much of it can be harmful.

It is important to consult with your doctor or healthcare provider on whether or not taking a medication with serotonin is safe for you.

Medications like selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) may not be suitable for individuals who:

  • Have medical conditions or mood disorders such as bipolar disorder, type 1 or type 2 diabetes, severe kidney, liver, or heart problems, or epilepsy.
  • Are pregnant
  • Breastfeed
  • Are under the age of 18

It is also important to let your doctor know of any medications you are taking in case it has an interaction with serotonin medications.

What Produces the Most Serotonin?

It is believed that 95% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the intestines.

Serotonin is produced with the help of an essential amino acid called tryptophan.

When absorbed into the blood, it is carried through the body.

Factors that Influence Serotonin Levels

What Stimulates Serotonin Release?

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that is used to make serotonin.

Regular exercise and body movement are the most commonly known way to release tryptophan and stimulate serotonin.

But, other factors may influence serotonin release, such as exposure to bright light and anti-inflammatory foods.


What Factors Affect Serotonin Levels?

  • Genetics
    It is believed that some genetic disorders may impact the body’s ability to produce or metabolize serotonin.
  • Diet and nutrition
    Research suggests that eating tryptophan-rich foods may help boost serotonin levels. Many foods, like foods high in trans fat, do not provide the brain and body with the nutrients it needs and leads to both physical and mental health concerns.

    Eating other foods, like carbohydrates, may help allow more tryptophan to stay in the blood, impacting serotonin levels.

  • Exercise and physical activity
    Physical activity and exercise stimulate the release of tryptophan in the body, which helps produce serotonin. It can also help decrease other amino acids, making it easier for tryptophan to reach the brain.

    At least 30 minutes a day of regular exercise is recommended to help stimulate the release of tryptophan and boost serotonin, resulting in better mood and overall well-being.

Low Serotonin Symptoms

What Causes a Lack of Serotonin?

Multiple factors can lead to a lowered level of serotonin, including:

  • Prolonged stress
  • Unbalanced diet
  • Genetics
  • Digestive issues
  • Toxic substances
  • Drugs and alcohol
  • Hormone changes
  • Lack of sunlight
Graphic of different colored DNA strands.

What Are the Signs of Low Serotonin Levels?

Common signs of low serotonin levels can include:

  • Irritability
  • Low energy and fatigue
  • Negative thoughts
  • Memory problems
  • Changes in sleeping and eating habits
  • Depression and anxiety

What Problems Are Associated with Low Serotonin Levels?

Low serotonin levels can be linked to a variety of different physical and mental health conditions.

Most commonly known is the association between low serotonin levels and depression. But this can also include anxiety, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), suicidal thoughts, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

If you or a loved one are experiencing suicidal thoughts, seek help and know you are not alone. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 988 or call 911.

Other problems associated with low serotonin levels include appetite issues, eating disorders, obesity, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and irritable bowel syndrome.


How Can I Check My Serotonin Levels?

A doctor can order blood tests that check serotonin levels in the blood.

If your doctor suspects that the symptoms you are experiencing are related to your serotonin levels, they will do a 5-HT test or a 5-HIAA test.


How Do You Fix Serotonin Deficiency?

Serotonin deficiency can be improved and managed through natural remedies such as eating a balanced diet, exercising regularly, and getting adequate sunlight.

However, if needed, some medications like antidepressants and selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors can also help individuals with serotonin deficiencies.

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Lifestyle Changes to Increase Serotonin Levels

How Can I Increase My Serotonin Levels Naturally?

Sometimes our bodies don’t produce enough serotonin to support our brain and physiological systems. When this happens, there are easy ways we can support our bodies and encourage them to produce an optimal level of the hormone. Natural ways to increase serotonin include:

  • Exercise and physical activity
    Research shows a clear relationship between exercise and reduced anxiety and depression. Exercise and physical activity can also help increase the amount of tryptophan in the brain, an amino acid that triggers the production of serotonin.
  • Exposure to sunlight
    Exposure to sunlight and bright light is a standard treatment for individuals with depressive disorders. Many studies show a correlation between exposure to bright light and naturally higher serotonin levels.This could mean spending more time outside in the sunlight and getting more natural light into your home. There are even lamps that are specifically designed to aid in the treatment of seasonal affective disorder.
  • Sleep and circadian rhythm
    Studies show that sleep deprivation can impact serotonin levels. These studies demonstrate that a night of sleep deprivation can boost serotonin levels.However, it is important to consult with a doctor first if you are planning to try interrupting your sleep, and it is important to have healthy sleep habits and not intentionally deprive yourself of sleep every night to try to boost your serotonin.
  • Meditation and mindfulness practices
    Meditation and mindfulness practices help increase a person’s awareness and presence at the moment. These practices are associated with improved mood and relief from stress.Some studies show that meditation can not only serve as a treatment for anxiety but also as a preventative medicine, according to Ancient Science Of Life. The idea is that meditation and yoga can influence brain mechanisms that involve gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), serotonin, and norepinephrine.
  • Social connection and support
    Healthy social interactions and connections with others have been shown to promote the release of “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, including dopamine, oxytocin, serotonin, and endorphins.Support plays a big role in a person’s health and overall well-being. When you have people you can go to, it can help relieve stress, improve mood, and promote feelings of comfort and security.
  • Get a Massage
    Massage therapy is incredible for your muscles, but also your mood! Getting a massage is a natural way to increase serotonin and dopamine levels, which leaves you feeling on top of the world. It also decreases levels of cortisol, the stress hormone.

    There are a number of different massages you can try including deep tissue, Swedish, hot stone, Thai, Shiatsu, acupressure, and aromatherapy. Each has different techniques and benefits to leave you feeling happy and stress-free.

  • Manage Stress Levels
    Experiencing chronic stress can negatively impact your brain’s production of serotonin, leading to feelings of depression and anxiety. Managing stress when it occurs can do wonders for supporting your serotonin levels. Some techniques to manage stress include deep breathing, spending time in nature, taking a bath, Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR), and journaling.

    Try experimenting with different stress management strategies to see which work best for you.

Foods That Boost Serotonin

What Foods Increase Serotonin?

Changing your diet is another great way to increase serotonin naturally. Try incorporating these natural serotonin boosters into your daily meals:

  • Foods high in tryptophan (e.g., turkey, eggs, cheese)
    Some studies show that foods high in tryptophan can help enhance natural serotonin levels and help improve a person’s mood, emotions, and sleep, such as eggs, turkey, and cheese.
  • Foods high in carbohydrates (e.g., whole grains, fruits, vegetables)
    Carbohydrates can help the body produce more insulin which plays a role in amino acid absorption and allows for more tryptophan to stay in the blood, which can help boost serotonin levels.Eating carbohydrates along with food high in tryptophan may help boost serotonin levels and maintain them.
  • Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids (e.g., salmon, nuts, seeds)
    Omega-3 fatty acids play an important role in regulating the serotonin system. Eating foods high in omega-3 fatty acids like salmon, nuts, and seeds can help to keep serotonin levels balanced.

What Foods Deplete Serotonin Levels?

Many foods today are high in trans fats, such as potato chips and fast food, which are inflammatory and linked to decreased serotonin levels.

Additionally, alcohol consumption can negatively impact the way the brain produces serotonin and impacts serotonin levels. Abstaining from drug and alcohol use can help a person rebalance their levels.

Which Supplement is Best For Serotonin?

5-HTP is a dietary supplement that is used to help increase serotonin levels in the brain.

According to MedlinePlus, 5-HTP is possibly effective for depression and may work as well as some antidepressant drugs.

5-HTP does come with some potentially negative side effects, so it is important to consult with your healthcare provider if you plan on taking it to make sure it is safe for you and does not interact with any other medications or supplements you may be taking.

Two other common supplements used for serotonin include St. John’s Wort and omega-3 fatty acids.


Is it Okay to Take Serotonin Supplements?

If you are planning on taking serotonin supplements, you should consult with your doctor first on whether or not it is safe for you.

Some supplements that work for certain people may not work for others.


What Herbal Supplements Are Known to Increase Serotonin Levels?

Some of the most common herbal supplements thought to increase serotonin levels may include St. John’s Wort, green tea, turmeric, and ginseng.

However, although they are herbal supplements, it is important to get advice from your doctor or healthcare provider on whether or not these supplements are safe for you.


Natural Supplements and Treatments For Increasing Serotonin Levels

  • St. John’s Wort
    St. John’s Wort is a plant-derived compound that acts as a serotonin reuptake inhibitor and is most commonly a natural alternative remedy for depression or anxiety.
    It is important to note that St. John’s Wort is not FDA-approved and is considered a dietary supplement.
  • 5-HTP
    5-HTP is a chemical byproduct of L-tryptophan and is produced from the seeds of an African plant known as Griffonia simplicifolia.

    It works by increasing the production of serotonin in the brain and central nervous system.

  • Light therapy
    According to Dialogues in Clinical Neuroscience, light treatment can be effective for seasonal affective disorder and also can be beneficial for non-seasonal depression as well.

    Light boxes are used as a therapeutic approach for certain depressive disorders and deliver a dose of bright light to help treat and manage symptoms of seasonal affective disorder by triggering the release of serotonin.
    In these studies, bright light produces greater results than dim light, and morning light produces greater results than evening light.

  • Massage therapy
    Massage therapy can provide benefits for an individual’s physical and mental health.

    It can help relieve stress, manage anxiety, reduce irritability, and increase the production of dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin.

    The stimulation of blood flow through massage therapy plays a role in releasing endorphins, serotonin, and dopamine and also lowers cortisol levels in the body, according to the International Journal of Neuroscience.


You Have Questions, We Have Answers.

Our goal is to provide the most helpful information. Please reach out to us if you have any additional questions. We are here to help in any way we can.

When serotonin levels are balanced, it helps to regulate a number of different processes and a person’s mood and allows them to be stable, calmer, and happier.

However, too much serotonin can become problematic and lead to mild or severe symptoms.

Serotonin syndrome is a potentially life-threatening condition that is caused by drugs that cause too much serotonin in the brain.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome can include:

  • Nausea and vomiting
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors
  • Agitation
  • Muscle twitching or muscle spasms
  • Abnormal eye movements
  • Disorientation
  • Increased heart rate
  • High blood pressure and body temperature
  • Fainting
  • Seizures

Serotonin syndrome can happen to a person of any age and is most commonly caused by the use of serotonergic agents like SSRIs.

A person is at increased risk of developing serotonin syndrome if they:

  • Recently started or increased the amount o a medication that increases their serotonin levels
  • Take multiple drugs that increase serotonin levels
  • Taking herbal supplements that increase serotonin levels
  • Use illicit substances that increase serotonin levels

If you think you or a loved one may have serotonin syndrome, call your doctor right away, go to the emergency room, or call 911 if it is an emergency.

Going outside and getting sunlight or being in bright light can help trigger the release of serotonin and is one of the most common, natural ways to boost serotonin.

Many individuals with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, or individuals who are experiencing stress, find it relieving and mood-boosting to get sunlight when they are feeling down, anxious, or stressed.

Common signs that you may have a serotonin or dopamine deficiency can include:

  • Fatigue
  • Low or depressed mood
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Having a hard time getting through daily tasks
  • Lack of motivation
  • Changes in eating and sleeping habits

Many of these signs can also be indicators of other underlying health problems, so if you are experiencing any of these symptoms, it is important to reach out for help from your healthcare provider or a mental health professional.

The most common and effective ways to increase both serotonin and dopamine naturally are by:

  • Getting regular exercise for at least 30 minutes a day
  • Spending time outside and getting sunlight
  • Eating a balanced and healthy diet
  • Practicing meditation and mindfulness techniques
  • Connecting with others and building relationships

According to Sleep Medicine Reviews, serotonin plays a role in promoting wakefulness and inhibiting rapid eye movement (REM) sleep.

In other words, serotonin can impact a person’s sleep habits, like how well and how long they sleep.

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Serotonin plays an important role in both the brain and body. Unbalanced levels of serotonin can lead to physical and mental health problems. Sandstone Care is here to support teens and young adults with mental health and substance use disorders. Call  (888) 850-1890.