In the world of Western medicine, many doctors have become overly dependent on synthetic medications. This is particularly true in the case of mental illness; often, doctors will prescribe medications without even getting to know the patient and underlying causes of symptoms.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays a key role in a variety of mental disorders, and many medications target the serotonin in your brain. Many antidepressants, for example, are SSRIs, or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors.
Essentially, they inhibit serotonin transport, ultimately boosting the extracellular concentrations of the neurotransmitter in your brain. If you would like to try to boost your serotonin naturally before resorting to medication, there are a few things you can try.
Manage your carbohydrate intake
Though carbohydrates trigger an instant release of serotonin, it can be counterproductive to consume them in excessive amounts. In addition, they do not help with the ongoing release of serotonin; they just give you a little bit of instant gratification.
When you eat an excessive amount of carbohydrates, you can actually feel sluggish, which can worsen mood disorders such as depression. However, this does not mean that you should avoid carbs completely. When your diet is composed largely of protein, with very little carbohydrates, serotonin production can actually be hindered.
Though it is unclear why this is the case, it is thought that it has something to do with the imbalance that this high protein-to-carb ratio creates in the brain.
Eat tryptophan-rich foods
Tryptophan is actually directly converted to serotonin in your brain. As such, it makes sense that you should try to eat foods that are rich in this amino acid. There are many foods that contain generous amounts of tryptophan. You may already know that turkey is one of them, but it can also be found in chicken, fish, nuts, cottage cheese, beans, and eggs.
Tryptophan is most effective for this purpose when you eat it with a small number of complex carbohydrates, such as nuts, legumes, or brown rice. These healthy carbs will assist your brain in processing the tryptophan and boosting your serotonin levels.
Eat the right fats
Though a lot of people think that fat is unequivocally bad, this is not the case at all. Fat is actually necessary for the continuing functioning of your internal systems. You need essential fatty acids for your hormones and neurotransmitters (including serotonin) to be in balance. Make sure that you are consuming plenty of omega-3 fatty acids; these can be found in fish, DHA-enhanced eggs, flaxseed products, nuts, seeds, and avocados.
You may already know that these good fats are good for your cholesterol, but they are good for your serotonin levels as well. Fish oil supplements are great for anyone who doesn’t have time to prepare some of the other tryptophan-rich foods.
Exercise on a regular basis
You probably already know that regular exercise comes with many benefits. These benefits extend to your mental health as well; exercise stimulates the release of not only serotonin but dopamine and various endorphins as well.
Serotonin and dopamine actually work together to boost your mood. Even if you do not need to lose weight, it is a good idea to exercise every day or every other day, even if you only do so for 15 to 20 minutes at a time. Doing this over a long period of time will make you feel better mentally, not to mention physically.
Optimize your sleep
If you have ever been depressed, you probably know that it can be tempting to lie in bed all day. However, this will not help your mood, and the sleep that you get during this extra time in bed will likely not be quality sleep. In order to boost your serotonin levels as much as possible, get up early every day.
Light exposure has been shown to be correlated with higher serotonin levels, and when you sleep during the daytime, you miss out on this booster. Make sure that you are getting the right amount of sleep as well. It’s all about balance; you shouldn’t deprive yourself of sleep, but don’t sleep too much either.
Your body needs sleep in order for all of your systems to refresh and rejuvenate, and this includes your nervous system (which, of course, manages serotonin). Conversely, too much sleep can cause you to feel sluggish even when you are awake, and the overall lack of body movement will cause low amounts of serotonin release as well.
For most people, getting enough sleep equates to getting 8 hours of sleep every night, though this can vary. If you are not able to get adequate sleep at night, you can take one short nap during the day; just make sure that it does not go longer than 30 to 45 minutes.
As you can see, there are plenty of things. That you can do to boost your serotonin levels (and thus your mood) without taking medication. In the more severe cases of serotonin deficiency, you will want to talk to your doctor about what is best. But observing the above five guidelines can definitely play a role in raising your serotonin levels, as well as improving your quality of life.
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