Serotonin, also known as the “feel-good” hormone, is a chemical in the brain that can help regulate mood and lift depression. According to the Integrative Health Review website, serotonin not only greatly influences our sense of well-being, it also encourages a feeling of fullness after a meal and helps bring on sleep. If you don't have enough serotonin in your brain, you may experience symptoms of depression, insomnia and increased hunger. Fortunately, certain foods and nutrients in your diet may help boost your serotonin levels naturally.
According to an article published in the November 2011 issue of “Psychology Today,” vitamin D can activate genes that release serotonin in the brain. Therefore, vitamin D can play a role in brain health, and low levels may be one of the causes of depression. The Office of Dietary Supplements lists dietary sources of vitamin D, including salmon, tuna, mackerel and fish liver oils, as well as foods fortified with vitamin D, such as milk.
According to "The UltraMind Solution," vitamin B-6 is required for the synthesis of serotonin because the vitamin helps convert tryptophan into serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is an amino acid that is vital for healthy mood and optimal outlook because it is a precursor to serotonin. Major sources of vitamin B-6, reports MayoClinic.com, include cereal grains, legumes, meat, dairy products, eggs, carrots and spinach.
Eating carbohydrates can boost serotonin levels in the brain. According to an article published in August 2010 in “Psychology Today,” the insulin that is released as a result of eating carbohydrates can increase the levels of tryptophan in the bloodstream. The tryptophan molecules are then converted to serotonin in the brain. The article recommends between 25 and 35 grams of carbohydrates that contain fewer than 4 grams of protein and 3 grams of fat because the fat and protein can slow down the insulin response. The article suggests that you allow between 20 and 40 minutes to feel the soothing effects. Carbohydrates that fit these criteria include graham crackers and pretzels.
According to "Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants," consuming dark chocolate can increase the serotonin levels in your brain. In a study, 30 anxious individuals were given 40 grams -- about 1.5 ounces -- of dark chocolate daily. After two weeks, the subjects experienced less anxiety. When researchers measured the levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol, in the subjects, they found that these levels were lower at the end of the two weeks. It turns out that not only does dark chocolate taste good, it may be good for our sense of happiness as well.
- Psychology Today: Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency
- Office of Dietary Supplements: Vitamin D
- The UltraMind Solution; Mark Hyman, M.D.
- MayoClinic.com: Vitamin B6 (Pyridoxine)
- Psychology Today: Serotonin: What It Is and Why It's Important for Weight Loss
- Edible Medicinal and Non-Medicinal Plants: Volume 3, Fruits; T.K. Lim