Six natural ways to increase your serotonin levels

Dr. Natasha Turner shows us how we can prep our serotonin levels to banish the blues.

A beautiful young woman doing stretches before a morning jog

Head out for a morning walk to boost your serotonin levels. Photo, Getty Images.

What causes the dip in mood?
Though serotonin is typically recognized as a brain chemical, the majority of this neurotransmitter is produced in our digestive tract. Serotonin exerts powerful influence over mood, emotions, memory, cravings (especially for carbohydrates), self-esteem, pain tolerance, sleep habits, appetite, digestion and body-temperature regulation. It is often thought of as our “happy hormone,” especially because its production increases when we’re exposed to natural sunlight. And let’s face it, after months of being stuck indoors, most Canadians are battling low serotonin levels.

Production of serotonin is closely linked to the availability of vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. If our diet lacks sufficient protein and vitamins, we run a greater risk of serotonin deficiency. We may experience a dip in serotonin in relation to physiological causes, dieting, low protein intake, digestive disorders and also stress, since high levels of the stress hormone cortisol rob us of serotonin. When we measure our current lifestyle against all the elements necessary for the body’s natural production of serotonin, add in chronic stress and out-of-control multitasking — two of the main causes of serotonin depletion —  it’s no wonder many of us suffer from depleted serotonin.

In my professional opinion, serotonin deficiency has become an epidemic of equal proportion to obesity. I also believe this parallel is no coincidence. Lets take a look at what you can do to ensure you keep your serotonin levels up:

1. Start pretending it’s summer
By this I don’t mean put on shorts and sandals and stand outside shivering — although the weather’s slowly creeping up. What you can do is engage in activities that get you excited for the warmer weather like planning your summer vacation (with a countdown on a calendar), booking some time at a cottage, confirming camping weekends, going for a pedicure (after a winter hiding in boots everyone needs a good pedicure) and even rescuing the barbeque from hiberation. I know the smell of a barbecue makes me feel like summer is coming.

Find out what makes you feel good and put it into action.

Related: 11 small changes that make a big impact on your health

2. Alleviate sadness with 5-HTP
A derivative of tryptophan, and one step closer to serotonin, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) has been found to actually be more effective than tryptophan for treating sleeplessness, depression, anxiety and fibromyalgia. As an added bonus, it has a positive influence on your weight and can curb an out-of-control appetite – another reason why it’s a great supplement going into the warmer months. In one Italian study, women who took 5-HTP lost 10 pounds over 12 weeks, compared to two pounds in the placebo group.

Bottom line: I recommend taking 50-400 mg per day in divided doses throughout the day or before bed. This product should be taken for at least 4-6 weeks to reach full effectiveness.

Related: Five things your breasts can teach you about your health

3. Calm your brain with a B vitamin
I recommend that my patients keep a B-complex at their desk during times of stress. High total intakes of vitamins B6 and B12 are associated with a lower risk of depressive symptoms over time in community-residing older adults, according to the results of a cohort study reported in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition.

Vitamin B6 in particular supports the production and function of serotonin, melatonin and dopamine in the brain.

Bottom line: Take 50-100 mg before bed or a B-complex once daily. If you find yourself suffering from fatigue and chronic stress, in conjunction with depression, you may want to add in additional B5 (also known as pantothenic acid). This is fuel for the adrenal glands and it can prevent certain types of depression as well as provide support for your central nervous system. Take 250 mg twice daily with food.

4. Smile with St. John’s Wort
This herb has been proven effective for easing mild to moderate depression. It appears to work as a natural SSRI (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitor) by preventing the breakdown of serotonin in the brain.

Bottom line: My recommended dosage is 900 mg per day away from food, like on rising or before bed. It takes a minimum of 4-6 weeks to reach full effectiveness.

5. Add inositol to your smoothies
Naturally present in many foods, inositol improves the activity of serotonin in the brain. As a supplement, it’s an excellent choice for alleviating anxiety and depression and supporting nervous system health. I use it in powdered form and add it to my daily smoothie or a glass of water before bed. Inositol is very effective for calming the nervous system when mixed with magnesium.

Bottom line: Take 4-12 g per day.

Related: Going Paleo? Here’s the truth about the latest fad diets

6. Follow the light
There’s a pretty good reason that Canadians love their patios – after being stuck inside all winter, we can hardly wait to get some fresh air and sunlight. Heading into the sunshine, even on a cool day, is the quickest way to boost your mood (and burn some belly fat). If you do this first thing in the morning on an empty stomach you will not only burn 20 percent more calories, you’ll jumpstart your mood for the entire day.

Bottom line: Start with 2-3 short walks first thing in the morning and work your way up to doing it daily (when weather and schedule permit).

What helps boost your mood during a long winter? Let us know in the comments section at the bottom of the page.

-Article originally published April, 2013.

Natasha Turner, N.D., is a naturopathic doctor, Chatelaine magazine columnist and author of the bestselling books The Hormone Diet, The Supercharged Hormone Diet and The Carb Sensitivity Program. She’s also the founder of the Toronto-based Clear Medicine Wellness Boutique and a regular guest on The Dr. Oz Show and The Marilyn Denis Show. For more wellness advice from Natasha Turner, click here.

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41 comments on “Six natural ways to increase your serotonin levels

  1. Agree with your article, and the advice! Now I need to get to my health food store!
    In paragraph No.1 – Pretend it’s Summer: the phrase “shorts and sandals” – the word is “sandals”! For some reason, I’m a stickler for correct spelling!


  2. Thank you! We’ve made the correction.


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  9. I’m very interested in how to increase serotonin, but pretending it’s summer & following the light increases & pain, unhappiness, etc. I suffer from severe migraines & anxiety & bright lights, sunlight are a trigger & increase severity. Can I still increase serotonin by staying in the beautiful dark?


    • good sunglasses maybe?


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  13. This is more of question :-) I am curious to know if I am ok to take all of these vitamins/supplements or is this more of a “pick one” type of natural method for depression? Probably a silly question but don’t want to mess it up.


  14. Are there whole food alternatives to all the pills. Any ideas for people who hate summer.


  15. EVERY WHERE I’VE LOOKED SAYS 5-HTP IS POSSIBLY UNSAFE, AND CAN CAUSE eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome (EMS), a serious condition involving extreme muscle tenderness (myalgia) and blood abnormalities (eosinophilia).


  16. I like inositol but Taking 4-12 grams of it a day is bad advice. Please look into that. Also Kanna is Much more potent than St. Johns Wort as a SSRI. I prefer chewing it and it’s active at 100 MG’s.


  17. Hi,
    When my son was in 7th or 8th grade, I could tell he was going through an episode of depression. I purchased some St. John’s Wort, and he took a few doses as directed on the bottle. I was not able to tell if it helped the depression because he only took it for a short time, but I can tell you he started having seizures a few days after starting the St. John’s Wort, so it was promptly discontinued. In all, he probably had about seven very frightening seizures, then they never returned and he is now approaching 30. What could it be about my son’s personal body make-up or about St. John’s Wort itself that would cause this? Thank you.


  18. Thank u so much. I am going to buy these supplements. I have SEVERE anxiety and cant take it anymore ! Thanks so much !!!


    • Me too-what have you tried?


  19. Thank you for the suggestions. Would you recommend taking BOTH St John’s Wort AND 5HTP or just one or the other. ?


  20. Please be aware that you cannot simultaneously take 5HTP and St Johns Wort.


  21. I Agree – however, chronic life-long depression needs to be treated by a doctor who knows what they are doing – natural stuff doesn’t work for some of us – but I know it does work for those with occasional depression, anxiety, etc.


  22. I have a question: Is the sunlight during the fall and winter months in temperate climates (like New York city) strong enough to increase serotonin activity? If it is, does it increase serotonin activity less than the stronger spring and summer sunlight? I ask this because I know fall and winter sunlight in temperate and arctic climates is not strong enough for the body to produce vitamin D3.


  23. i would add vit d3. i upped my dose last winter and it made a big difference in being able to get up in the morning. also a blue light to turn off melatonin in the morning. b complex vit. eat fish and eliminate sugar. it all helps.


  24. So many people leaving comments that frankly are discussions to be had with their doctor. Good article and things I will investigate with proper direction from my doc.


  25. Please ask your readers to consult a licensed health care practitioner before starting these. Some, such as St. John’s Wort, have some serious and dangerous drug or condition interactions!!


  26. Great article, but please check with your DR before taking ST JOHNS WART if you are on BIRTH CONTROL. Lol just sayin…


  27. Tsk tsk! You should be ashamed of yourselves for posting this article! Some of the advice is just plain dangerous! The supplements suggested should be discussed with a doctor first before taking them. You could possibly lead your readers into thinking taking all of them at the same time is safe. Eat healthy, get some exercise, and speak to a professional if you need help with your anxiety.


  28. PLEASE READ! Do not, I repeat, do not take 5-HTP and St. John’s Wort together! St. John’s Wort acts as a natural SSRI, which is already blocking the reabsorption of serotonin. Do not add more serotonin to your brain by taking 5-HTP as it may cause serotonin syndrome.


  29. St johns wort is a monoxamine oxadaise inhibitor not a ssri. They can both do the same thing by flooding the brain ish…. Good job screwing that 1 up


  30. A b complex just before bed or after 5pm can keep you awake so that would be counterproductive in overcoming fatigue.


  31. Good advice, however, my only disagreement would be the use of 5-HTP and st johns wort as remedies – these may be weaker forms of medication but they still both interact with the brains biochemicals (and other medications!) and could lead to depression in the long term as the body becomes reliant on them, not what I would describe as a natural way to increase serotonin levels. Natural to me indicates straight from the plant, which is why juicing is so effective.


  32. I’m a 49 year old male and have suffered from Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) for as long as I can remember. After doing my own research I’ve come to the conclusion that my brain doesn’t produce enough serotonin which I think is the cause of my anxiety disorder. I’ve tried prescription anti-anxiety medications, which helped, but hated the side effects and some seem to do so well that it changed my personality that I didn’t care about anything or anyone. So I felt it’s better to suffer through the anxiety than put up with the side effects. But since I’ve found your article, it has given me new hope and will start trying your recommendations right away. I have several children that suffer with the same anxiety disorder so if this works I plan on giving it to them also. Thanks so much!


    • Do research about the Levity program………it suggests multi Vit B, Vitamin D, Selenium. Check it out for the formula. You can buy online too in one tablet


  33. 1 May 2014 Updated: 15:00 GMT,425 for the vehicle, Dwight Gayle and Glenn Murray if he is going to make his Palace debut this weekend. will be desperate to start against Sunderland on Saturday.any? sold Samuel Eto’o and Hallam Hope, to kitchen scales and toys. the arms and legs, as a root cause. 6 February 2015 Updated: 19:51 GMT.


  34. This brief sound bite article promotes the popular medical myth that serotonin (and tryptophan) is the “happy hormone.”

    If you look past this all-too convenient (=highly lucrative) invention of the medical-pharma business you’ll find that a sizable volume of research studies demonstrated that increasing serotonin (and tryptophan) is linked to brain dysfunction, stress hormone release, cognitive deficits, inflammation, impaired blood circulation in the brain, hypertension, cancer, and other less than “feel good” effects – google or bing “Tryptophan Side Effects: L-Tryptophan Is Far From Harmless”

    This myth continues to get spread all across the internet. This piece is a prime example of it….


  35. Well, I have done some work with aromatics recently which can be surprisingly far more potent than one may realize but I enjoy the serotonin boosting effects of the essential oils in mint. The smell tends to perk me up and I occasionally add a few leaves (2-3) to a serving of tea.


  36. Not quite sure what natural about taking pills…


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