Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone” and its production is closely linked to vitamin B6 and the amino acid tryptophan. Serotonin plays a vital role in our overall well-being, sleep habits, appetite, food cravings, and the way we experience pain. Lack of serotonin often leads to panic attacks, anxiety, eating disorders, chronic pain, and low mood. Fortunately, there are several foods and herbs that you can consume to bring serotonin back to normal levels.
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St. John's Wort
St John’s Wort, or Hypericum perforatum, is a medicinal herb with antidepressant qualities given by its many bioactive compounds. The most important ones are hypericin and hyperforin. Hyperforin boosts many mood-related brain chemicals and helps serotonin bind to serotonin receptors. St. John’s Wort increases brain serotonin synthesis and is one of the most widely studied natural treatments for depression. The prestigious Cochrane review comprising of 29 international studies have found that St John’s Wort can be as effective as pharmaceutical antidepressants.
Panax Ginseng is one of the most popular herbs on the planet and an all-round healthy choice for those that want to boost their immune system, overall well-being, and energy levels. Panax means “all-heal” and it’s quite accurate given its many health benefits. Ginseng increases the level of serotonin and rejuvenates the mind. It’s also beneficial for those who suffer from diabetes, unclear thinking, and erectile dysfunction.
Kava-kava is a plant of the western Pacific that is widely consumed throughout Polynesia, Micronesia, and Melanesia. Kava has been shown to have a positive effect on cognition and attention by relaxing the mind. Kava extracts bind to GABA, dopamine, serotonin, and opiate receptors. This herb typically contains around 18 types of kavalactones, each having various psychoactive effects; there are a number of strains with varying profiles of kavalactones. As a result, effects vary slightly across strains. Kava helps those that suffer from insomnia and it has also been used to treat breast, bladder, colon and prostate cancer.
Kratom, or Mitragyna Speciosa, is a psychoactive plant used as a stimulant, sedative, pain killer, or treatment for opiate addiction. The alkaloids of this plant function as agonists for the serotonin, norepinephrine, and k-opioid receptors. Kratom is indigenous to Southeast Asia, but has recently attracted international attention due to its effectiveness in alleviating depression, relieving pain, and helping with opiate withdrawal.
Turmeric is part of usual Southeast Asian cuisine and has been used for thousands of years in Ayurvedic and Traditional Chinese Medicine. It regulates neurotransmitter activity in the brain and re-establishes normal neurotransmitter levels, thus reducing symptoms of depression. Turmeric protects the stomach from ulcers and digestive issues that can arise due to depression.
Aside from it being a tasty treat, dark chocolate contains serotonin and precursors to serotonin such as L-tryptophan. Consuming dark chocolate regularly can lower symptoms of stress, anxiety, and depression. Dark chocolate also lowers blood pressure and improves blood flow to the brain and heart. Consuming too much dark chocolate may lead to excess serotonin in the body, which results in anxiety, insomnia, and gastrointestinal issues.
The avocado tree is thought to have originated in Southern Mexico, in the Tehuacan Valley. The name “avocado” originates from the Nahuatl word “ahuacatl”, which means testicle, possibly due to the similarity in shape between the fruit and the actual human testicle. Avocados are consumed all over the world due to their fresh taste and many health benefits. Avocados are rich in tryptophan, protein, magnesium, Vitamin E and K, and potassium.
Bacopa Monnieri is an herb with a long history within Ayurvedic medicine. It is widely used around the world as a treatment for brain disorders, poor memory, ADHD, and anxiety. Bacopa Monnieri improves brain activity and increases cognition skills and memory. Bacosides are responsible for regulating serotonin and dopamine in the brain. Bacopa Monnieri is also an adaptogen. Adaptogens block stress signals at a neurochemical level, preventing a response in the body.
This natural supplement increases serotonin levels through the action of the amino acid L-theanine. Studies have shown that elderly people who consume green tea on a daily basis showed fewer signs of depression. Drinking between 2 and 5 cups of green tea a day balances serotonin and dopamine levels and this helps in keeping depression away. For those who are caffeine-sensitive, green tea is also available in decaf.
In addition to the healthy foods and herbs mentioned on the list, you should also consider changing certain aspects of your lifestyle. Exposure to sunlight is the quickest way to raise your serotonin levels. Also, exercising regularly is seen by many as the most efficient antidepressant.
Can you think of more natural serotonin boosters that are not on the list? Let us know in the comments below.
Adrian Carol Szasz is a freelance writer and an editor at Nootrodelic. He loves finding ways to bio-hack his life and make the most out of each day.
All information and resources provided are based on the opinions and experiences of the author, unless otherwise noted. Information is intended to encourage readers to do their own research and come to their own conclusions, and should never substitute or replace the recommendations of a qualified healthcare provider. Always consult your physician before making changes to your diet, exercise, or general wellness plan, even when using holistic methods.