What people assume serotonin is versus what it actually is can get a little confusing — I certainly didn't fully understand it until recently. In fact, I thought it went hand in hand with clinical depression, but that's just not the case, which I found by speaking to two doctors about products that can boost serotonin levels. Through the expertise of Rachel Carlton Abrams, M.D., author of Bodywise: Discovering Your Body’s Intelligence for Lifelong Health and Healing , and Anna Garrett, Pharm.D., I learned way more about the neurotransmitter than I did before.
"Serotonin is a calming neurotransmitter that can have both anti-anxiety and anti-depressant effects," explains Dr. Abrams. According to her, it's not actually clear if low serotonin levels are the cause of depression, which is an insight I found super interesting as someone who's suffered from depression in the past. Dr. Garrett agreed, noting, "Studies have shown that depressed people can have high, normal, or low blood levels of serotonin — it can't be measured in the brain."
Still, there are many folks who experience positive effects when they get a boost in the neurotransmitter. "Some people benefit from increased serotonin levels when they are experiencing ongoing anxiety or depressive symptoms," says Dr. Abrams.
This led me to wonder what you could do to actually boost serotonin levels. Both Dr. Abrams and Dr. Garrett recommended several supplements as well as a change in diet (since serotonin is actually produced in your gut), explaining that eating a diet that's high in protein can help increase your levels. They also noted that finding ways to relax before bed can contribute to a better night of sleep, which in turn will help you get a healthier level of serotonin over time. I took their suggestions and found plenty of products that could help you out.
1. Wake Up Gradually, Not With A Jumpstart
Dr. Garrett told me that chronic insomnia can contribute to low serotonin levels. Using a wake-up light is a great way to naturally produce melatonin which will help you to sleep at night. The light dims as the night goes on, which is what will help produce the melatonin. Then, in the morning, the light simulates a sunrise so you can wake up gradually with natural light (which is how you're supposed to), rather than with the intense sounds of your phone's alarm clock app. This can help you get a better night sleep and therefore increase serotonin levels.
2. Add A Supplement Known To Be For Building Block Of Serotonin
Did you know that 5-HTP is a huge part of serotonin production? This supplement has a natural mood-enhancing effect and can reduce stress and promote well-being. Dr. Abrams suggests this supplement to patients who have been on a low carbohydrate diet for an extended period of time because they may not be getting the correct nutrients since serotonin is manufactured in the gut. She says that taking it twice a day is best (once before bed and once in the morning), but if you're taking an antidepressant, you should check with your doctor first.
3. Use Negative Ions To Increase Your Serotonin Levels
The science-based version of why this five-star-rated "healing mat" works is because the negative ions in it have a positive effect on the rate in which serotonin is oxidized in your bloodstream. That basically means that you'll be more alert and less tired. One user said that it's perfect for "those with busy lifestyles and especially busy minds."
It's a healing mat that's also infused with amethyst, which it promises can promote the production of hormones and encourage circulatory system health. Another reviewer, who says they lay on the mat for about 45 minutes to an hour at a time, noted, "I have crappy sinuses and constantly 'whistle' when I breathe in through my nose. One of the things I noticed right away was that I could breathe clearly while on it and now those effects are lasting a bit longer."
4. A Balanced Mood Means A Positive Attitude
If you aren't interested in taking an antidepressant, a St. John's Wort supplement is a good substitute. Of course, you should always take what your doctor says into consideration, so ask them about this natural supplement made with vitamins, minerals, and herbal extracts. One user said, "My doctor took me off my antidepressants and I began taking this supplement on my own. I cannot tell you how amazed I was that within a few days, I felt a considerable positive difference."
5. Sit In Front Of This Light To Get Rid Of The Blues
It's a common misconception that all people with low serotonin levels are inherently depressed — both Dr. Garrett and Dr. Abrams told me that this is not actually the case. Still, for some people, the two go hand in hand. If you suffer from seasonal affective disorder (SAD) or have a sleep disorder, a light therapy lamp can be a really great investment. Just make sure you're getting the right one: according to the Mayo Clinic, some light lamps are made for skin disorders and not to help treat SAD. This one is perfect because it's super portable, lightweight, and packable. It's also powered through a USB port so you don't need to worry about bringing any power devices if you're traveling.
6. Vitamin D Can Actually Control How Much Serotonin Is Produced
Dr. Garrett often tells her patients to start taking vitamin D if they are showing symptoms of low serotonin levels. It supports your immune system and your muscle health, but did you know that it works together with omega-3 fatty acids to "control serotonin synthesis?" In fact, scientists believe that vitamin D increases the amount of monoamines (chemicals), like serotonin, in the brain. And on top of all that, taking vitamin D can help give you strong bones. As always, though, it's important to consult your regular doctor prior to starting any vitamin or supplement regimens.
7. Relax A Little With Some Aromatherapy
Aromatherapy won't necessarily cause serotonin production, but studies have shown that certain scents will help you to relax which can lead to a better night of rest. More sleep, in turn, can actually promote the production of serotonin over time. I'd go with a scent like lavender, lemongrass or frankincense, which all have anti-anxiety properties. You can use them on their own by dabbing a tiny bit of the scent on your temples, or pour a few drops into an aromatherapy diffusor.
8. Add A Few Drops Of Essential Oils Into An Aromatherapy Diffusor
Speaking of relaxing scents, if you're into creating a relaxing environment for yourself, it's hard to go wrong with an aromatherapy essential oil diffusor. It's a misting humidifier that only gets better when you add the oil of your choice. Even better is the fact that it changes between seven different soothing colors depending on your mood. One user said that this is a great option if you don't want your diffusor to run out of water quickly, since you can fit about 10 ounces in this one. Plus, it stays on for up to 10 hours before it automatically shuts off once it's empty.
9. Make Sure You're Getting Enough Nutrients To Create Serotonin
Dr. Abrams explains, "A lack of B vitamins, specifically B6 can be an issue as B6 is necessary to convert tryptophan to serotonin." It's important to make sure you have an adequate level of B-6 in your body at all times so that you can produce the right hormones and metabolize everything correctly. Plus, it helps convert food into energy, and can be very good for your heart and eye health.
10. Find Something To Be Happy About Each Day
You can boost your serotonin levels a little each day by finding things to be happy about — in fact, I used to do this when I was suffering with depression and it really helped me. It's actually pretty simple, and this journal makes it even easier.
For the next five years you'll write down one sentence every day, and I suggest trying to find something positive to say. It doesn't have to be a life-changing moment — after all, you definitely aren't going to have 1,825 perfect days. Still, try to find at least one good thing daily, even if it's as small as someone smiling at you or completing a task you were anxious about. It's a daily ritual that doesn't ask too much of you yet leaves you with a record you can glance at over whenever you're feeling stressed out and remember what makes you happy in life, as well as all you have to be proud of.
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