Mood Booster | What You Need Know About Serotonin
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When a chemical in the body is considered an all-natural mood booster, you may want to take notice. In fact, when you’re feeling happy and at ease, you’re likely feeling the effects of serotonin. The hormone is the driving factor behind boosting your mood (among other things) and for that alone, it’s worth knowing exactly why it’s so important to your overall health. Here’s a look at what you need to know about serotonin and tips on how to boost it.
It’s a Happy Hormone
According to researchers, serotonin plays a major role in regulating your mood and overall demeanor—hence why it’s considered a happy hormone. In fact, it’s so powerful in regulating moods that research has found low levels of the chemical in the brain are linked to depression. Researchers, though, are unsure if it’s the classic case of the chicken before the egg: do low levels of serotonin cause depression, or does depression instigate a drop in serotonin levels? What we do know, though, is that the higher one’s serotonin levels are, the happier they tend to be.
What Does It Affect?
Serotonin, of course, affects moods but it also plays a major role in other facets of health including sexual health, sleep, stress response, blood clotting ability, body temperature, digestion, memory, and more. Sleep health, for example, is one important part that serotonin influences. According to the Cleveland Clinic, dopamine and serotonin combine to determine how well and how long you actually sleep. Likewise, bodies also need serotonin to create melatonin, which is a hormone that regulates your sleep-wake cycle; without it, overall sleep quality can be impacted in a negative way.
How Do You Boost It?
It’s possible that exercising—walking, biking, weight lifting, cycling, swimming—can naturally increase levels. Several studies indicate that any type of exercise, vigorous or less intensive, can have the same effect on boosting serotonin levels.
In addition to exercising, many foods can help. Foods such as salmon, eggs, cheese, pineapple, tofu, and more are chock-full of tryptophan, which is an amino acid from which serotonin is made. By increasing consumption of these tryptophan-rich foods, serotonin levels may increase on their own.
Increasing your exposure to sunlight may also aid in boosting your levels. Vitamin D exposure via the sun is important to the body for a whole host of reasons other than increased serotonin. (See the sidebar for more on how vitamin D affects your overall health.) One of the more effective prescription ways to increase serotonin is via antidepressants, which are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). Per the Cleveland Clinic, these work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain.
If you decide you’re in need of a little boost, the great news is that levels of this happy hormone can be raised in a variety of ways. Your doctor can better help guide you to the best choice for you.
Getting enough vitamin D is crucial to helping your body work at full speed. This powerhouse vitamin is vital to overall bone health (it helps restore and maintain calcium in bones), immune function, muscle movement, bone strength, and more. It also plays a major role in warding off infections and diseases—everything from the common cold to diabetes and dementia. Unfortunately, though, it’s often one of the most deficient vitamins. The two big causes for low vitamin D: poor nutrition and lack of sunlight.
Thankfully, a few simple tweaks to diet and lifestyle can help alleviate vitamin D deficiencies. The primary natural source is sun exposure—from May to September just fifteen to twenty minutes in the sun sans sunscreen can help boost levels. (Most sunscreens block the beneficial vitamin D from the sun’s rays.) Outside of sun exposure, incorporating vitamin D–rich foods daily into your diet is just as helpful. Foods such as fatty, oily fish like salmon are a great source, while supplements can also help. Contact your doctor, as always, to test your levels and determine how to proceed.