Have you ever heard the saying, “happiness is an inside job?” This is true on many levels, and how your hormones and neurotransmitters act is part of it.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter but also acts like a hormone, and it helps you feel happy, calm, and focused. It’s derived from the amino acid tryptophan and is found primarily in the intestines, brain, and blood platelets. What may surprise you is serotonin impacts appetite and digestion and even plays a role in sleep.
Serotonin supplements won’t boost your mood because they cannot cross the blood-brain barrier. That means we have to rely upon boosting our serotonin levels in other ways. Here are 5 ways you can increase serotonin naturally.
1. Make Dietary Changes
Buying produce in season can help you receive adequate nutrition year-round and help balance hormones. Unfortunately, many Americans are at risk for nutrient deficiencies due to following the standard American diet. This eating pattern is low in fruits and veggies, and high in processed foods. In addition, added sugar, sodium, and saturated fat can wreak havoc on hormonal harmony as well as our holistic health. Coupled with eating produce out of season, these unfortunately common eating habits can make for an imbalanced body.
The good news is you can turn this around with some simple changes and increase serotonin naturally. One important nutrient for serotonin production is folate. Folate deficiency has been linked to depression and fatigue. During the spring and winter months, our average levels of nutrients like folate are lower when foods rich in folate, like dark-green leafy vegetables, are less abundant.
Another important nutrient serotonin is made from is tryptophan, which is mostly found in high-protein foods such as fish, poultry, and meat. However, we need carbohydrates to help with the mood-stabilizing effects. Eating carbs increases insulin, which helps with amino acid absorption.
That doesn’t mean you should eat more sugar. Instead, find healthier comfort foods to help adjust for possible drops in serotonin during the cooler months. Since fruit is a more nourishing substitute for processed sugar, you can enjoy winter produce such as apples, clementines, grapefruit, and oranges.
2. Move Your Body
Regular exercise may help naturally increase serotonin levels in the brain. Exercise helps regulate neurotransmitter levels and improves how they function. This ultimately helps us boost our moods and improves our mental outlook. Exercise and movement do not mean you have to exhaust yourself in the gym every day. Find something that you love to do. Go for a walk outside, jog, swim, dance, stretch or do yoga – there are many activities to get moving.
Exercise needs tend to change throughout life as well as throughout the seasons. If you’re new to exercise or it’s been a while since you’ve worked out regularly, ease your way in. Also, if you’re recovering from an injury or have a medical condition, check with your doctor before starting a new fitness activity or dramatically altering your routine. The important part is to move in a way that fits your lifestyle.
3. Create a Spiritual Practice
Research shows spiritual practice can decrease anxiety and depression. Plus, it helps boost melatonin and serotonin and lower cortisol – the “stress” hormone. Do a mantra meditation or prayer. Prayer and meditation help quiet negative internal dialogue and improve our sense of well-being.
If you already have a meditation or prayer practice that works well for you, that’s great! If you don’t, I encourage you to try a few options. Regardless of your religious or spiritual belief system, you will benefit from taking a few minutes for a prayer or meditation practice daily.
4. Check Your Vitamin D
Vitamin D helps regulate certain neurotransmitters, including serotonin. A major concern in winter is low vitamin D, which is more common in winter than any other season. Insufficient vitamin D can lead to low mood, so we want to participate in feel-good activities (like exercise and meditation) that help combat this effect.
In addition, due to changes in our hormones, winter tends to be a time of high set point for metabolism and stress adaptation. Thyroid hormone T3 and cortisol are higher in the winter than they are in the summer. For that reason, you’ll want to modify your food, movement, mindset, and skin care routines to help adjust for these changes. That means focusing on stress management and mindfulness practices, eating foods and moving in a way that supports healthy metabolism and moods, and choosing soothing and calming skin care. All of these actions will support serotonin levels as well.
5. Spend Time in the Sun
Wintertime often causes a drop in mood, but it doesn’t have to. Feel more cheerful without having to brave the elements by basking in the sunlight shining through a window in your home or workplace for five to twenty minutes. While most windows block the UVB rays your body needs to make vitamin D, you can still reap some benefits.
Exposure to sunlight is known for its ability to stimulate serotonin release, which happens when our eyes (retina) and skin come in contact with the sun’s rays. It’s best to do this on a day when the sun is shining brightly, but be mindful that the UVA rays coming through the window can still be damaging to your skin.
Window bathing is not as refreshing as breathing in the fresh air in direct sunlight. It also won’t allow for beneficial vitamin D synthesis in the skin. I encourage you to get outdoors for some vitamin D and fresh air when you can.
If you find that you regularly experience low moods, it’s important to speak to someone about it and get to the root cause. It could be related to hormonal imbalances or something else going on. However, many lifestyle choices can help keep your spirits high in the winter months and throughout the rest of the year. Discover more options for balance in my book, Natural Beauty Reset.
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