Serotonin can help regulate your mood. Here are several ways to increase serotonin without medication, such as exercise and increased sun exposure.

When you feel happy, you’re feeling the positive effects of serotonin. Having high serotonin levels in your blood can help prevent depression and provide a feeling of bliss.

Medications to treat depression and other mental health conditions can help boost your serotonin levels. But you can also try nonmedical ways to boost serotonin and improve your mood naturally.

For example, eating specific foods may help increase your serotonin levels. Other evidence-based suggestions may help boost your serotonin and live a happier life.

Serotonin is a brain chemical known as a neurotransmitter. It plays a significant role in biological processes like your:

  • mood
  • ability to think
  • anxiety levels
  • aggression
  • pain perception
  • sexual desire
  • sleep quality
  • appetite

When you meet your basic needs of food, water, and a good night’s sleep, the body reacts by raising serotonin levels and causing a sensation of happiness.

But the human body and mind are very complex. Stress and serotonin deficiencies can lead to issues with mood, requiring you to supplement serotonin to manage your mental health.

1. Diet

Nutrients found in foods and supplements can support healthy serotonin levels.

Here are some examples:

  • Complex carbohydrates: whole grains, vegetables, and fruits
  • Proteins: milk, fish, whole grains, tofu, nuts, and seeds
  • Vitamins: vitamin C, B, magnesium, and selenium
  • Caffeine: coffee, tea, and other caffeinated beverages
  • Probiotics: yogurt and other fermented foods or supplements

Amino acids help build protein and produce serotonin. Tryptophan is an amino acid that directly impacts serotonin. Many protein-rich foods contain tryptophan.

Also, carbohydrates make tryptophan more active in the brain, increasing serotonin production.

2. Exercise

Exercise has many mental and physical health benefits. People who remain physically active have lower rates of depression and anxiety. Also, regular exercise may be just as powerful in treating mood disorders as medications.

A 2017 review found that serotonin increased in the brain after 2 weeks of low intensity treadmill running. The review suggests that consistent physical activity may produce higher levels of serotonin that can help promote pain relief over time.

3. Sunlight

Getting outside in the sun is another way to enhance serotonin. When you absorb sunlight through your eyes and skin, it triggers the brain to produce more serotonin.

When your exposure to sunlight decreases in the winter and fall, it can lead to serotonin deficiency, also known as seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Less sun exposure causes a reduction in serotonin, which can lead to symptoms of depression.

4. Fish oil

When your serotonin is low, you may experience:

  • impulsiveness
  • anxiety
  • difficulty with long-term planning
  • social difficulties

Fish oil contains fatty acids and vitamin D that may help better regulate your mood. A 2015 review suggests that consuming fish oil can help regulate serotonin production.

Vitamin D helps improve serotonin production. Also, omega-3 fatty acids, which you can get through food or fish oil supplements, are essential for maintaining optimal serotonin levels.

Conversely, low levels of omega-3 fatty acids may impair serotonin production and make you more likely to develop mental health conditions like bipolar disorder.

5. Meditation

When you meditate, you train your mind to focus on:

  • an object
  • a person
  • an idea

When your mind focuses on that one thing, it may help calm your thoughts and reduce anxiety levels.

A 2015 review also found that people experienced a rise in serotonin levels after meditation sessions. Meditation also helps balance other neurotransmitters like dopamine and norepinephrine.

6. Massage

Have you ever hugged a loved one or gotten a massage and instantly felt more relaxed and less worried? Touch can have a significant impact on your serotonin levels.

The same 2015 review suggests that massage therapy increases serotonin and dopamine levels, improving happiness and reducing pain.

You may also feel similar effects when a loved one hugs or touches you.

You can sometimes have too much of a good thing, even serotonin.

Your body automatically regulates itself to prevent the overproduction of serotonin. But some medications may cause serotonin toxicity, a condition known as serotonin syndrome.

The symptoms of serotonin syndrome appear quickly and may include:

  • tremors
  • hyperthermia
  • shock
  • anxiety
  • restlessness
  • nausea and vomiting

Medications that affect your serotonin levels can cause serotonin syndrome, including:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs): citalopram and fluoxetine
  • Serotonin modulators: trazodone and vilazodone
  • Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs): phenelzine, isocarboxazid, selegiline, tranylcypromine
  • Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs): venlafaxine
  • Supplements: tryptophan and St. John’s wort
  • Other substances: amphetamines, triptans, cocaine, levodopa

Talking with a doctor about any medications, supplements, and drugs you’re taking can help you avoid potentially dangerous interactions.

What causes a lack of serotonin?

Serotonin deficiency may be caused by:

  • chronic stress or pain
  • genetic factors
  • reduced exposure to sunlight
  • lack of nutritious foods in your diet
  • a sedentary lifestyle

What are the signs of low serotonin levels?

Serotonin deficiency is also associated with emotional and physical conditions, such as:

  • anxiety
  • depression
  • suicidal behavior
  • obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

In addition, normal levels of serotonin can regulate bowel movements, improve bone health, and help with forming blood clots . Serotonin deficiency can lead to physical conditions:

  • osteoporosis
  • gastrointestinal issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • possible excessive bleeding due to a blood clot disorder

You may also notice:

  • changes in your mood
  • irregular sleep patterns
  • memory problems
  • changes in sexual functioning

What does serotonin do to your body?

Serotonin is a natural mood booster that affects several systems and functions throughout your body.

For example, increased serotonin can help regulate your mood, improve sleeping patterns, and promote a healthy digestive system.

Serotonin is a brain chemical that makes you feel happy. You can improve your serotonin levels in ways that don’t involve medication.

You may find it helpful to explore alternative therapies for mood disorders. But if you’re experiencing symptoms of depression or sadness, consider talking with a mental health professional.

If you’re looking for additional resources on how to manage depression symptoms or low mood, consider visiting:

If you want to find out whether your low mood is a sign of depression, consider taking the Psych Central medically reviewed depression test.