How to increase serotonin in the brain without drugs

Aerobic exercise has been shown to elevate mood

As a follow-on to my last post on depression, I would like to direct you to an article I have stumbled upon from the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience (1) published in 2007.

Its primary focus is on individuals with a serotonin-related susceptibility to depression, and nonpharmacologic methods of increasing serotonin to prevent depression in those with such a susceptibility.

Nonpharmacologic methods of raising brain serotonin may not only improve mood and social functioning of healthy people — a worthwhile objective even without additional considerations — but would also make it possible to test the idea that increases in brain serotonin may help protect against the onset of various mental and physical disorders.

The article discusses four possible strategies that are worth further investigation:

1. Altering Thought Patterns

The idea that alterations in thought, either self-induced or due to psychotherapy, can alter brain metabolism is not new. Numerous studies have demonstrated changes in blood flow in such circumstances. However, reports related to specific transmitters are much less common. In one recent study, meditation was reported to increase release of dopamine.The study by Perreau-Linck and colleagues (2) is the first to report that self-induced changes in mood can influence serotonin synthesis.

2. Exposure to Bright Light

Bright light is, of course, a standard treatment for seasonal depression, but a few studies also suggest that it is an effective treatment for nonseasonal depression and also reduces depressed mood in women with premenstrual dysphoric disorder and in pregnant women suffering from depression.

3. Exercise

A third strategy that may raise brain serotonin is exercise. A comprehensive review of the relation between exercise and mood concluded that antidepressant and anxiolytic effects have been clearly demonstrated.

4. Diet

According to some evidence, tryptophan, which increases brain serotonin  is an effective antidepressant in mild-to-moderate depression. Further, in healthy people with high trait irritability, it increases agreeableness, decreases quarrelsomeness and improves mood. However, the idea, common in popular culture, that a high-protein food such as turkey will raise brain tryptophan and serotonin is, unfortunately, false. Another popular myth that is widespread on the Internet is that bananas improve mood because of their serotonin content. Although it is true that bananas contain serotonin, it does not cross the blood–brain barrier.

To read this article in full please click here.

1. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 November; 32(6): 394–399.

2. Perreau-Linck E, Beauregard M, Gravel P, et al. In vivo measurements of brain trapping of α-[11C]methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2007;32:430-4.