Topic summary contributed by volunteer(s): Mimi

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is found mainly in the brain, blood, and gastrointestinal tract. Known as the “happiness hormone,” serotonin helps maintain mood balance, leading to increased levels of happiness and calm and lower levels of anxiety. Serotonin helps with the regulation of sleep, mood, appetite, and other functions. Low levels of serotonin may contribute to insomnia, depression, and anxiety.

How to Boost Serotonin Naturally

In order for the body to make serotonin, it needs a sufficient supply of tryptophan, an amino acid found in many proteins. To maximize the mood-elevating effects of serotonin, one should eat foods with a high tryptophan-to-total-protein ratio. Seeds, such as sesame, sunflower, and pumpkin, possess this ratio and therefore naturally boost serotonin levels in the brain. Studies have shown that people eating plant-based diets have better mood states. For example, the Journal of Neural Transmission found that mood was significantly better in the vegetarian group than the mixed diet group.

Boosting Serotonin with Supplements or Drugs

Available as a dietary supplement, tryptophan is said to improve depression, anxiety, and sleep. Although marketed as a safe substance, potential side effects have been noted. Drugs are another option. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) like Prozac, which work by elevating levels of serotonin, are typically used as antidepressants for mood disorders. However, research has failed to show a clinically significant advantage for antidepressant medications over placebos, taking into account several studies that were never published. For severe depression, antidepressants performed better than placebos.

For substantiation of any statements of fact from the peer-reviewed medical literature, please see the associated videos below.

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