How Your Brain’s Thalamus Impacts Your Moods


Have you ever wondered why some people see the world through rose-colored glasses while others tend to view things in a negative light? It could have something to do with your thalamus.

“The thalamus is the brain’s emotional gatekeeper,” says Dr. Steven Storage, a child and adult psychiatrist at Amen Clinics. It influences how you see the world. In fact, new research points to the thalamus as the primary brain region involved in major depressive disorder.


The thalamus is the brain’s emotional gatekeeper, according to Dr. Steven Storage, a child and adult psychiatrist at Amen Clinics. It influences how you see the world. Click To Tweet

Dr. Storage shared his insights on the thalamus and how it influences moods with a young patient in a recent episode of Scan My Brain. In this candid conversation, Dr. Storage shared how this brain region can contribute to depression and lack of motivation. He also offered tips on how to balance activity in this important brain region for brighter moods.


The thalamus is a large structure deep in the center of your brain that acts like a relay station. It relays information from the outside world to your cerebral cortex. The cerebral cortex is the wrinkly, walnut-shaped structure that makes up the outermost portion of the brain. After receiving the data from the thalamus, it processes and interprets it.

The thalamus also relays information from many other structures within the brain, including:

  • Brainstem
  • Basal ganglia
  • Cerebellum
  • Frontal lobes
  • Hypothalamus

Inputs from these brain regions are forwarded to the cerebral cortex.


Because your thalamus is connected to so many parts of the brain, it influences a wide range of important functions. Primarily, it acts as a relay station for sensory and motor information.

  • Sensory information: Incoming sensory information—sight, sounds, taste, and touch (but not smell) —is filtered through your thalamus before being routed to your cerebral cortex.
  • Motor information: Incoming information related to movement also passes through your thalamus on its way to the cerebral cortex.

In addition to its functions as a relay station, the thalamus plays an important role in several other areas, including:

  • Processing emotions: An important function of this area of the brain involves processing and regulating emotions.
  • Memory and learning: Your thalamus is involved in forming and storing memories as well as learning.
  • Motivation: Through its connections with the hypothalamus and frontal lobes, the thalamus plays a role in motivated behaviors. These include our basic needs for survival, such as eating when hungry, drinking when thirsty, and engaging in sexual activity to procreate.
  • Alertness: The thalamus communicates with the brainstem to modify levels of consciousness.


The thalamus is part of the limbic system, which is considered the emotional center of the brain. A growing body of research shows that thalamus function is related to your moods and may be implicated in mood disorders, such as major depressive disorder (MDD).

In the 2023 study in NeuroImage: Clinical mentioned above, researchers suggested that “the thalamus is the most crucial causal hub for MDD.”

Functional brain imaging with SPECT at Amen Clinics also shows that activity levels in this part of the limbic system are connected to moods. SPECT is an imaging technology that measures blood flow and activity in the brain.

On SPECT scans, “some people have an active thalamus because they tend to be really sensitive, empathetic people,” says Dr. Storage.

Based on over 225,000 SPECT scans at Amen Clinics, it has become clear that when activity levels in the thalamus are too high it is associated with increased risk for low moods and clinical depression. Other brain-imaging studies suggest that the thalamus also plays a role in posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).

Overactivity in the thalamus is also commonly seen in people who experience chronic pain. This isn’t surprising considering that scientific research has found a strong association between chronic pain and depression. In fact, up to 75% of people with depression also had chronic pain in a study in the Journal of Neurology, Neurosurgery, & Psychiatry.


Overactivity in the thalamus is treatable. Calming activity in this brain region can enhance moods and motivation. According to Dr. Storage, “Boosting serotonin in your brain is the key for calming the thalamus.”

There are several natural ways to boost serotonin in the brain to balance activity in the thalamus. Here are 4 simple strategies you can incorporate into your daily life.

1. Eat pumpkin seeds.

Pumpkin seeds are full of tryptophan and tyrosine, both of which are precursors to serotonin. The more tryptophan you get in your brain, the more serotonin you produce.

2. Eat more salmon.

This delicious fish boosts serotonin in 2 important ways. First, eating just 6 ounces of salmon provides 570mg of tryptophan (over 200% of the RDI). Second, salmon is abundant in omega-3 fatty acids. These fatty acids increase serotonin production in the brain, according to research.

3. Exercise on a regular basis.

Physical activity helps get more tryptophan into the brain, which can increase serotonin levels.

4. Take 5HTP.

A naturally occurring amino acid, 5HTP helps the body produce serotonin. Taking a 5HTP nutritional supplement may help boost serotonin in the brain.

If you struggle with mood issues, try these natural serotonin boosters. If you don’t notice any improvements, it may be time to seek help from a mental health professional for additional treatment options.

Brain SPECT imaging can be very helpful in determining if overactivity in the thalamus is contributing to mood problems, or if depressive symptoms are due to other underlying issues. How can you know unless you look?

Depression, PTSD, and other mental health issues can’t wait. At Amen Clinics, we’re here for you. We offer in-clinic brain scanning and appointments, as well as mental telehealth, clinical evaluations, and therapy for adults, teens, children, and couples. Find out more by speaking to a specialist today at 888-288-9834 or visit our contact page here.


  1. My eye doctor says my eyes not working is a brain problem because of my age not an eye problem. Would a spec scan confirm that and is it covered but insurance??

    Comment by Janet Gibbens Lopez — August 4, 2023 @ 8:20 AM

  2. I have had several strokes in the thalamus area of my brain. I have balance problems due to these. Are there nutrients that might support my thalamus gland and help balance challenges?

    Comment by Kathleen — August 4, 2023 @ 9:05 AM

  3. I will try the suggestions in the article , and see if I can do better .. I hope I can take less medication with these suggestions..

    Comment by Tracy Lynn Knight — August 4, 2023 @ 10:11 AM

  4. Enjoy your articles. This one on thalamus is most interesting. Helps me understand the stroke that struck me.

    Comment by Jane Jones — August 4, 2023 @ 12:08 PM

  5. Dp you have treatment for schizophrenia

    Comment by Suchita bhole — August 4, 2023 @ 3:17 PM

  6. Thank you for great information and all you doing. And would like to do brain scan, if it be more affordable?

    Comment by Romy — August 4, 2023 @ 10:19 PM

  7. Is it safe to take 5HTP when already taking prescribed anti depressants?

    Comment by Becky — August 5, 2023 @ 8:44 AM

  8. Can you take 5HTP if you are already taking anti depressants?

    Comment by Becky — August 6, 2023 @ 2:38 PM

  9. Regards for helping out, good info .

    Comment by zoritoler imol — November 14, 2023 @ 8:51 AM

  10. excellent advice!

    Comment by Doug Morris — November 30, 2023 @ 8:50 PM

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