Try These 9 Natural Serotonin Boosters for Happier Moods and Less Worry


You may think life circumstances determine your mood, but there are seven brain neurochemicals that also have a huge impact on how you feel. Serotonin is one of them.

Known as the “feel-good” neurotransmitter, serotonin regulates not just your mood, but a number of additional functions such as appetite, sexual desire, sleep, stress, and memory, to name a few. When serotonin levels are imbalanced, even a slight amount, it can trigger a negative mood, disrupt your sleep, increase your appetite, or lead to emotional overeating. Low levels of serotonin can also affect your thinking causing you to get stuck in worry and negative thoughts.

Serotonin influences us to be more open-minded, flexible, and adaptive—and it helps us to focus our attention away from worries and be amenable to cooperating with others. Click To Tweet

While this powerful neurochemical can help you feel good, it can also cause you to feel bad when you have suboptimal amounts. Here’s what you need to know about serotonin, and how to keep your body’s serotonin levels balanced to maximize your happiness.


In simple terms, serotonin is a chemical messenger that transmits information between nerve cells and throughout your body. About 5-10% of your body’s serotonin is produced in the brain’s raphe nuclei, located in the brainstem. The other 90-95% is surprisingly synthesized in your gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan, which has to be obtained in your diet.

Serotonin influences us to be more open-minded, flexible, and adaptive—and it helps us to focus our attention away from worries and be amenable to cooperating with others. When you feel respected by others and have healthy self-esteem, serotonin increases—and conversely, when you feel disrespected, serotonin levels go down. Hence, it plays an indispensable role in helping us to navigate life well. Serotonin also plays a role in sleeping, eating, digestion, blocking pain, and blood platelet function to heal wounds!


Less than adequate levels of serotonin are associated with low mood, worry, anxious feelings, poor memory, pain, aggression, suicidality, low self-esteem, oppositional behavior, rigidity, and difficulty dealing with new, changing, or unplanned events. On the flip side, higher levels of serotonin are associated with brighter moods, feeling more respected, and greater flexibility.

Experts are not entirely sure why some people have low serotonin levels. It is thought that genetic factors, brain changes due to aging, chronic stress, lack of sunlight and physical activity, and chronic pain may play a role.

Too much serotonin, better known as serotonin syndrome, shows signs that can be mild or severe and can be life-threatening. It’s often caused by a change in medication. Of course, the key to feeling good is making choices that support healthy serotonin levels in the brain and body. Below are nine researched ways to balance serotonin.


1. Consume Tryptophan-Rich Foods

Since your body needs to get the essential amino acid tryptophan from the diet to make serotonin, eating tryptophan-rich foods can help increase serotonin levels. Animal proteins such as lean chicken and turkey, beef, and pork are some of the richest sources of tryptophan. Other good sources include salmon, soybeans, milk, pumpkin seed, oats, and eggs. It’s important to combine tryptophan-rich foods with complex carbs (such as sweet potatoes, quinoa, veggies, legumes, fruits, whole grains, etc.), which helps drive tryptophan to the brain.

2. Eat More Seafood

The omega-3 fatty acids eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA) and docosahexaenoic acid (DHA) and vitamin D play critical roles in serotonin synthesis and release, according to a study published in the Federation of American Societies of Experimental Biology (FASEB). Ensuring your body has healthy levels of these three nutrients helps to optimize brain serotonin concentration and function. Both nutrients are plentiful in wild-caught fish such as salmon, sardines, Atlantic mackerel, cod, herring, lake trout, and canned light tuna. If you have trouble consuming adequate amounts of seafood and vitamin D, consider supplementing.

3. Make Positive Comparisons

When you negatively compare yourself to others, it erodes your self-esteem. The antidote to this kind of negative thinking is to focus on what you have and write it down. This action can give you an emotional boost, according to research, likely increasing serotonin levels. A daily focus on what you are grateful for can help build neural pathways that make it easier to recognize what is right about yourself, instead of always focusing on what you lack.

4. Exercise

Exercise helps to drive tryptophan into the brain, which can turbocharge serotonin levels. One review study found that exercise increases the firing rates of serotonin neurons. Research has demonstrated that exercise can boost mood and cognitive flexibility.

5. Take Serotonin-Boosting Nutritional Supplements

Try supplementing with targeted supplements that have shown some indication of helping to optimize serotonin levels in the body. 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), curcumin, St. John’s Wort, magnesium, and B vitamins have all been associated with increased serotonin levels in studies.

6. Enjoy Regular Massage

Research indicates that chronic stress negatively impacts serotonin production and hinders serotonin receptor function. Massage counters stress. One study evaluated 84 pregnant women with depression. Those who received a 20-minute massage twice a week reported feeling less anxious and depressed and had higher serotonin and dopamine levels and lower cortisol levels after four months.

7. Get Sunlight or Bright Light Therapy

Getting sunlight or bright light therapy increases serotonin levels and improves mood. One Australian study found higher serotonin levels in individuals who were exposed to sunnier days. Getting 15 minutes or less is enough to make a difference. Bright light therapy has been shown to have mood-boosting effects in people struggling with depression, as well as seasonal affective disorder, according to research. This convenient method allows you to safely receive the benefit of light independent of the weather outside.

8. Enjoy Meditation and Downtime

Spiritual contemplation and meditation increase serotonin levels, some research indicates. Take time out of your day for reflection and contemplation.

9. Keep Your Thoughts Positive

Your thoughts are powerful. In fact, research indicates your thoughts influence how you feel and the serotonin your brain makes. In one study that used positron emission tomography (PET) scans, researchers measured serotonin levels in healthy subjects when they focused on positive, negative, and neutral thoughts. Focusing on positive thoughts was correlated with increased levels of serotonin. If you focus on something positive, your serotonin levels increase, and you feel better!

Depression, anxiety, 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. I have had bipolar disorder for 37 years 10 TMS, Ketamine, ECT, medication the whole time. But Psychiatrist had a brain scan sorry there are typos and I don’t know how to correct that my psychiatrist said a spec scan wouldn’t do me any good. I am interested in knowing if you think the spec scam can help me. My number is 678-756-0265 I also have Pseudodementia

    Comment by Sonya Kennedy — December 28, 2022 @ 5:55 AM

  2. I can’t think a positive thought or feel happy if I tried. This has been going on for awhile now.
    I am not suicidal or anything like that. I am wondering if the car active was in many years ago could be the cause. I was knocked unconscious for 12 minutes.

    Comment by Kathy Harrington — January 9, 2023 @ 5:01 AM

  3. Sonya,
    I am a rehabilitation counselor who has primarily worked with people having diagnoses of substance use and mental health disorders for many years. (And I am not affiliated in any way with Amen Clinics or Dr. Amen.) The SPECT scan is a tool that can help treat an individual more effectively as brain areas that are functionally over and/or under active can be better targeted for treatment and other interventions. I have never had a patient get scanned while they were working with me (due to the nature of my work settings and an occasional obstinent medical provider) but knowing the information concerning brain health and healing, including viewing sample images, has been one of the most useful/helpful things I do with them. And scans are not always needed. I suggest to contact a clinic and discuss your needs and concerns with them.

    Comment by Alan Taylor — January 9, 2023 @ 5:33 AM

  4. What do you recommend to someone who has PKU and cannot eat any kind of protein? Excessive worry and anxiety are problematic for this person.

    Comment by Connie Bates — January 9, 2023 @ 7:37 AM

  5. excellent topic!

    Comment by Doug Morris — November 22, 2023 @ 5:17 PM

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