7 Serotonin-Boosting Foods

Life has a series of events that can affect you in many ways. These events can impact your mental health, resulting in potential mood disorders that disrupt your daily and natural functions. For some, it can be challenging to manage these conditions. Serotonin-boosting foods are one way to help.

In 2021, 34 percent of Americans aged 18 to 25 and 28 percent aged 26 to 49 suffered from various mental illnesses. You may be one of those who struggle with these disorders’ symptoms.

Your body produces serotonin, which can help improve your mood disorder symptoms. Keep reading below to learn more about the seven serotonin-boosting foods for mood disorders.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a monoamine neurotransmitter that can act as a hormone. It’s also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT).

As a monoamine neurotransmitter, serotonin controls the body’s movements, temperature, and systems, such as respiratory, cardiovascular, and digestive. Since it can act as a hormone, your body’s hormone secretion can also be influenced by it. Generally, serotonin transmits nerve cell messages to signal your body how to work.

Serotonin is also responsible for many body functions, including cognitive learning, memory retention, emotions, sexual behavior, and appetite. Having low serotonin levels can cause several health conditions, such as mood disorders. One of these is major depressive disorder, which can cause many changes in the body, like hair loss.

Keeping your serotonin levels normal is essential so your body can operate at a normal physical and mental rate. Your body’s serotonin is produced by an amino acid called tryptophan. This amino acid is essential in sustaining your protein, muscle health, enzymes, and neurotransmitters. Although the body can produce some amino acids, tryptophan is not one of them. It would be best to get it from specific serotonin-boosting foods in your diet.

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The Role of Serotonin in Body Functions

Serotonin is a vital body chemical. As a neurotransmitter and hormone, it works to maintain your overall health. This section outlines serotonin’s roles in your daily body functions.

Mood Improvement

Serotonin regulates your mood changes. This role can be considered its starting point in making you feel better. Some understand it as a “feel good” hormone that improves their mood. When you feel positive emotions, you are feeling the effects of serotonin.

Serotonin can make you feel more focused, calmer, and emotionally stable at normal levels. As a result, you’re more likely to be able to work and go through your day without feeling excessive stress. However, your emotions can be affected when your serotonin levels go down. This is why many medications include this chemical to treat mood disorders.


In your body, most serotonin receptors are found in the gastrointestinal tract (GI). They help your digestive system function by controlling bowel movements and maintaining GI protection. When eating, serotonin influences your appetite by letting you know your stomach is full.

Eating something that disagrees with you results in your gut releasing more serotonin to eliminate the unwanted food from your system. This is why high levels can cause nausea and vomiting. Medicines can help lower serotonin levels and alleviate these symptoms.

Sleep Regulation

Sleep is an essential part of life. It helps you re-energize yourself from a long and exhausting day. Regular sleeping patterns can support brain and physical health, which helps prevent stress and the likeliness of mood disorders. For adults, it is recommended to get seven or more hours of sleep every night.

The brain has a region in the hypothalamus that controls sleeping and waking patterns. This brain region can also produce serotonin receptors to regulate your sleeping cycle. These receptors are vital in melatonin production, which helps you fall asleep. Without serotonin, your melatonin levels can plummet, causing sleeplessness or insomnia.

Wound Healing

Your skin is a crucial body part because it holds body fluids, prevents dehydration, and protects you from damaging microbes that cause infections. Using serums, moisturizers, creams, and oils, such as camellia oil, can maintain skin health. These products are vital to keeping your skin sun-protected, fresh, and hydrated.

The skin can be damaged in various ways. Serotonin plays a role in the wound-healing process. Platelets produce this chemical to narrow a wound’s blood flow, which helps form clots. Clotting is necessary to protect the wound and prevent more blood loss.

What are mood disorders?

Mood disorders are mental health conditions that can affect anyone. They’re not to be confused with regular mood changes. Generally, mood disorders can impact your behavior and ability to accomplish daily tasks. This is why these conditions may result in constant, severe, and heightened sadness or anger.

Among the common mood disorders diagnosed are depression and bipolar disorder. Other conditions include:

  • Dysthymia
  • Premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD)
  • Disruptive mood dysregulation disorder (DMDD)
  • Substance-induced mood disorder

Fortunately, they can all be treated through medications and psychotherapy.

Biological, genetic, and environmental factors can cause mood disorders. Some people may have problems in specific parts of their brain, or have hereditary conditions. Others may have mood disorders due to stress, traumatic events, and abuse.

Since serotonin regulates brain functions for mood changes, low levels can cause these mood disorders. It’s essential to increase serotonin production to reduce the likelihood of these illnesses. The good news is that aside from medications and psychotherapy, serotonin-boosting foods can be a natural way to minimize mood disorders.

Foods to Naturally Boost Serotonin for Mood Disorders

Your serotonin levels can be low when your body doesn’t produce enough or isn’t effectively using it. If you’re aiming for a natural way to boost it, some foods can be good sources of serotonin. This is because they can contain the amino acid tryptophan.

Below are the seven serotonin-boosting foods for mood disorders.

1. Dairy Products

Dairy products are foods that are made from milk, which can be consumed as whole, low-fat, or skim. These products include cheese, yogurt, butter, and ice-cream, as well as condensed, dried, or evaporated milk. Milk can also have high calcium content, which benefits teeth and bone health.

These dairy foods contain tryptophan, an excellent source of serotonin production. However, most of them are not ideal for people with lactose intolerance. There are lactose-free versions of these foods, which can minimize symptoms. Those who are losing or maintaining weight can choose low-fat dairy products.

2. Eggs

Eggs are usually eaten in a hearty, stomach-filling breakfast. They are commonly known to have protein that can help maintain muscle and bone health and produce essential enzymes and hormones in your body. Protein can also increase tryptophan levels in your blood plasma.

The yolk has significant amounts of tryptophan. It’s also essential to cook your eggs healthily through boiling or poaching, as frying may contain unhealthy fat.

3. Salmon

Fish, such as salmon, can be a rich source of tryptophan. It also contains protein, vitamins, and omega-3 acids that can aid skin and heart health. Salmon may also balance cholesterol or lower your blood pressure.

4. Pineapple

Pineapples are tasty fruits that can be easily added to your diet. They contain vitamin C, which can support your immune system and offer antioxidant benefits. This vitamin can also maintain metabolism and fight inflammation. Pineapples are also rich in tryptophan, which increases serotonin production, making them a great serotonin-boosting food.

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5. Seeds, Oats & Nuts

Seeds, oats, and nuts may not contain the same tryptophan amount as meat and dairy foods, but their content can still be valuable for your serotonin production.

These foods are also excellent sources of fiber, which helps with blood sugar, digestion, and bowel movements. You can try flaxseeds, chia, hemp, sesame, and pumpkin seeds. For nuts, almonds, pistachios, and walnuts are ideal. Meanwhile, oats have different types: groats (rawest), instant, and rolled.

If you’re a vegan or vegetarian, these seeds, oats, and nuts can serve as alternatives for your diet.

6. Tofu

Tofu is an ideal source of tryptophan. You can use it as a protein substitute in many recipes suitable for vegans and vegetarians. You can also get tryptophan from other soy products, such as soya milk and soy sauce.

7. Chicken & Turkey

Aside from protein, poultry meats such as chicken and turkey also contain tryptophan. Even small amounts of chicken and turkey can provide valuable tryptophan content.

If you’re looking for less fat options, you can have lean meats like chicken breast to maintain weight.

Risks of High Serotonin Levels

Too much of something can result in unpleasant outcomes. For serotonin, high levels can lead to “serotonin syndrome.” This syndrome is usually caused by mood disorder medications that target serotonin levels. It can happen the first time you take serotonergic medications or when the dose is increased to treat your mood disorder. Your body’s system may be unable to process the increase in chemicals appropriately.

Overeating foods with high tryptophan may also cause the syndrome. It’s essential to keep track of your tryptophan intake and serotonin levels to prevent this from happening. 

Serotonin syndrome symptoms may vary. Some symptoms are mild, while others are severe enough to be fatal. These are some of the symptoms you can expect in serotonin syndrome:


  • Nervousness
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Pupil dilation
  • Diarrhea
  • Tremors


  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Shivering
  • Sweating
  • Muscle cramps, involuntary contractions, spasms, stiffness 


  • Disorientation, panicking
  • Abnormal heart rate
  • High blood pressure and body temperature
  • Seizures, convulsions
  • Fainting or passing out

These symptoms may start within 24 hours of high serotonin levels. However, some may experience them within a short time. Some can go away instantly, but others take time to leave your system. As soon as you feel these symptoms, consult your doctor. 

How is serotonin syndrome diagnosed?

There are no specific tests that can diagnose serotonin syndrome. Regardless, your doctor may rule out this condition based on physical exam results, symptoms, medical history, and prescription medicines that affect serotonin.

Telling your doctor everything helps them understand how high your serotonin levels may be. You should tell them about the products and foods you consume. These include medicines such as prescriptions, over-the-counter (OTCs), supplements, and herbal products.

Tell them if you’re taking illegal drugs. Your healthcare provider can help you better when they know what products may be causing the serotonin syndrome. These aspects can also help them determine whether you have other underlying conditions that cause similar symptoms to the syndrome.

Depending on the symptoms and severity, you will receive different treatments to treat the condition. These include relaxants, serotonin-blocking agents, and intravenous fluids (IV). 

Take note when incorporating serotonin-boosting foods that you shouldn’t treat a potential serotonin syndrome at home. This is to prevent you from worsening the existing symptoms.

Improve Your Mood Disorder with Serotonin

Serotonin is an essential component of your body. Without it, you may be unable to function for school, work, or other life commitments. This effect can lead to mood disorders that disrupt the quality of your life. As a result, some of your relationships and lifestyle can be impacted.

You can boost your serotonin levels with the help of foods. Other natural ways include exercising regularly, getting enough sunlight, and managing stress for relaxation. Nonetheless, you should still seek medical advice if you plan to create a serotonin-boosting routine. Your doctor can better advise you in managing your serotonin production for the best physical and mental health results.

Feature Image by Juan José Valencia Antía | Unsplash

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