Serotonin is a molecule that acts as a hormone and a neurotransmitter, which is essential in mental and physical health. It is a key component of good immune function (1). Serotonin is associated with positive mood. It is our ‘feel good‘ or ‘happy‘ hormone.
I write this article to inform you that there are proactive ways to positively modify your serotonin levels.
Research shows that adequate blood levels of serotonin are associated with positive moods and people with low levels tend to be prone to anxiety and depression.
“…negative emotions were associated with increased disability due to mental and physical disorders, increased incidence of depression, increased suicide and increased mortality up to 2 decades later. Positive emotions protected against these outcomes.” (2)
In 2007, Dr Simon Young, PhD, editor in chief of the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience wrote an editorial “How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs” (2).
Here is a brief summary.
Four ways to increase your serotonin levels:
- Create your own happier, positive moods -self inducing positive moods is proven possible.
- Exposure to bright light – like outdoor daylight
- Exercise – or physical activity of your choice
- Nutritional intake of tryptophan may help too
1. Creating your positive emotions
Research shows that serotonin levels can be influenced by self-induced changes in mood. Now, more than ever, is the time to learn how to foster inner peace happiness. Meditation and mindfulness practices, as well as building and maintaining a social support structure, are meaningful ways to improve positive emotions. You can also boost your feel good hormones by simply practicing feeling gratitude. If needed, behavioral therapy should be considered.
I find Taiji-Qigong practice to be an excellent way of combining exercise and mindfulness. Yoga can serve the same purpose. I will say more about exercise below.
2. Shining a Bright Light
Exposure to bright light enhances serotonin production in the body. Even on a cloudy day outdoor light can reach a level of 1000 Lux. This level of light is not normally achieved indoors.
You should get outdoors when the weather permits, whether it’s to play, exercise, do yard chores or simply do some of your reading.
You can also acquire “happy lights”. These are available in stores or online. They have been used to treat seasonal affective disorder. You don’t need to be diagnosed with this disorder to make use of them. I am writing this article on a rainy Saturday afternoon, sitting next to my Verilux HappyLight Energy Lamp.
3. Exercise for your mood
In his editorial, Dr Young reports that exercise increases serotonin function in the human brain (2). This is well supported by research. The mechanism may have to do with improved metabolism of the amino acid tryptophan, the precursor to serotonin. Exercise and physical activity do indeed improve mood. Whatever the mechanism, finding ways to indulge in aerobic physical activity….and even better in the bright light of the outdoors, is highly likely to boost your serotonin levels.
4. Eating right can help
The fourth way to improve your serotonin levels may be to increase dietary intake of the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin in our bodies.
Studies have shown that tryptophan supplementation can have positive effects on anxiety and depression (2,3,4). While I won’t give specific dietary or supplementation advice here, it may be worth consuming foods high in tryptophan, because tryptophan deficiency will lead to low serotonin levels.
Foods high in tryptophan are: nuts and seeds (pumpkin and squash) , salmon and other fish, soy food, beans and lentils, eggs or egg protein, cheese, turkey and chicken, oats and oat bran.
Balanced diet is always key to good health. Please consult with a registered dietitian to help determine your specific needs.
In conclusion, I encourage you to find strategies that work for you to maintain a positive and proactive approach to maintaining a healthy immune system. I hope to have given you food for thought in finding a combination of exercise, meditation/mindfulness practices, positive thinking and proper diet. These are just a few thoughts to keep you focused on positive things, because more than ever we need to occupy ourselves with good things to detract from all the negative stuff going around.
In the upcoming days, I will endeavor to continue to build on these ideas, and more, to help you find what works for you.
You can contact me via email or phone to discuss any concerns or questions you may have.
Domenic@HealthyMoves-pa.com or 610-725-0995
- Herr et al. Effects of Serotonin on Immune cells. Frontiers in Cardiovascular Medicine. July 2017 doi: 10.3389/fcvm.2017.00048
- Young, SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci 2007;32(6):394-9.
- Friedman, M. Analysis, Nutrition, and Health Benefits of Tryptophan. International Journal of Tryptophan Research. 2018; Volume 11: 1–12
- Lindseth et al. Effects of Dietary Tryptophan on Affective Disorders. Arch Psychiatr Nurs. 2015 April ; 29(2): 102–107. doi:10.1016/j.apnu.2014.11.008.20
Why Stretch the Pectoral muscles?
Two good reasons to stretch your pectoral muscles are; 1) to decrease shoulder, neck and arm pain, and 2) to improve your posture. Do you remember being told to sit up or stand up straight? Can you relate to slouching? Tension in the front shoulder, and chest (pectoral ) muscles (aka pecs), is largely responsible for the common forward shoulder posture, which accompanies the slouching posture. The following stretches will help you straighten your posture and free up your shoulder function.
How to Stretch
- Begin by facing a wall.
- Stretch out your right arm – it should be a little below horizontal.
- Place your right palm against the wall.
- Rotate your trunk slowly to the left – just far enough to to begin to feel a stretch in the front of the right shoulder and/or upper arm.
- Your feet should align parallel to the wall.
- Place your left hand on the wall in front of your chest.
- Keep your right shoulder blade down – i.e. don’t let the shoulder shrug upward.
- Hold each stretch for 20 to 30 seconds.
- Repeat 3 times with each side read more…
Surviving Snow Shoveling
With snow shoveling, specially the wet heavy stuff, comes the increased incidences of heart attacks and back injuries.
Why the Heart Attacks?
The reason for the heart attacks, while shoveling, is over stressing the heart with exertion.
The two main reasons for this are: 1- lack of physical conditioning and 2- trying to get the job done too quickly.
You need to know your limits and you need to pace yourself. However, when the snow falls, and you need to get to work, the scramble is on to move as much snow as quickly as possible. Hence, the heart attack or injured back.
Why the back injuries?
Again, the need to know your limits and pacing yourself are paramount. There is also the need to use proper body mechanics in order to minimize strain on the back . As in every physical activity, you need to develop a balance between strength, flexibility and cardiovascular fitness. read more…
Why does raking leaves cause back pain? Most of the time this is because you are unwittingly straining the back muscles and joints of the spine..
It doesn’t have to be that way. Using proper body mechanics when raking, as well as performing other chores around the house, can greatly reduce back pain, strain and other injuries.
The safe way to rake leaves is to let your arms and legs do the work. Do not twist your body, or sweep to the side. Sweeping to the side requires twisting of the body. This creates torsion forces on the muscles, joints and other tissues protecting the spine. These torsion forces are unnecessarily strenuous, and damaging to your spine. Keep your movements in the forward and backward direction only. read more…
What are the hip flexor muscles?
IThe hip flexor muscles are responsible for raising the thigh toward the trunk – i.e. hip flexion. They are active in stepping forward when walking or climbing stairs. They are also important in the kicking motion. This muscle group includes the Psoas Major, Psoas Minor and Iliacus muscles. They are often referred to as the Iliopsoas muscles and are generally located in the front of the lower spine, pelvis and hip. Other muscles of the thigh also assist in hip flexion.
Why stretch the hip flexors? read more…
Why Stretch the hip abductor muscles?
The hip abductor muscles are the group of muscles responsible for moving the hip away from the midline of the body.
These include the Gluteus muscles, which make up your buttocks. Also included in the abductor group is the priformis, which is one of four deep rotator muscles of the hip. Because of their location, these muscles play an important role in stabilizing the pelvis when standing. This is also crucial for good back mechanics. It is important to note that tight hip abductors will adversely affect your low back function and your gait (i.e. your walking and running).