How to increase the serotonin level naturally?

Mood disorders are nowadays one of the most commonly encountered health conditions in the society. The most popular concept concerning the development of depression is the monoaminergic hypothesis, which underlies the imbalance in the level of the following neurotransmitters: serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine. Serotonin is considered to be the most significant one. In this article we will present a short review of actions you can undertake to increase the concentration of this neurotransmitter.

How to increase the serotonin level?

The list will be divided into two sections: things you can change in your lifestyle, and natural dietary supplements and nutritional treatments. As far as lifestyle is concerned, you should:

  1. Do sports. During physical activity, BCAA amino acid stocks are depleted, competing for transporters to the brain with tryptophan. When their level decreases, tryptophan can migrate from the peripheral blood to the brain more freely and transform into serotonin.
  2. Listen to classical music. In a rat study, it was found that listening to music (Mozart sonata in that case) resulted in increased serotonin release in the brain [1].
  3. Stay longer in the sun. The amount and intensity of sunlight which reaches us affects serotonin production.

Once we have our lifestyle modified, let’s move on to the issues of nutrition and supplementation:

Do not limit carbohydrate consumption excessively [2]. These compounds facilitate tryptophan transportation to the brain, which increases the level of serotonin, just like exercise. Of course you have to choose carbohydrates from valuable and unprocessed sources, e.g. fruit or wholemeal groats.

You should eat a lot of tryptophan-rich products: eggs, cheese, nuts and seeds, salmon, poultry, and soy.

  1. Supplements with tryptophan and 5-HTP – precursors for synthesis of serotonin, are the most obvious way to potentially increase its level. They can be taken when, for various reasons, we are unable to consume sufficient amount of tryptophan-rich foods.
  2. Supplement magnesium – the correlation between magnesium deficiency and light depressive symptoms is clear, and unfortunately the shortage of this mineral is very popular – supplementation is usually recommended.
  3. B-group vitamins – actively participate in the metabolism of neurotransmitters. For example, vitamin B6 (or more precisely its active form, P-5-P) is a cofactor for reaction on the tryptophan-serotonin synthesis pathway, and folate and B12 regulate the folic acid cycle which affects the production of BH4, which is another cofactor [3] .
  4. Rhodiola Rosea – it is a plant classified as an adaptogen, which means that it increases resistance to stress and severe conditions. It is also known for its antidepressant properties, which are due, for example, to its ability to inhibit monoaminooxidases, which are enzymes that break down serotonin. By taking Rhodiola Rose supplements, you can expect an increase in serotonin and dopamine levels in the brain [4].
  5. Berberine – like Rhodiola, has the ability to inhibit MAO. Despite the fact that this is not its main application, some users quite clearly feel it improves mood. According to the results of rodent studies, berberine shows an anti-depressant effect, raising serotonin levels in the hippocampus and frontal cortex [5].
  6. Magnolia – according to research, the use of a mixture of honokiol and magnolol (two main active substances of Magnolia) provide higher concentrations of serotonin in the frontal cortex, hippocampus and striatum, compared to individuals exposed to chronic light stress, but not receiving Magnolia components [6].
  7. Sceletium Tortuosum (Kanna, Zembrin) – a very intriguing herb, traditionally used once by hunters from African tribes to reduce stress. Its mechanism of action is almost identical with anti-depressants – it inhibits serotonin reuptake [7]. However, it has some features that are not specific to SSRIs – its effects can be observed already after the first dose and it does not deteriorate cognitive abilities – on the contrary, it can increase it.

I hope that I have presented a sufficient number of ideas on how to increase the level of serotonin for you to choose from, and that you will achieve your aim.

Despite the very enthusiastic reports above about the multitude of easy ways to increase the level of serotonin, it should be remembered that we should not always try to boost it. Not every mood disorder is associated with the low serotonin level, and in fact it is difficult to assess what level we actually have. What is more, some problems may result from excessively high serotonin concentration!


[1] Moraes MM et al. „Auditory stimulation by exposure to melodic music increases dopamine and serotonin activities in rat forebrain areas linked to reward and motor control.” Neurosci Lett. 2018 Apr 23;673:73-78.
[2] Fernstrom JD „Carbohydrate ingestion and brain serotonin synthesis: relevance to a putative control loop for regulating carbohydrate ingestion, and effects of aspartame consumption.” Appetite. 1988;11 Suppl 1:35-41.
[3] David O. Kennedy „B Vitamins and the Brain: Mechanisms, Dose and Efficacy—A Review” Nutrients. 2016 Feb; 8(2): 68.
[4] Chen QG et al. „The effects of Rhodiola rosea extract on 5-HT level, cell proliferation and quantity of neurons at cerebral hippocampus of depressive rats.” Phytomedicine. 2009 Sep;16(9):830-8.
[5] Peng WH et al. „Berberine produces antidepressant-like effects in the forced swim test and in the tail suspension test in mice.” Life Sci. 2007 Aug 23;81(11):933-8. Epub 2007 Aug 16.
[6] Xu Q et al. „Antidepressant-like effects of the mixture of honokiol and magnolol from the barks of Magnolia officinalis in stressed rodents.” Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry. 2008 Apr 1;32(3):715-25.
[7] David Terburg et al. „Acute Effects of Sceletium tortuosum (Zembrin), a Dual 5-HT Reuptake and PDE4 Inhibitor, in the Human Amygdala and its Connection to the Hypothalamus” Neuropsychopharmacology. 2013 Dec; 38(13): 2708–2716.

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