The neurotransmitter serotonin plays several roles, including roles in appetite control, sleep, memory and mood regulation. Antidepressant medications work by inhibiting serotonin receptors, which increases serotonin levels in the brain and improves the patient's mood. You can increase serotonin levels naturally through daily exercise and consumption of certain foods.
Foods With High Tryptophan: Phenylalanine/Leucine Ratio
Serotonin is synthesised from the amino acid tryptophan when combined with B vitamins, but the addition of other amino acids may inhibit serotonin production. Foods with a high ratio of tryptophan to phenylalanine and leucine are the most effective at increasing serotonin levels. Such foods include dates, papayas and bananas.
Bagels, Pancakes and Muffins
Sugary carbohydrates can raise serotonin levels and cause sleepiness, which makes them ideal pre-bedtime snacks. Ironically, sugary, carbohydrate-rich foods are traditionally eaten for breakfast. To combat sleepiness, add peanut butter, cheese or another protein-rich food to your breakfast, or eat whole wheat or rye breads, as whole wheat and rye inhibit serotonin production.
Candy and Sweets
Candy and sweets are simple carbohydrates, which are most successful in raising serotonin levels. The mood-elevating effect only lasts an hour or two, however, and candy in general is a poor nutritional choice.
Rice, Potatoes and Pasta
Meals high in complex carbohydrates such as rice, potatoes and white pasta increase serotonin levels, but less so than the foods listed above; the protein present in these foods can inhibit serotonin production, especially if a meal contains additional protein sources such as hard cheeses.
Other Ways to Raise Serotonin Levels
A healthy diet and vigorous exercise are the safest and most effective ways of raising serotonin. Other common, legal methods of raising serotonin levels are through prescription antidepressants, called serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs), as well as older antidepressants, known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), and several painkillers. Too much serotonin in the body can be life threatening, however; a condition called serotonin syndrome occurs when serotonin levels are too high. This syndrome is usually the result of combining two or more medications known to raise serotonin levels. The symptoms of this condition are restlessness, diarrhoea, rapid heartbeat, increase in body temperature, hallucinations, vomiting and nausea, loss of coordination and hyperreflexia.