Natural foods for serotonin

Updated July 19, 2017

Serotonin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter that relays messages from one part of the brain to another. It is found in the body's pineal gland, blood platelets, the digestive tract and the brain. Because of its role in the brain's ability to relay messages, serotonin is believed to have an impact in many of the body's physical and psychological functions. Notably, an imbalance of serotonin levels is believed to cause depression, anxiety, panic and obsessive-compulsive disorder. Although known for its neurotransmitter properties, approximately 90 per cent of the body's serotonin is located in the digestive tract. Therefore, a diet high in foods that naturally boost serotonin may have positive effects for individuals suffering from a serotonin imbalance.

Foods Containing Tryptophan

Tryptophan is an amino acid found in many high-protein foods--such as turkey, milk, oats, red meat, eggs, sunflower seeds and peanuts. Tryptophan will convert into serotonin in the body. According to Julia Ross in her book "The Mood Cure," studies have shown that addition of tryptophan in supplement form to the diet of patients suffering from depression resulted in a 50 per cent drop in depressive symptoms. Other studies have shown that removing tryptophan from the diet results in lower serotonin and higher depression.


The health benefits of fish come from, in part, their omega-3 fatty acids and oils. Omega-3 fats promote the production and protection of mood-enhancing brain chemicals, including serotonin. According to WebMD, studies have found that omega-3 fatty acids positively affect patients with bipolar disorder and that patients with depression have significantly lower levels of omega-3 fats in their red blood cells. Fatty fish particularly rich in oils are wild salmon, sardines and herring. However, fish oil is also available in supplement form.

Whey Protein

Whey protein, in addition to regulating appetite and bolstering the immune system, also increases serotonin levels. A derivative of milk protein, whey protein can be ingested as a milkshake. It naturally contains tryptophan, which the body will convert into serotonin. According to Ed Clements, although a derivative of milk protein, one double-blind study found that whey protein increased brain serotonin function better than milk protein.

Dark Chocolate

Cocoa has been linked to serotonin increases in the brain. Dark chocolate stimulates the release of serotonin in the brain, as well as endorphins, which can alleviate depressive symptoms. However, the danger with dark chocolate is its affects on the body's sugar levels and the potential sugar crash. However, these concerns can be resolved by eating 70 per cent or higher cocoa chocolate.

Foods Rich in Magnesium

Magnesium is one of the minerals upon which serotonin production is dependent. In fact, patients with depression have been found to suffer from lower magnesium levels, according to the Real Depression Help website. Foods rich in magnesium include: almonds, avocados, Brazil nuts, soybeans, halibut and green leafy vegetables.

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About the Author

Julie Rook began writing in 2010. She is a civil rights attorney specializing in employment discrimination. Rook received her Juris Doctor from American University's Washington College of Law where she served as a staff member on the American University's International Law Review. She also holds a Bachelor of the Arts in psychology from Purdue University.