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Serotonin Deficiency: How to Increase Serotonin Levels with Foods

Help increase your serotonin levels by adding these foods into your diet.

Help increase your serotonin levels by adding these foods into your diet.

The brain has many complex functions.

The brain has many complex functions.

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a hormone known as 5 - hydroxytryptamine and it functions as a neurotransmitter. The 5 - hydroxytryptamine is made by a chemical reaction to tryptophan.

  • Tryptophan and melatonin create relaxation and sleep cycles.
  • Tryptophan is an amino acid and is commonly found in proteins and a variety of foods.
  • Tryptophan is popularly known as the sleep inducing ingredient found in turkey.

What is a neurotransmitter? Think of it as the messenger that relays messages from one area of the brain to another.

The majority of serotonin is found in the brain, but some is also located in the digestive tract and in the blood.

Generally speaking, serotonin provides us with a sense of well being. Our mood greatly affects how we respond to our home and work environments during times of play, rest and stress.

Normal serotonin levels support mood, learning and social behavior.

Normal serotonin levels support mood, learning and social behavior.

What does serotonin do?

Although all of the roles of serotonin appear to be unknown, it is clear serotonin affects a variety of psychological and physical functions.

Functions affected include, but are not limited to:

  • appetite
  • mood
  • sexual desire
  • memory and learning
  • body temperature
  • social behavior
  • breast feeding

Potential Symptoms of Serotonin Deficiency

  • Agitation
  • Anxiety (beyond the norm)
  • Apathy (lack of concern and sincerity)
  • Depression
  • Excessive concern and worry
  • Fatigue
  • A challenged ability to focus, remember or clarify
  • Mood swings
  • Restless and unusually impatient

What may cause a serotonin deficiency?

  • Lack of sleep (usually lacks natural melatonin and tryptophan in the diet).
  • Lack of protein.
  • Lack of Omega - 3 (Fish Oil or Flax)
  • Excessive caffeine or alcohol consumption.
  • Vitamin and mineral deficiencies (calcium, potassium or magnesium)
  • Insulin resistance.

Mood and Exercise

A variety of studies have concluded, exercise can provide an immediate mood lift.

Serotonin and Depression

Low serotonin levels are to blame for depression. Is this always the case? Possibly not. A Doctor by the name of Pedro Delgado did a study in which he depleted serotonin levels in normal, healthy individuals. Interestingly, these individuals did not become depressed. Another argument is that the serotonin receptors are to blame. If the receptors are not receiving the serotonin then they cannot transmit to the necessary areas of the brain.

  • Researchers are also trying to confirm if the serotonin levels are a result of depression or if they are in fact the cause of depression.
  • Researchers have moved on to genetic studies of depression. Finding the genetic link to preassigned serotonin levels and depression is the current trend in depression research.

Interesting fact: Although it is known that serotonin altering medications may improve depression symptoms, researchers still do not know how or why they really work in alleviating depression.

Serotonin Syndrome: Is too much serotonin safe?

No! Too much serotonin can lead to serious health issues. Excessive serotonin can even lead to a medical emergency.

ALERT! Severe cases of Serotonin Syndrome can be fatal.

Severe symptoms include:

  • Fever
  • Seizures
  • Rapid and irregular heart rate
  • Loss of consciousness

Additional symptoms include:

  • Agitation
  • Confusion
  • Diarrhea
  • Dilated Pupils
  • Headache
  • Loss of muscle control, clumsiness and twitching
  • Shivering and Goose Bumps

What causes excessive serotonin?

Certain medications and herbs may inadvertently increase serotonin to dangerous levels. Be aware of taking St. John's Wort or Ginseng in-conjunction with anti-depressants, as it may cause Serotonin Syndrome.

Please check with your pharmacist and physician if you are being medicated with the following (possible) serotonin altering medications:

  • antidepressants
  • tobacco addiction medications
  • migraine medications
  • pain medications
  • lithium
  • anti-nausea medication
  • antibiotics such as, Zyvox
  • HIV/AIDS medications such as, Norvir

Can you increase sertonin with certain foods?

Yes and no. Foods do not actually contain serotonin. They do however, contain tryptophan. Tryptophan is a building block in the creation of serotonin.

Diet: Foods that aid serotonin levels

What to avoid: Avoid sugary foods. These foods will spike your glucose levels and then will cause you to crash. The crash will leave you feeling lethargic and possibly cause you to feel guilty about your high sugar binge. This is not a good combination when trying to prevent depression. One should also avoid white, starchy foods: rice, potatoes, bread and other simple carbs will also cause a spike in blood sugar and insulin.

What to include in your diet: A colorful variety of fruits and vegetables, especially those rich in tryptophan. Try to consume a form of protein three times a day. A nice combination of proteins and vegetables will slowly feed your system with nutrients and tryptophan. Plus, they will not cause the sugar rush caused by simple carbs and sugary snacks.

Boost Serotonin with Tryptophan Rich Foods

Tryptophan boosts serotonin - the HAPPY hormone! Add these foods to your diet to help improve your mood.

Tryptophan boosts serotonin - the HAPPY hormone! Add these foods to your diet to help improve your mood.

Foods Rich in Tryptophan

Note, tryptophan is best absorbed when consumed with foods rich in Vitamins B, C, folic acid and magnesium. Importantly, Vitamin B6 is needed to convert tryptophan to serotonin. Fortunately, many of the foods rich in tryptophan are also naturally rich in Vitamin B6.

Foods Rich in Tryptophan:

Proteins: (General list)

  • Cheese
  • Chicken
  • Cod
  • Egg
  • Halibut
  • Lamb
  • Legumes
  • Nuts
  • Red Meats
  • Seeds
  • Shrimp
  • Tuna
  • Turkey


  • Asparagus
  • Broccoli
  • Kale
  • Mustard Greens
  • Collard Greens
  • Turnip Greens
  • Swiss Chard
  • Brussels Sprouts
  • Cauliflower


  • Soybeans
  • Black Beans
  • Garbanzo Beans
  • Green Beans
  • Kidney Beans
  • Lentils
  • Lima Beans
  • Navy Beans
  • Pinto Beans
  • Dried Peas

Nuts and Seeds:

  • Almonds
  • Cashews
  • Flax Seed
  • Peanuts
  • Sesame Seed

Herbs that Increase Serotonin

Keep these four herbs in the kitchen and use them in your recipes to help reduce depression: Basil, Garlic, Oregano and Thyme.

Keep these four herbs in the kitchen and use them in your recipes to help reduce depression: Basil, Garlic, Oregano and Thyme.

Cooking Herbs and Spices with Tryptophan

  • Basil
  • Garlic
  • Oregano
  • Thyme

Supplements and Herbs

5HTP is available over the counter and it is known to raise serotonin levels. Caution and physician supervision is strongly advised. 5HTP is not recommended for heart patients.

St. John's Wort is another herb commonly known to increase serotonin levels. It should not be combined with other serotonin increasing medications. Excessive consumption may lead to Serotonin Syndrome.

Additional benefits of eating tryptophan rich foods

The list of tryptophan rich foods above comes with many additional benefits when including them in your daily diet.

A theme and common thread between all of these foods is that they support healthy functions in the heart and brain. A lack of these healthy foods may spark unhealthy outcomes for many.

  • Insomnia for example, is a common symptom found in depression and high blood pressure. Insomnia can usually be naturally improved through a healthy diet rich in melatonin and tryptophan.
  • High blood pressure can possibly be naturally controlled through a diet rich in calcium, magnesium and potassium. Interestingly, many of these foods are also rich in tryptophan or melatonin inducing nutrients.

So what does all of this tell us? A diet rich in colorful fruits and vegetables, along with lean proteins, will improve and sustain overall mental and cardiac health.

Increase Serotonin with Massage Therapy

A study confirmed massage therapy not only increases serotonin levels it also increased dopamine levels. Plus, it reduced cortisol by 31%.

Field, Tiffany, et al. "Cortisol decreases and serotonin and dopamine increase following massage therapy." International Journal of Neuroscience 115.10 (2005): 1397-1413.


WebMD.com: Depression Center

National Institutes of Health: Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs, Nov 2007, Simon Young

NPR.org: When it comes to Depression Serotonin isn't the Whole Story

psychologytoday.com: The Serotonin Theory of Depression is Collapsing

whfoods.com: tryptophan

nutritiondata.self.com: Foods Highest in Tryptophan

Disclaimer: The information provided in this hub should not be construed as personal medical advice or instruction. However, all information is research based. Please consult a physician for medical and dietary advice and treatment. Serotonin deficiency and/or Serotonin Syndrome should not be assumed or treated without the supervision of a medical professional.

© 2012 Marisa Hammond Olivares


Hendrika from Pretoria, South Africa on April 16, 2015:

What is interesting about the food list you give here is that it should all be a part of a natural healthy diet. Seems that as far as health issues go a healthy diet can go a long way in improving it. You cannot get away from it, you have to eat your veggies and especially those greens.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on March 09, 2015:

Dave Heara, thank you for reading and commenting. I too have a bit of a hard time with St. John's Wort lately, it seems my tolerance has changed and I have not found the prescribed dose to be symptom free. Fortunately, all of the other food choices have been helpful in keeping me carefree.

PKreturns, thank you dear, I'm glad to hear it.

Pradeep PK from Bangalore, India on March 08, 2015:

I liked this very much!

Dave Heara on August 22, 2014:

Thorough article which is good. I have found 5HTP a bit difficult to get hold of in the UK. It has recently become available in patch form (like a contraceptive patch) and I have been buying it online. St John's Wort really good too but it makes me feel a bit sick for some reason. My mum complains of the same thing.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on October 13, 2013:

PegCole17, I can totally relate to insomnia, mine comes and goes. It is nice to know we have natural food sources to help balance us out, we can always use a diet adjustment now and then. Thank you for reading, my apologies for my late response, several hub comments slipped by my notifications and attention.

supermon in ny, thank you and good for you. Cheers! To your health.

KenWu, thank you very much.

celeste inscribed, I greatly appreciate your comment and support.

Mark S Waterhouse, oh, good to know! Thank you for sharing that vital info.

grandmapearl, I'm pleased you found this to be informative and I greatly appreciate your votes and pins. I'm glad to hear natural sources greatly improved your serotonin levels. You have provided us with a wonderful testimony. Thank you for your wonderful words of support.

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on July 25, 2013:

I'm pleased to find this important information! Several years ago I experienced depression/anxiety problems because of my serotonin levels. I chose to use foods rather than drugs to regulate my system, plus exercise and I lowered caffeine consumption. It took a couple of months, but I am glad to say these things worked for me.

You have covered this subject thoroughly, and I know the investment of time and effort you have put forth. Excellent article ;) Pearl

Voted Up+++ and pinned

Mark S Waterhouse from Christchurch, NZ. on February 27, 2013:

Great Hub, thanks.

Something to be aware of also (my wife checked this out a year-or-so back), St John's wort can potentially effect the efficacy of the female contraception pill!

Thanks missolive

Celeste Wilson on February 27, 2013:

Incredibly well researched article. This is a very good article for any migraine sufferer too. Serotonin is a major player for some sufferers. Thank you for a great piece, voted up.

KenWu from Malaysia on February 27, 2013:

Wow, this is a very informative hub. Serotonin, the name that I would remember.... cause I think I'm facing the issue her. Thanks, bookmarked and would share with friends and families.

supermom_in_ny from NY on February 27, 2013:

I enjoyed this hub. Going to go pick up several of these foods to add them to my diet. ;)

Peg Cole from Northeast of Dallas, Texas on February 27, 2013:

Nicely explained here, Miss Olive. I certainly fall into this category and need to make some dietary changes. Too much caffeine and not enough protein... Yep. Insomnia.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on January 14, 2013:

SINewsome, thank you so very much, glad to know this was informative.

Sophie Newsome from New York on January 06, 2013:

I knew some things on this topic, but it was great to learn even more. Thnkx for the info.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on November 27, 2012:

DDE, Thank you, I greatly appreciate it and I am thrilled you have found this to be helpful.

Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on November 22, 2012:

Excellent information here such a well-presented Hub you have mentioned helpful points

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on November 12, 2012:

Londonlady, I'll take that as a compliment, thank you. I did like certain portions of biology, thank you for the read, comments and vote.

Deya Writes on November 07, 2012:

Haha, I like how reading this hub was almost like going back and reviewing notes from my Cell Biology class. Voted up!

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on September 18, 2012:

BlissfulWriter, I'm a fan of all the things you listed. This combination can certainly make a difference in one's health . Thank you for sharing.

ITcoach, thank you! I'm very glad to see you.

Tricia Ward, thank you so much. I appreciate that.

Tricia from Scotland on September 17, 2012:


Well done on such an informative hub. Wow.

ITcoach from United States on September 16, 2012:


Your all hubs are too much creative and informative, I could not remain without impress with this information about serotin. This is the cause each and every person like to read your whole hub.

Thanks for sharing your great information.

BlissfulWriter on September 16, 2012:

I'm all for omega-3, exercise, sleep, and magnesium to aid in boosting mood. I also like adding in B vitamins and some dietary fats into the diet too.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on September 14, 2012:

adrienne2, I am nothing less than honored. Your wonderfully informative and healthy hubs are an inspiration and a great source for keeping us healthy. That goes for all your other fab writing niches too! Thanks so much and I appreciate the tweets and votes. Sending lots of Hub Luv and Hugs your way. Have a fabulous weekend.

Fierce Manson from Atlanta on September 14, 2012:

MssOlive this hub is full of information, it is informative, and very useful. Thank you for sharing with the HP community. You remain to be a source of enriching information. Voted up, and tweeted!

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on September 14, 2012:

grandmapearl, thank you! Wow, thanks so much for all the social sharing and votes. I truly do appreciate it.

kelleyward, hi Kelley! thanks so much for the pin and votes.

Just Ask Susan, I'm knocking on wood too! It is good to know that we may be able to combat the blues with healthy food choices. Thanks for the bookmark and support.

cclitgirl, SAD is not too big of an issue in our region, but I do hear it is more common up North. I admire all you do to stay clean, green, natural and healthy. You are a great role model...fun too!

RTalloni, your comment broke my heart. I have witnessed depression in the elderly and it is definitely heart wrenching and difficult. I do hope you are able to find benefits with the foods I have listed.

Ms Dee, thank you. Very interesting info. I'll have to look more into how this is related with fibromyalgia. Glad to hear you are sleeping better.

nmonders, thanks so much for your wonderful comment.

iguidenetwork, well, maybe temporary happiness. I do have a sweet tooth, but it is always followed by a horrible crash or desire to binge. Not a good routine. Finding the balance will always be a nice quest for me. Cheers!

Phyllis48, thank you! Isn't it great to see familiar foods? Glad to have gathered the info and pleased to see you come by to read and comment.

Phyllis Marie McDuffee Born Aug. 11th 1964 from Hamilton ohio/Shandon Ohio on September 06, 2012:

Great Hub. Very interesting article. I didn't realize that there so many foods the would help with serotonin or 5-HTP. This was a great help.

iguidenetwork from Austin, TX on September 06, 2012:

I thought eating anything sweet will make me happy... but I found out that sugar will make one lethargic. I may balance my diet from now on. And think of all the happy thoughts, of course. Thanks for the useful hub. :)

Nira Perkins on September 05, 2012:

This is amazingly detailed and informative. You did a great job. This can be really useful for a lot of people.

Deidre Shelden from Texas, USA on September 05, 2012:

I like how you've listed out the information in categories. Noting here that as one with Fibromyalgia, I learned such patients have lost the ability to create Serotonin from foods for some reason and so are helped by taking the 5-HTP supplement. I now sleep much better! (Have a hub explaining this.)

RTalloni on September 05, 2012:

Informative and helpful as I watch what is happening with an elderly relative under the care of docs prescribing antidepressants. This will help me in a conversation I need to have. Thanks much, and thanks for the list of foods rich in tryptophan.

Cynthia Calhoun from Western NC on September 05, 2012:

Very interesting. It also makes me think about people who have SAD (I sometimes get that in the wintertime). I stock up on Vitamin D and leafy greens. This is great information to know. :)

Susan Zutautas from Ontario, Canada on September 05, 2012:

I always learn so much from your hubs and this one I'll be bookmarking so that I can refer back to it. Although I have not suffered from depression in quite a few years now (Knock on Wood) I do tend to still have mood swings. I weened myself off of anti-depressants and every once in a while I wonder if I did the right thing. Articles like this one do make me feel better about my decision though. Thanks MissOlive!

kelleyward on September 05, 2012:

This is a fantastic hub. I love the way you touched on everything here. Voted up and useful and Pinned. Kelley

Connie Smith from Southern Tier New York State on September 03, 2012:

Thanks for all this good information about serotonin. I enjoyed your thorough coverage of this important topic. Voted Up, Interesting, Useful and Awesome, shared and pinned! Also bookmarked for future reference. Great job as always.

Marisa Hammond Olivares (author) from Texas on September 02, 2012:

old albion, thanks for stopping by to read and comment. Nice to see you.

mperrotirt, thank you so much. Serotonin definitely affects our mood and is altered when treating depression. It is the how and why that seems misunderstood. Hopefully genetic research will bring us more answers.

carol7777, it is always comforting to know that a healthy diet and lifestyle can make a world of difference. Thanks so much for reading and I appreciate the votes and support.

donnah75, glad to hear I could provide some info and a food list of foods you can enjoy. Thanks for the vote and best wishes on your new eating plan.

MsDora, thank you. I'm really enjoying all the research I'm doing. So many health issues are related to the foods we do and do not eat. Glad to share what I am learning with you.

vespawoolf, what a compliment, thank you. You are so right about needing a balanced healthy diet. I appreciate the votes and sharing.

Deborah Brooks, thanks for sharing in the Facebook group. I appreciate that. I'm glad we can all learn and share our findings.

Gina Joy Bennett, you said something I myself have noticed. I reflect on the days I feel sluggish and I realize I have not been too kind to my body. Whether it is a bad diet or lack of sleep, it does affect our overall health.

girishpuri, thank you so much

teaches12345, right you are. I was so pleased to find this list to be reasonable and fulfilling of other necessary nutrients. Thanks for the votes

Gypsy Rose Lee, thanks so much! I'm glad you enjoy these foods.

Ddraigcoch, I am sorry to hear you have had to deal with the shadow of depression. Many think depression can just be 'shaken' off and I know that it cannot. I do hope you find the relief and breakthrough you need to have depression completely behind you. Keep eating the right foods and enjoy your exercise, it sounds like it is certainly helping. Sincerest best wishes to you and thank you for your votes & sharing.

Judi Bee, it sure is. I was taking St. Johns Wort at one time and I did exceed the dose a few times. I did experience some very uncomfortable symptoms...scary. Glad to see you. Thanks for stopping by.

Judi Brown from UK on September 01, 2012:

I had no idea that too much serotonin was a bad thing. Very useful hub.

Emma from UK on September 01, 2012:

Extremely helpful to me, thank you.

I suffer with depression and just about feel level on antidepressants and yet don't feel quite right on them either.

I have noticed that when dieting and exercising I feel naturally better but struggle to stay in that zone.

This advise really helps me to realize there is a reason for the changes working and that I need to stick with them.

Thank you for sharing, voted up and sharing x

Gypsy Rose Lee from Daytona Beach, Florida on September 01, 2012:

Voted up and useful. Thanks for this very interesting and informative hub. Good to know that the list of foods to eat includes lots of my favorites. Passing this on.

Dianna Mendez on August 31, 2012:

Serotonin is important to living a well balanced lifestyle, according to your article. I find it interesting that it helps with behavior. The foods you listed are natural sources that provide people inexpensive remedies in keeping serotonin levels healthy. Voted up.

Girish puri from NCR , INDIA on August 31, 2012:

very much useful an healthy share, voted useful.

Gina Joy Bennett on August 31, 2012:

Great hub! There is some very interesting information in it. I need all the help I can get. My diet isn't the best & that's probably why I feel sluggish a lot of the time. Thanks again.

Deborah Brooks Langford from Brownsville,TX on August 31, 2012:

very interesting hub here.. I am sharing on Facebook TOPS Take off pounds sensibly .. we are always trying to learn about the human body

I thank you


Vespa Woolf from Peru, South America on August 31, 2012:

This is excellent information and a well-written hub! It proves how important it is to have a balanced, healthy diet and get plenty of exercise and rest. Thanks so much! Voted up and shared.

Dora Weithers from The Caribbean on August 31, 2012:

Great hub, as usual. Thanks for sharing your detailed research on serotonin and presenting it so professionally. There are so many facts we need to know for our daily well-being.

Donna Hilbrandt from Upstate New York on August 31, 2012:

If only we could all find the perfect nutritional formula, I think our illness would go away. It is interesting how nature can take care of us. Great discussion here. I am glad to see so many non-meat foods on that list, as I have just started a veggie diet experiment, which I am loving. Voted up.

carol stanley from Arizona on August 31, 2012:

Being a serious health nut I really appreciated this hub. You did a great job on research and getting the point across. At least we can get seratonin in food and we eat all those foods regularly. Thanks for sharing. I am voting up and sharing also..I think people need to know about this.

Margaret Perrottet from San Antonio, FL on August 31, 2012:

Very well researched hub. Interesting that they think the serotonin theory or depression may be wrong. Voted up and interesting.

Graham Lee from Lancashire. England. on August 31, 2012:

Very deep and interesting, with much food for thought.


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