10 Ways to Boost Dopamine and Serotonin Naturally

Bee pollinates lavender flowerNeurotransmitters are chemical messengers that carry electrical signals between neurons in the brain. Dopamine and serotonin are two important neurotransmitters for mental health. They affect your mood, memory, sleep, libido, appetite, and more. Imbalances can contribute to addictions, mood conditions, memory issues, and attention difficulties.

Over the past several decades, the world has seen an increase in medications for serotonin and dopamine imbalances. These prescriptions can treat symptoms of many mental health conditions. Yet they have a long list of potential side effects, from dizziness to insomnia. Also, their effectiveness varies from person to person.

Some people want to try some non-drug treatments before committing to medication. Others take medication but want to supplement it with other strategies. Below are 10 ways to increase dopamine and serotonin that don’t require a pill:

1. Exercise

Regular exercise for at least 30 minutes each day improves one’s overall mood. Research has revealed that long-term cardiovascular exercise boosts serotonin levels in the brain. Serotonin can lower hostility and symptoms of depression. It also encourages agreeableness.

(More: Move for Your Mood: The Power of Exercise to Help Lift Depression)

2. Spend Time in Nature

In previous generations, humans spent most of their time outdoors. These days, many people work indoors, sitting at a desk under artificial lighting. Researchers have found as little as five minutes outdoors in a natural setting can improve mood, increase motivation, and boost self-esteem. The amount of time spent in sunlight correlates with serotonin and dopamine synthesis. Even a brief walk in the park can improve your well-being.

(More: 5 Ways Nature Can Help You Feel Better)

3. Nutrition

Diet can also influence one’s mental health. Coffee increases your serotonin and dopamine levels … for as long as you take it. Once you stop drinking coffee, you will go into withdrawal. Your brain, used to the high levels of neurotransmitters, will act as if there is a deficiency. It can take up to 12 days of caffeine-free diet for the brain to return to its normal state.

Omega-3 fatty acids boost serotonin levels without the withdrawal. They help serotonin trigger nerve cell receptors, making transport easier. Many studies have shown that omega-3s help reduce depressive symptoms. You can find omega-3s in cold-water fish like salmon.

Contrary to internet rumors, eating turkey does not raise your brain’s serotonin levels. Many people think foods rich in tryptophan can boost mood, since the brain uses tryptophan to produce serotonin. However, tryptophan competes with several other amino acids for transportation to the brain. Since it is low on the body’s priority list, it usually loses.

That said, having some tryptophan in your diet is important. If you don’t have enough, your serotonin levels will drop. If you need more tryptophan, you can get it by eating starchy foods like whole wheat bread, potatoes, and corn.

(More: Good Mood Foods to Help Fight Depression, Stress, and More)

4. Meditation

Meditation is the practice of relaxed and focused contemplation. It is often accompanied by breathing exercises. Evidence has shown that meditation increases the release of dopamine. It can relieve stress and create feelings of inner peace.

(More: Stress Reduction: Mindfulness Meditation for Beginners)

5. Gratitude

Scientific research has shown gratitude affects the brain’s reward system. It correlates with the release of dopamine and serotonin. Gratitude has been directly linked to increased happiness.

There have been many studies on a practice called the “three blessings exercise.” Every night for a week, you write down three things you are thankful for. People who complete this exercise tend to report more happiness and less depressive symptoms. Their improved mood can last up to six months.

(More: How a Simple Mason Jar Can Bring More Gratitude to Your Life)

6. Essential Oils

All essential oils come from plants. These oils often have medicinal properties. One study found that bergamot, lavender, and lemon essential oils are particularly therapeutic. Using your sense of smell, they prompt your brain to release serotonin and dopamine.

Note: Always follow the instructions on the bottle’s label. Although essential oils are “natural,” some can be dangerous when misused. Do not let young children play with essential oils.

(More: How Aromatherapy Can Boost Psychological and Physical Health)

7. Goal Achievement

When we achieve one of our goals, our brain releases dopamine. The brain finds this dopamine rush very rewarding. It seeks out more dopamine by working toward another goal.

Larger goals typically come with increased dopamine. However, it’s best to start with small goals to improve your chances of success. Short-term goals can add up to achieve a long-term goal (and a bigger reward). This pattern keeps a steady release of dopamine in your brain.

(More: How Positive Affirmations Can Help You Achieve Your Goals)

8. Happy Memories

Researchers have examined the interaction between mood and memory. They focused on the anterior cingulate cortex, the region of the brain associated with attention. People reliving sad memories produced less serotonin in that region. People dwelling on happy memories produced more serotonin.

(More: Can We Purposefully Make Memories Last Forever?)

9. Novelty

The brain reacts to novel experiences by releasing dopamine. You can naturally increase your dopamine by seeking out new experiences. Any kind of experience will work. You can do something simple like a new hobby or recipe. Or you can try something grand like skydiving. The less familiar you are with the activity, the more likely your brain will reward you with dopamine.

(More: 5 Things on My New Year’s Bucket List for My Kids)

10. Therapy

Research indicates if you change your mood, you can affect serotonin synthesis in your brain. This implies mood and serotonin synthesis have a mutual influence on each other. Psychotherapy often helps people improve their mood. It is possible therapy can help raise one’s serotonin levels as well.

(More: Benefits of Therapy)

While these 10 methods can boost your neurotransmitters, they are not a substitute for medical care. If you have mental health concerns, you should always seek a doctor’s or therapist’s advice. A mental health professional can tell you which approaches are best for your unique situation. There is no shame in taking medication or attending counseling. They are common treatment options among many.

References:

  1. Coffee and hormones: Here’s how coffee really affects your health. (n.d.) Precision Nutrition. Retrieved from https://www.precisionnutrition.com/coffee-and-hormones
  2. Do you need a nature prescription? (2013, June 19). Retrieved from http://www.webmd.com/balance/features/nature-therapy-ecotherapy
  3. Essential oils: Poisonous when misused. (2014). National Capital Poison Center. Retrieved from https://www.poison.org/articles/2014-jun/essential-oils
  4. How Do I Increase Serotonin and Dopamine Levels? (2017, August 14). LIVESTRONG Foundation. Retrieved from http://www.livestrong.com/article/301434-how-do-i-increase-serotonin-dopamine-levels/
  5. Jenkins, T.A., Nguyen, J.C.D., Polglaze, K.E., & Bertrand, P.P. (2016, January 20). Nutrients, 8(1), 56. Retrieved from http://www.mdpi.com/2072-6643/8/1/56/htm
  6. Lv, X.N., Liu, Z.J., Zhang H.J., & Tzeng C.M. (2014). Aromatherapy and the central nerve system (CNS): Therapeutic mechanism and its associated genes. Current Drug Targets, 8(14), 872-879. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23531112#
  7. Novelty and the brain: Why new things make us feel so good. (2013, May 21). Retrieved from https://lifehacker.com/novelty-and-the-brain-why-new-things-make-us-feel-so-g-508983802
  8. Omega-3 Fatty Acids and Mood Disorders. (2012). Today’s Dietitian, 14(1), 22. Retrieved from http://www.todaysdietitian.com/newarchives/011012p22.shtml
  9. Thankfulness linked to positive changes in brain and body. (2011, November 23). ABC News. Retrieved from http://abcnews.go.com/Health/science-thankfulness/story?id=15008148
  10. This is how your brain becomes addicted to caffeine. (2013, August 9). Retrieved from https://www.smithsonianmag.com/science-nature/this-is-how-your-brain-becomes-addicted-to-caffeine-26861037/
  11. Why our brains like short-term goals. (2013, January 3). Retrieved from https://www.entrepreneur.com/article/225356
  12. Young, S.N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, 32(6), 394-399. Retrieved from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

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  • 7 comments
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  • Ariana T

    Ariana T

    December 12th, 2017 at 8:10 AM

    I knew there was a reason I liked eating fish so much!

  • Laura

    Laura

    December 13th, 2017 at 10:02 AM

    So true about nature
    When I start my day with a walk downtown in our park (it has trees garden paths and a field for dogs) I feel much better that day. I have bipolar so not every day is great and my meds are really important. But being in nature is one thing that helps my mood for sure. Good reminder to prioritize it

  • Tarren

    Tarren

    December 13th, 2017 at 4:05 PM

    I have depression and take an SSRI but also do therapy 3x per month (covered by insurance) and I changed my diet which helped (cut out extra sugar, no soda, booze only 1x per week wine only)
    I agree you should do more than just meds seems to work best that way for me

  • michael

    michael

    December 20th, 2017 at 7:00 AM

    What about great sex?

  • Sera Tonin

    Sera Tonin

    February 26th, 2018 at 4:19 AM

    I was a bit disappointed not to see activities like drawing and playing music on the list. Anything that gets you into a flow state and brings you into the present moment is going to relieve the symptoms of depression and anxiety. <3

  • Henry

    Henry

    May 18th, 2018 at 6:40 PM

    I don’t get the knock on coffee. There’s so many articles showing it’s benefits ok the brain. Plus, don’t pleasurable foods in moderation make life worth living? How can s cup of coffee a day not be beneficial.

  • chris

    chris

    June 17th, 2018 at 10:50 PM

    heavy exercise and fish oil keep my depression away

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