Can you feel a change in the air? For many, this season is associated with happy things like crisp weather, warm beverages, and colorful foliage. But for others, the change in weather indicates a downturn in mood and energy that leaves them feeling sad, lethargic, and fatigued.
Along with the shift to spending more time indoors, the gradually shorter days of fall and winter can trigger some physiological changes in the brain that can affect mood.
Specifically, less sunlight may cause a drop in the neurotransmitter (chemical messengers that help the brain to function) serotonin, which in turn can initiate low mood. While serotonin levels may dip with less exposure to sunlight, many people suffer from low serotonin year-round.
Serotonin is known as the “don’t worry, be happy” soothing neurotransmitter. It plays multiple roles in the brain’s biochemistry and is a critical component in facilitating sustained and deep sleep, maintaining a balanced mood, self-confidence, social engagement, and a healthy appetite. Additionally, it helps decrease our worries and concerns and is associated with learning and memory.
When your serotonin levels are too low you’re more likely to become irritable, anxious, and perceive the world as unfriendly. You may feel depressed, pessimistic, and have irregular appetite and sleep.
If you find yourself worried, rigid, having low mood or energy, or experiencing poor sleep, you may have a serotonin issue. Try one of these strategies to increase your serotonin levels:
- Exercise is a serotonin intervention – it boosts serotonin in your brain. Multiple research studies have demonstrated that exercise is at least equally effective at increasing available serotonin as serotonin-enhancing medications are, and in some cases exercise is more effective.
- Much of the serotonin in your body is produced in your gut, so strategies designed to optimize gut production of serotonin could certainly go a long way toward optimizing your mental health. Make sure you are taking a quality probiotic, properly hydrating, and eating a brain-healthy diet.
- There are two ways that food can increase serotonin levels. Foods high in simple carbohydrates, such as pastas, potatoes, bread, pastries, pretzels, and popcorn, typically increase insulin levels and allow more tryptophan (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) to enter the brain, where the brain cells can convert it to serotonin. The calming effect of serotonin can often be felt in thirty minutes or less by eating these foods. This may be one of the reasons simple carbohydrates are so addictive. They can be used to make you feel happy, but can also cause high blood sugar levels that over time can contribute to memory problems. We recommend complex carbohydrates, such as sweet potatoes, apples, blueberries, carrots, and garbanzo beans, as a healthier way to boost serotonin. Brain serotonin levels can also be raised by eating foods rich in L-tryptophan, such as chicken, eggs, cheese, turkey, beef, salmon and tuna, tempeh, beans, lentils, spinach and other dark green leafy vegetables, pumpkin and chia seeds, and nuts. Many people may unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in L-tryptophan.
- Dietary supplements that provide vitamins B6, B12, and folate, as well as concentrates of saffron, can help support healthy serotonin levels. BrainMD’s Serotonin Mood Support was created specifically to promote multiple brain mechanisms that maintain healthy serotonin levels in the brain.
“Taking supplements that help maintain healthy levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin are important to maintaining a healthy mood.” – Daniel G. Amen, MD
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