Fall is officially here! For many, this season is associated happily with things like crisp weather (cozy clothes), warm drinks (yummy comfort), and beautiful foliage (jumping in piles of leaves)! But for others, the weather change and shorter days signal a downward shift in mood, energy, and peace of mind.
The gradually shorter days of fall and the shift to more time indoors can trigger some physiological changes in the brain, which can affect mood.
Specifically, less sunlight may cause a drop serotonin, a neurotransmitter (chemical messengers that help the brain to function) which in turn, can trigger 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 (serotonin is, in large part, inhibitory to your brain), your brain starts to over-fire and you are likely to be 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. The more you exercise the more serotonin you have available in your system. In fact, 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.
- As much as 95 percent 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, increase insulin levels and allow more tryptophan (the natural amino acid building block for serotonin) to enter the brain, where it is converted 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 also cause high blood sugar levels that over time are associated with brain atrophy and dementia. I particularly like 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, turkey, salmon, beef, nut butter, eggs, and green peas. Many people unknowingly trigger cognitive inflexibility or mood problems by eating diets that are low in L-tryptophan.
- Natural supplements such as saffron, 5-HTP, Vitamins B6 and B12, and Folate can help to support healthy serotonin levels. BrainMD Health’s Serotonin Mood Support was created specifically to provide multiple mechanisms to promote healthy serotonin levels in the brain, naturally.
“Taking supplements that help maintain healthy levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin are important to maintaining a healthy mood.”– Daniel G. Amen, MD