Foods That Increase Serotonin, Dopamine and Endorphins

> > Foods That Increase Serotonin, Dopamine and Endorphins

This article discusses the foods that increase serotonin, from a partly critical point of view. Other mood-influencing neurotransmitters, i.e. dopamine and endorphins, are also discussed.

As a woman's estrogen-levels fall, the serotonin levels in the brain fall as well. There is debate about whether serotonin is a feel-good hormone or the opposite. In this article I will list foods and other things that help increase serotonin, dopamine and endorphins but I will also discuss an anti-serotonin approach by some researchers. Balance hormones, and improving gut and thyroid health are crucial to improve moods as well. Serotonin imbalances have been linked to carbohydrate cravings, increased appetite, and weight-gain.

The brain's serotonin and endorphin levels are said to increase from sugary and high-fat foods which may be partly why these can become very addictive.

The body creates serotonin from tryptophan, which is an amino acid, but may be harmful at least in supplement form. Certain lifestyle changes can balance serotonin levels, and the levels of dopamine and endorphins, which have been generally agreed to improve moods, can definitely be increased by certain foods. So it is not necessary to have sugary or fatty foods to get the

Serotonin From Foods

Tryptophan, an amino acid, is said to work with tyrosine and zinc to improve one's mood and increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is intolerant of high heat and is destroyed by cooking.

Vegan sources of tryptophan can be found in: raw pumpkin seeds, spirulina, raw spinach, sesame seeds, raw almonds, bananas, raw dried dates, raw oat groats, watercress, sunflower seeds, horseradish, pumpkin leaves, turnip greens, cacao, etc.

Non-vegan sources of tryptophan include: cottage cheese, muscles, tuna, turkey, egg white, although these are mostly either cooked or pasteurized in high heat and thus would seem to be unable to provide tryptophan.

B6 and B3 vitamins and magnesium are also crucial for serotonin production. Foods high in B6 include: buckwheat, millet, oats, clams, lobster, and shrimp, for example.

Stinging nettle plant, banana and and cacao actually contain serotonin itself.

foods that increase serotonin, wild nettle, stinging nettle
Wild-harvested stinging nettle plant

Resveratrol - a potent antioxidant - from dark chocolate and the skin of red grapes can increase serotonin, too. Antioxidants in general can reduce stress and inflammation of the brain and this in itself can make you feel better.

Daylight, or full-spectrum lightbulbs are also said to increase serotonin production in the brain, as is exercise. People with good muscle mass are said to naturally make more serotonin than others.

5-HTP is the precursor of the neurotransmitter serotonin, naturally occurring in human body. This can be taken as a supplement to increase serotonin levels. The 5-HTP in the supplements is usually derived from Griffonia Simplicifolia seeds (an African plant). (However, see the warning on serotonin supplements below.)

The best way to increase moods through diet is to improve your gut health, however, since bad gut health has been linked with depression and sour moods. Probiotics, avoidance of antibiotics and other sterilizing medicines and foods, avoidance of processed carbohydrates, etc., are key. In addition, balancing your hormone levels as a woman is important since serotonin rises and falls with estrogen.

Elevating endorphin levels in the brain - another neurotransmitter - has been claimed to automatically elevate serotonin levels as well.

Fatty foods can increase serotonin but should be consumed in moderation. Only good quality fats have been linked with improved moods whereas trans fats and saturated fats can have the opposite effect (although it seems that our brain does need some amount of saturated fat to function properly as well - but not in excess).

Sugar can cause serotonin highs but the adverse health effects of sugar outweigh any potential benefits. Caffeine has been shown to suppress serotonin, which may also be linked to its appetite-suppressing effect. Stress is said to lessen serotonin, and stress-relieving enjoyable activities like massage, yoga and meditation are said to increase serotonin (basically anything that stimulates the parasympathetic nervous system).

A deficiency in serotonin has by some scientists been linked to carbohydrate cravings, depression, chronic stomach problems, and neurological disorders.

Thyroid health and insulin resistance are very closely linked with serotonin levels in the blood and brain.

Criticism for the 'Serotonin from Foods' Theory

There are some research findings to indicate that tryptophan in supplement form is much more effective than tryptophan from foods in increasing serotonin levels (turkey was mentioned as an example). Tryptophan, apparently, competes with other amino acids and often is not fully utilised, resulting in only a small increase in brain serotonin levels. This may be because the foods used in the research were cooked proteins and not raw ones. As mentioned above tryptophan is destroyed by cooking. Many other proteins are at least partly destroyed or denatured by cooking as well.

There is also criticism regarding the usefulness of actual serotonin in foods, which claims that the serotonin in bananas, for example, cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and thus does not effect the brain serotonin levels. This may be true. On the other hand it may be that the serotonin receptors present in the gut are directly affected and are able to enhance moods. The research on the serotonin receptors in the GI tract has proven very difficult and not much is known about their function yet. What is agreed, however, is that unhealthy gut is linked with sour moods and depression.

Also, some people claim that serotonin is a not a mood-enhancing chemical at all, but quite the opposite. Definitely some anti-depressants, which claim to increase serotonin, have been linked to depression.

Here is one example: Ray Peat: "Serotonin, Depression and Aggression: The Problem of Brain Energy". The article claims that:

  • LSD is an estrogen-antagonist (anti-serotonin agent), increases playfulness and accelerates learning, and causes behavioral impairment only at high doses.
  • The 'first generation' of anti-depressant drugs, the MAO inhibitors, were safer than the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), the 'third generation' of anti-depressants, which are meant to increase serotonin levels in the brain.
  • Injecting serotonin does not relieve depression but sometimes adrenaline or dopamine does.
  • SSRIs (e.g. Prozac) also increase dopamine and adrenalin.
  • Chemicals that antagonise serotonin seem to work as antidepressants.
  • Serotonin is increased by estrogen.
  • Dopamine is antagonistic to serotonin and increased dopamine levels benefit Parkinson's Disease patients.
  • Anti-serotonin drugs can alleviate the symptoms of Parkinson's Disease, whereas 5-HTP (hydroxytryptophan) can worsen the symptoms.
  • Irritable bowel syndrome can be treated effectively with anti-serotonin agents.
  • Progesterone has anti-serotonin actions and may be therapeutic for mood problems.
  • Both estrogen and serotonin inhibit cell oxygen use (mitochondrial respiration) and cell energy production.
  • Serotonin decreases the metabolic rate.
  • Serotonin is an excitotoxin.
  • An excess of serotonin helps to create a state of 'learned helplessness', where the mental and physical energy is too low to overcome challenges. It is a biological condition created by inescapable stress.
  • Autistic children have high concentrations of serotonin in their serum and blood platelets. Thyroid supplements and anti-serotonin drugs have shown some improvement in this condition.
  • Serotonin tends to cause hypoglycaemia.
  • Serotonin has been shown to cause aggression in animals.
  • "Serotonin syndrome" is a potentially fatal condition.
  • The St. Johns Wort -herb usage can cause serotonin syndrome.
  • Tryptophan is carcinogenic probably because it's able to mimic estrogen.
  • Large carbohydrate meals increase tryptophan and this may shift the body's balance towards serotonin.
  • Thyroid, progesterone and high-quality protein nutrition are important protectors against excess serotonin.
  • Serotonin has a role to play in the body but should probably not be supplemented with.
Clearly there is much contradictory information regarding serotonin. I'm not sure which side of the argument to believe but I think, personally, that to be safe, I will keep away from serotonin and tryptophan for now, except for the amounts I naturally get from whole, raw foods.

The good news is, however, that dopamine and endorphins do improve moods and can be gained from food, as explained below.

Dopamine is Created from Tyrosine

Tyrosine is used to create another happy hormone, dopamine. It helps you to feel good and have self-confidence. The amino acid tyrosine can be gained from: almonds, avocados, bananas, dairy, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, sesame seeds, etc.

B12, folic acid (Vitamin B9) and magnesium are also important for tyrosine production.

Phynylethylamine (PEA), an ingredient found in chocolate and cheese elevates dopamine, too.

Mucuna, aka Kapikachhu, a tropical bean plant, has dopamine (L-Dopa). It's an anti-stimulant and can also help to restore the kidney-adrenal meridian.

Catuaba, tropical tree bark, has been reported to have dopamine-mediated anti-depressant effects. Both are available as supplements or as dried herbs.

Vitamin B6 and L-Phenylalanine (a synthetic form of amino acid) can also be used in supplement form to boost dopamine. Keep in mind, however, that according to some reports all extracted amino acids in supplement form can be dangerous.

Exercise has been shown to effectively increase dopamine and endorphins.


Endorphins are very strong mood-enhancing brain-chemicals, whose production can be triggered by exercise and sex. In addition, theobromine from the cacao bean, kola nut and certain tea leaves, is able to increase endorphin levels.

The herb Rhodiola increases endorphin levels of the brain supposedly by helping it to retain serotonin and norepinephrine.

foods that increase serotonin

Too high levels of any of these mood-enhancing neurotransmitters can lead to addictions, as in seen in the case of some drug addictions. Deficiencies, on the other hand can lead to health problems.

Using natural wholefoods and lifestyle changes to increase serotonin, dopamine and endorphins would seem to be the most effective and safe way to improve moods. Perhaps natural supplements can be used in moderation as well.


Note that many aphrodisiac plants and foods have mood-enhancing effects as well.

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