Serotonin is a chemical messenger that affects many functions in the body and brain. Low serotonin is one factor that may contribute to depression and anxiety, but people can take some steps to increase their serotonin levels.

The body naturally makes serotonin, but there are some ways to increase its production. For example, certain medications, dietary factors, and exercise might promote increased serotonin levels.

In people who are not experiencing depression, it is unclear whether increasing serotonin will be beneficial. However, for those who are experiencing depression, some may find that addressing serotonin deficiencies could help with symptoms.

Keep reading to learn more about serotonin, some scientifically proven ways of increasing its levels, and some possible risks of doing so.

A woman buys sunflowers at a farmers market, which increases her exposure to light, and is a way how to increase serotonin.Share on Pinterest
Increasing serotonin levels, such as through exposure to light, may help mitigate the risk of depression or reduce symptoms in people living with depression.

Serotonin is a chemical found throughout the body. It plays an important role in regulating a range of bodily functions, including blood clotting and bowel function.

The body combines tryptophan with an enzyme to make serotonin. While other areas of the body produce serotonin, the chemical is most common in the brain.

In the brain, serotonin performs the role of a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters are chemicals that relay messages around the brain to support its functioning.

There are many theories about the role of serotonin in the brain. A widespread idea is that serotonin contributes to brain networks that regulate stress and anxiety. The chemical may also promote patience and the ability to cope.

Serotonin appears to play a role in several mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety disorders. Several common antidepressant medications increase serotonin levels as a way of treating depression.

While several theories claim certain natural remedies can boost serotonin levels and improve mood or help with stress, there is a lack of evidence behind many of these claims.

The following natural remedies have scientific evidence to support them:


Exercise substantially affects the brain and body in the short and long term.

There is evidence that exercise increases tryptophan, which the body can convert to serotonin.

Most evidence for exercise increasing serotonin comes from animal studies, though there are some examples in humans.

Increasing serotonin levels is one of several ways in which exercise might help treat depression symptoms.

Learn more about exercise and depression.


Foods that contain tryptophan could increase serotonin production in the body.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid in many foods, including:

  • salmon
  • chicken
  • turkey
  • eggs
  • spinach
  • seeds
  • milk products
  • soy products
  • nuts

Some supplements also contain tryptophan.

Consuming these foods can increase the amount of tryptophan in the body. Research in animals suggests increasing tryptophan may influence serotonin levels in the brain.

Learn more about foods that may boost serotonin.


Exposure to bright light may also affect serotonin levels.

Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a type of depression in which symptoms correlate with the seasons. People with this condition may experience depressive symptoms during the winter when there is less sunlight.

The causes of SAD are unclear, but one theory is that poor sun exposure during the winter causes lower serotonin levels. These lower levels lead to symptoms of depression.

Light therapy is one treatment for SAD that may increase serotonin levels. A 2019 review of studies found that light therapy may increase serotonin levels in people with mood disorders, such as SAD and bipolar disorder.

Read about some of the top available sun lamps for light therapy and SAD.

Several common antidepressant medications directly increase serotonin levels in the brain.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are a class of antidepressant medication that prevents serotonin from reabsorption in the brain. By doing this, these drugs increase serotonin levels available to receptors.

Examples of SSRIs include fluoxetine (Prozac) and sertraline (Zoloft). These drugs are effective for increasing serotonin and can treat symptoms of depression.

Learn more about SSRIs and other medications for depression.

Typically, a person does not know their serotonin levels unless an issue arises.

People with serotonin deficits generally do not need to increase their serotonin levels. The body is excellent at regulating itself and works best in a state of balance.

However, consistently high serotonin levels over long periods can lead to serotonin syndrome. This condition is usually the result of taking multiple medications that have serotonin effects, such as antidepressants, migraine drugs, and certain mood-boosting supplements.

It can also occur from a single serotonin-acting medication, especially if taken at a high dose.

Serotonin syndrome can cause symptoms such as:

  • dry mouth
  • anxiety
  • confusion
  • restlessness
  • hallucinations
  • sweating
  • changes in blood pressure
  • changes in heart rate
  • nausea and vomiting
  • digestive problems

If symptoms are mild, contact a doctor immediately. Treatment depends on the severity of the symptoms and the possible cause.

Seek immediate emergency treatment if symptoms worsen or become severe.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger common in the brain. Many brain networks involve serotonin, including those that play a role in the regulation of stress and anxiety.

Some people have serotonin deficits that may contribute to mental health conditions, such as depression. Antidepressant medications can increase serotonin levels and help with symptoms.

Exercise, diet, and light therapy might also increase serotonin levels.

Most people do not need to worry about serotonin levels unless they are causing a problem.

Consistently high serotonin levels over long periods can have negative consequences. Working with a qualified healthcare professional can help a person avoid potential complications and improve their well-being.