Serotonin is a brain neurotransmitter well known for its role in mood regulation, and it's also responsible for breathing and regulation of body temperature. Low levels of serotonin can have a negative impact on health, and several medications can help raise levels of this crucial neurotransmitter, but increasing your intake of certain vitamins, present in food and supplements, can also help. Always ask your doctor before adding supplements to your daily routine to be sure they're right for you.
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Niacin and Tryptophan Production
Niacin plays a role in the production of serotonin. In fact, a deficiency in niacin, and its precursor tryptophan, is related to an increased risk of depression, according to a 2007 article published in the "Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience." Eating plenty of niacin-rich foods can help boost tryptophan levels, and, in combination, this can raise serotonin levels. Niacin, along with all other B vitamins, also helps your body make serotonin to begin with, David Edelberg notes in his book, "The Triple Whammy Cure." Dairy foods, eggs, fish, legumes, lean meat, fortified grains and nuts are sources of niacin.
Pyridoxine and Good Mood
Pyridoxine, more commonly called vitamin B-6, is particularly beneficial in increasing serotonin levels, Edelberg reports. This vitamin helps convert tryptophan to serotonin, so a deficiency would inhibit this process and potentially raise the risk of mood disorders. In addition to seafood, such as tuna and salmon, healthy food sources of pyridoxine include poultry, chickpeas, liver, bananas, squash, rice, nuts, spinach, watermelon and fortified grains.
Folic Acid and Depression
Like vitamins B-3 and B-6, folic acid, also called folate or vitamin B-9, helps your body manufacture serotonin. Folic acid also plays a key role in brain function and mental health, according to the University of Maryland Medical Center. Some evidence suggests that low levels of folic acid might even be correlated with depression, though further research is needed to prove this relationship. Fortified grains, leafy green vegetables, wheat germ, beans, salmon, orange juice and avocado are among the best food sources of vitamin B-9.
Vitamin D and the Release of Serotonin
Vitamin D activates genes in your body responsible for the release of neurotransmitters, including serotonin, according to James M. Greenblatt, M.D., writing for the Psychology Today website. A vitamin D deficiency can cause serotonin levels in the brain to drop, which is one potential contributor to depression, Greenblatt notes. Increasing intake of vitamin D can help boost serotonin production. Milk, cheese, other dairy foods and mushrooms are good sources of vitamin D. Getting some unprotected sun exposure will also raise vitamin D levels, but always ask your doctor how much time you should spend in the sun without protection.
- National Institutes of Health: Serotonin Helps Control Body Temperature and Breathing
- Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience: How to Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs
- The Triple Whammy Cure; David Edelberg
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Niacin
- National Institutes of Health: Vitamin B-6
- University of Maryland Medical Center: Vitamin B-9 (Folic Acid)
- PsychologyToday: Psychological Consequences of Vitamin D Deficiency