Neurotransmitters are the chemical communicators that are shared between neurons in your body, causing an action or reaction of a specific nerve or group of nerves. The neurotransmitters norepinephrine and serotonin play an important role in your psychological wellness. Norepinephrine, according to the Franklin Institute, works like adrenalin, a hormone, to cause arousal of the nervous system, helping you stay alert and motivated. Serotonin, in contrast, is responsible for good moods and feeling calm. Not having enough of either of these neurotransmitters can lead to depression, fatigue and anxiety. Fortunately, there are several natural ways to increase your levels of norepinephrine and serotonin. Speak with your physician before attempting to treat any condition or symptom naturally.
Engage in at least 30 minutes of physical activity five days a week. A 1999 study at Duke University and published in the Archives of Internal Medicine found that regular exercise was effective in decreasing symptoms of major depressive disorder. Exercise causes your body to increase its sensitivity to endorphins and stimulates production of norepinephrine. Regular physical activity also decreases your risk of serious chronic illnesses that can lead to depressed mood. According to the "Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience," exercise also increases serotonin levels in your brain, leading to improved mood. If you haven't exercised recently, begin slowly with a brisk walk and gradually increase the pace as you become more physically fit.
Add foods to your diet that are natural precursors for norepinephrine and serotonin. Precursors are substances that your body uses to produce other substances, including neurotransmitters. Tryptophan, which is found in foods such as red meat, eggs and diary products, is a precursor for serotonin. Dairy products, red meat and fish are examples of precursors for norepinephrine. Improving the quality of your diet to include fresh fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean meats, fish and low-fat dairy products can help increase available serotonin and norepinephrine. In addition, a healthy diet can help you lose weight if necessary and reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
Increase your exposure to natural sunlight. Light boxes and other means of artificial light are often suggested in the treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a form of seasonally mediated depression. According to the "Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience," exposure to the great outdoors, even on a cloudy day, can provide enough natural light to raise your serotonin levels. A 1990 study performed at Southern Illinois University found that serotonin levels in hamsters fluctuated with exposure to light and dark, increasing during periods of light exposure. Natural light also helps your body synthesize vitamin D which, according to the Vitamin D Council, is important for the balance of neurotransmitter levels in the brain.
Take supplemental phenylalanine in tablet or capsule form, according to manufacturer's directions. The University of Maryland Medical Center explains that this amino acid, found in animal proteins and soy products, increases your body's production of norepinephrine and dopamine. Low levels of both of these neurotransmitters are associated with depression, and supplemental amino acids like phenylalanine can help reduce depression caused by deficiencies of these neurotransmitters. The Medical Center cautions, however, that individuals who are considering supplemental phenylalanine check with their physician first because it can potentially interact with certain medications and medical conditions.
See your doctor before making significant changes to your diet, increasing physical activity, increasing sun exposure or using a dietary supplement.
- The Franklin Institute: The Human Brain: Proteins
- Archives of Internal Medicine; Effects of Exercise Training on Older Patients With Major Depression; James A. Blumenthal, Ph.D., et al.; Oct. 25, 1999
- "Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience"; How To Increase Serotonin in the Human Brain Without Drugs; Simon N. Young; Nov. 2007
- "Brain Research"; Diurnal Variations in Brain Serotonin Are Driven by the Photic Cycle and Are Not Circadian In Nature; J.S. Ferraro and R.W. Steger; March 26, 1990
- Vitamin D Council; Vitamin D and Depression; John Jacob Cannell, M.D.; March 20, 2004
- University of Maryland Medical Center; Phenylalanine; reviewed by Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD; June 8, 2009