Serotonin: What It’s For, Low Levels & Food List

Updated in March 2023

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that acts on the brain and facilitates communication between nervous system cells. This substance is also found in the digestive system and in blood platelets. Also known as the “happy hormone”, it is produced through the amino acid “tryptophan” which is obtained through food. 

Serotonin works to regulate mood, sleep, appetite, cardiac rhythm, body temperature, sensitivity and cognitive functions. Low levels can lead to decreased mood, difficulty sleeping, anxiety or even depression. 

One way to increase serotonin levels in the blood is to consume more foods with tryptophan, exercise regularly, and in severe cases, to take prescription medication. 

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What is serotonin needed for?

The main functions of serotonin include:

1. Regulating mood

Serotonin works on the brain to regulate anxiety, increase happiness and improve overall mood. Low levels of this molecule are associated with anxiety and can lead to depression. 

2. Managing sleep

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter can also stimulate areas in the brain that control sleep and waking. 

3. Acting on bowel movements 

Serotonin can be found in large quantities in the stomach and intestines. It can help to control intestinal functioning and bowel movements. 

4. Managing nausea

Serotonin production increases when the body needs to eliminate toxic substances in the intestines. This can happen with bouts of diarrhea, for example. This increase in serotonin can also stimulate the area of the brain that regulates nausea. 

5. Helping with blood clotting

Blood platelets release serotonin to help heal wounds. It causes vasoconstriction, which helps with blood clotting. 

6. Promoting bone health

Serotonin play an important role in bone health, and imbalances can have a negative impact. Very high levels of serotonin can lead to weaker bones, increasing the risk for osteoporosis. 

7. Facilitating sexual function

Serotonin is a substance that is related to libido, and changes to levels can alter sexual desire. 

Symptoms of low serotonin

Low serotonin levels can lead to symptoms like: 

  • Bad mood in the morning
  • Drowsiness throughout the day 
  • Changes to libido
  • Urge to eat all the time, particularly cravings for sweets 
  • Difficulty learning 
  • Memory or concentration disorders 
  • Irritability 

In addition, people may feel more tired and impatient, which are signs that the body needs more serotonin. 

If you notice these symptoms, you should consult a doctor for treatment, which usually involves diet changes and tryptophan supplements in some cases. 

In severe cases of low serotonin, which cause significant impacts on a patient’s life, more specific treatment may be required.

Foods that boost serotonin levels 

There are foods that are rich in tryptophan, which boost serotonin production in the body. These include: 

  • Black chocolate
  • Eggs
  • Bananas
  • Pineapple
  • Tomato
  • Lean meats 
  • Milk
  • Whole grains
  • Vegetables (especially spinach and asparagus)

In addition to these foods, foods that are rich in omega-3 (like salmon, sardines, trout and nuts) are also great sources of serotonin. These foods should be included in small portions in your day to day diet.