Where is my serotonin?! Neuropsychological recipe for a good mood

Song by Luxtorpeda: “Serotonin”
Song by Luxtorpeda: “Serotonin”

The quoted song brings up the issue of serotonin deficiency in an artistic way. In this paper I will say few words about serotonin -  what it is, how it works and what you should do to let  your brain use the benefits of it.

What is the most popular depression treatment? Everyone has heard about Prozac – a leading antidepressant, also known as “a happy pill”… It is mainly made of fluoxetine - the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI).

Let me put it in plain English. The serotonin is one of neurotransmitters. It is simply a chemical substance, which mediates transmission of information between two parts of the brain by transmitting stimuli to neurons. Synapse (ending) of a neuron (presynaptic) releases serotonin into a synaptic space, and receptors on the synapse of other neuron (postsynaptic) collect serotonin from there. We may say, that this is the way in which the first neuron transmits information to the second one.

When neurotransmitters revealed their message they get released from the receptor into the synaptic space. Then the serotonin is carried back into the presynaptic neuron, so that it can be released the next time an action potential reaches the synapsis. This action is called reuptake. However, if reuptake is stopped, serotonin stays in the synaptic space and still stimulates receptors of the postsynaptic neuron – so it works more intensely and longer. This is exactly what Prozac causes in the brain.

Since all of these processes are about serotonin let me explain where it comes from and how it works. Sometimes it is called “happy hormone”, however, 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT)[3] is its real, chemical name. It is produced from one of the essential amino acids (amino acid that cannot be synthesized from scratch by the organism, and therefore must be supplied) – tryptophan.

Serotonin located in the brain influences the mood (positively), sleep, sexual needs, appetite, pain perception, temperature regulation of the human body, etc.

What are the symptoms of depression? According to ICD-10 these are feelings of helplessness and hopelessness, sleep and appetite changes, self-loathing, loss of sex drive.[4]

Can you notice any similarities?

Serotonin prevents depression also in an indirect way. Some studies have shown that serotonin can also cause depression. [5] Deficiency of tryptophan (and hence – serotonin) causes depression after some time.

If it is such a marvel, should we all ask our doctors for prescriptions?

It is not necessary. You can get serotonin in a natural way.

So how can you increase the level of serotonin in our brains? 

Method 1 – think positively and care about little pleasures that put yourself in a better mood. There is some scientific evidence that it is not only serotonin that improves your mood, but also is your good mood that increases levels of serotonin.[5]

Method 2 – get suntan! The more you take the sun, the more serotonin our body produces. It has been proven that taking the sun positively influences every type of depression. In the past most of people used to work outdoors, and this is why they received a considerable amount of sunlight. Nowadays, most of people tend to spend long hours indoors. Some of them, however, try to expose their skin to artificial irradiation with powerful lamps and use this method to cure depression and to boost their mood.[5] But even the brightest artificial light is not equal to the sunlight. During winter, when daylight hours dwindle, the sunlight is still beneficial – this is why walks in the sunlight are highly recommended.

Method 3 – exercise. It has been proven that regular physical activity improves the mood of people suffering from mild depression as well as major depression. Exercising increases level of serotonin in human body, so it simply boosts your mood.[5] Regular aerobic exercise that will make you (at least) a bit tired might be the best option. Who hasn’t ever experienced the feeling of bliss after an aerobic session or a tedious training?

Method 4 – think of your diet. However, this issue is way more complex. Unfortunately some Internet reports about influence of high-protein foods on increase of serotonin in human body are UNTRUE. Although tryptophan (the amino acid that functions as a biochemical precursor for serotonin) is found in bigger amounts in some of the foods, its amount in food has nothing in common with the amount of serotonin in the brain. This is because human body at first absorbs the amino acids which are found in bigger amounts (in proteins, there is less of tryptophan than of any other essential amino acids. Moreover, the amino acids “compete” with each other in order to get to the brain – the higher the concentration of the amino acid, the more of it gets into the brain). The foods containing serotonin (e.g. bananas) will not be of much help as well. It is due to the fact that serotonin cannot get through blood-brain barrier (BBB). A slightly bigger amount of tryptophan might be found in a sub-protein in milk, however it is of little importance. In order to increase the level of serotonin, you must take tryptophan supplements (in pills) or modify the foods in a proper way.[5]

Other resources, however, say that you must reduce the level of other amino acids in plasma. How? Supposedly by consuming more carbohydrates, which results in improving insulin level. Insulin expedites absorption of the amino acids “competing” with tryptophan, thus increases the level of tryptophan and also increases its chances to get to the brain. [2] It might somehow explain the boost of your mood after eating some chocolate.

Assuming, serotonin is the neurotransmitters which amount in the brain has a significant impact on numerous biological processes, including the good mood – and what follows, your quality of life. Serotonin deficiency causes depression, but the increase of its level in brain is like an antidepressant. You can increase the level of serotonin by taking drugs on the basis of fluoxetine, or in a natural way – by the good mood, taking the sun, physical activities and the diet rich in carbohydrates.

So… a reliable method for the good mood: chocolate square, positive thinking and energetic walk in the park on a sunny day.


Written by: Zuzanna Słoka

Translated by:Karolina Lejkowska




  1.  Frencel, P., Friedrich, R. (2012). Serotonina. [w:] Robaki.
  2. Hamm, M. (2009). Żywność – naturalne lekarstwo. Co nam szkodzi, a co nam pomaga? Kraków: Esprit. [za:] http://www.deon.pl/czytelnia/ksiazki/art,87,zywnosc-naturalne-lekarstwo-co-nam-szkodzi-a-co-nam-pomaga,strona,2.html
  3. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Serotonin
  4. Klasyfikacja zaburzeń psychicznych i zaburzeń zachowania w ICD-10. Badawcze kryteria diagnostyczne. (1998). Kraków-Warszawa: Uniwersyteckie Wyd. Medyczne „Vesalius”. Instytut Psychiatrii i Neurologii.
  5. Young, S. N. (2007). How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience, 32(6), s. 394–399. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2077351/

Studia: Psychologia, III rok, specjalizacje: psychologia kliniczna człowieka dorosłego, psychologia zdrowia i jakości życia.    Zainteresowania: Psychosomatyka, neuropsychologia, psychoterapia poznawczo-behawioralna. Teologia i duchowość. Literatura (klasyczna, rosyjska, fantastyczna), muzyka (rock, poezja śpiewana, muzyka poważna), makrofotografia, łamigłówki, gotowanie.       Dodatkowe doświadczenie (działalność w organizacjach, praktyki, wolontariat): Opieka nad dziećmi. Udzielanie korepetycji. Wolontariat w domu dziecka. Działalność w kole naukowym neuropsychologii (kiedyś), w kole naukowym Psychoterapii i Treningu Psychologicznego (od niedawna). Działalność w katolickiej wspólnocie.   Kontakt: zuzannasloka@gmail. (...)

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