Serotonin: is it the happiness hormone? Tips to increase

Hormones are substances produced by the endocrine system. There are many types, with distinct and unique functions, so that all are of great importance for the full functioning of the organism.

Some act directly on our cognitive and behavioral functions, such as serotonin . Let’s understand better the importance of this substance and its function in our body:

What is serotonin?

The hormone serotonin is characterized as a neurotransmitter (chemical substance that makes communication between neurons), responsible for regulating sleep, mood, body temperature, etc. So it is essential to provide feelings of well-being and happiness.

This is possible because the famous “happiness hormone” is produced in the nervous system and transmits information to the brain, which makes it possible to feel these positive emotions.

In addition, it is worth mentioning that this substance also acts on the cardiovascular system, smooth muscles and promotes platelet aggregation (prevents clots). It also plays an important role in the CNS (central nervous system), acting in the limbic system.

This system works by controlling sensations such as anxiety , fear, sleep and even pain perception.

In this sense, low levels of serotonin commonly lead to symptoms such as increased irritability, insomnia and even gastrointestinal problems. In more severe cases, it can also be associated with depression .

Basically, the treatment for those who are deficient in serotonin indices consists of changes in habits. For example, including food rich in tryptophan (substance responsible for the production of serotonin) in the diet, exercising, etc.

In more severe cases, medications such as Fluoxetine or Citalopram can be prescribed, which act as Selective Serotonin Recapture Inhibitors (SSRIs), regulating the functionality of the hormone.

In the sequence, you can better understand other questions about this neurotransmitter:

How is serotonin produced in the body?

The serotonin is a hormone produced in the brain and intestine, from the substance tryptophan (amino acid). However, in general, most (80% to 90%) are found in the gastrointestinal tract.

In this sense, its production depends on the intake of foods rich in tryptophan (present in foods such as chocolate, bananas , cereals, etc.) and carbohydrates . So, the ideal is to maintain a balanced diet and consume in small portions, throughout the day, the foods that rely on the substance.

In addition, in general, most serotonin production occurs in the morning and in the presence of sunlight – which stimulates the release of the hormone.

Finally, it is worth noting that serotonin can also be found in blood platelets and mainly in the central nervous system (CNS). Thus, the pineal gland (located in the brain) secretes serotonin and, thus, enables its action in the body.

What does the neurotransmitter serotonin do?

The neurotransmitter serotonin performs important functions in the central nervous system (CNS), which affect both the cognitive and behavioral side. Among its main functions, is the control of mood – inhibiting aggressive behaviors, for example.

However, in addition, this hormone is responsible for other important functionalities, among them:

  • Controls appetite;
  • Regulates sleep;
  • Regulates libido (sexual desire);
  • Regulates body temperature;
  • Helps blood clotting;
  • Controls nausea and bowel function.

Considering the variety of action of this neurotransmitter, it is possible to notice how important it is for the full functioning of the body – both in terms of physical and mental health.

Is serotonin the hormone of happiness and pleasure?

The serotonin is known as the hormone of happiness . Considering that it is directly linked to mood regulation, among other functions.

However, the hormone known to provide feelings of pleasure is dopamine . This is because it operates in the so-called “reward system”.

When performing certain activities (from the simplest, such as drinking when you are thirsty), the brain receives stimuli and dopamine is released – providing a sense of pleasure or reward for action.

However, it would not be wrong to consider that high levels of serotonin can also cause a person to have greater feelings of pleasure, due to a greater sense of well-being.

In this sense, it is worth mentioning that these two hormones often act together.

What does high serotonin mean?

When serotonin is at levels above normal, it constitutes a picture of serotonin syndrome . In this case, it is common for the person to present excessive nervous activity, leading to symptoms such as:

  • Agitation;
  • Mental confusion;
  • Increased heart rate and blood pressure;
  • Pupil dilation;
  • Headaches;
  • Excessive sweat.

One of the main causes is related to the joint use of substances that activate this hormone. For example, when taking stimulant drugs while using certain medications (such as antidepressants).

However, it is worth mentioning that it is a rare condition , it hardly occurs even with the use of various medications that increase serotonin levels.

What causes a lack of serotonin in the brain?

One of the main causes of the lack of serotonin in the brain is related to the lack of good habits : correct eating, leisure time, physical exercise, etc. Since this hormone allows us to have a feeling of happiness and well-being, establishing habits that stimulate this is very important.

In this sense, food is a factor that can be decisive. This, considering that it is the easiest way to absorb tryptophan (substance responsible for the production of serotonin).

So, bet on foods like meats and dairy products. Avoid a diet rich in sugar and processed flours, which hinder intestinal functioning and consequently the absorption of tryptophan.

Another issue that can interfere with the levels of serotonin in the body are high levels of stress , which consequently increase the levels of the hormone cortisol.

Finally, the problem may also be related to the transmission of the hormone . So that even at normal levels, it is unable to perform its full action – drug intervention is necessary.

Is low serotonin depression?

Not necessarily low serotonin is a sign of depression or vice versa. However, low levels of this hormone are often associated with cases of anxiety or depression.

For this reason, many medications used to treat these conditions work by increasing serotonin and regulating its functioning. Considering that, in many cases, the problem is not in the lack of this substance, but in its transmission.

In this sense, many antidepressant medications make the patient feel better in mood and decrease anxiety, through the reuptake of the hormone (reabsorption of the neurotransmitter to be used again). Thus, the drug increases the amount of serotonin in the spaces between neurons and allows it to achieve its effect.

But it is worth stressing that even though the relationship between depression and low serotonin is very common, not every depressed person has problems with this hormone.

In the same way that it is possible that the person has deficiency in the levels of the substance, but without being in a state of depression.

What are the symptoms of a lack of serotonin?

When serotonin is found in low concentrations, the person tends to feel the impact in the areas in which he acts (mood, sleep, appetite, etc.). Thus, among the main symptoms of the lack of this hormone are factors such as irritation, anxiety and insomnia.

However, there are still other symptoms that can appear when serotonin is low:

  • Fatigue and tiredness;
  • Malfunction of the intestine;
  • Migraine;
  • Changes in sexual desire;
  • Disturbances of memory and concentration;
  • Emotional instability in general.

Remembering that, not necessarily, the lack of serotonin will cause these symptoms. There are people who show no sign of the problem.

How to diagnose: is there an exam?

In general, in order to know the body’s serotonin levels and make a diagnosis, the doctor orders a blood test.

With this, it will be possible to analyze whether the levels are within the parameters considered to be adequate – ranging from 101 to 283 nanograms per milliliter of blood (ng / mL).

However, it is important to keep in mind that serotonin is not constant. So that its indexes can change throughout the day, showing peaks and falls.

Thus, it may be interesting to keep the medical monitoring on a regular basis, in order to observe the constancy or possible changes of this substance in the body. Considering that not only can the fall cause problems, but also exacerbated rates.

It is worth mentioning that many specialists indicate that there is little clinical relevance with regard to the measurement of serotonin in the blood. So the important thing is the neuronal synapse of the hormone – that is, the way it is transmitted to the body.

For this reason, the test to measure serotonin is commonly used for research or other specific diagnoses – such as carcinoid tumors.

Treatment: how to increase serotonin?

Basically, the treatment to increase serotonin is done in two ways: changes in habits and / or use of medication (such as antidepressants, vitamin supplements, etc.). Which varies according to each case.

As mentioned, sometimes the lack of serotonin in the body leads to serious problems like depression. In these cases, drug intervention is necessary so that the person has a faster improvement and can have quality of life.

However, in cases of sporadic or mild symptoms, the doctor in charge can recommend only a change of habits in the routine – such as including more leisure moments in the daily routine, improving eating habits, etc.

Regardless of the treatment indicated, it is essential to follow medical recommendations for a satisfactory result.

What is the best medicine to increase serotonin?

Among the remedies most recommended by professionals to increase this hormone, certainly the main ones are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (ISRs). These work by inhibiting the resorption of this hormone in the brain – so that, with continuous use, its concentration increases and has a normalized action.

In this sense, they can be initially given vitamin supplements – considering that the vitamins of the B complex , for example, are great allies in the production of serotonin.

In addition, medications such as:

  • Fluoxetine ;
  • Sertraline ;
  • Paroxetine ;
  • Citalopram ;
  • Escitalopram .

Remembering that these medications are of controlled use and should only be used with professional recommendation and guidance.

How to increase serotonin naturally?

Serotonin regulates different functions of our body (mood, sleep, appetite, etc.), which can suffer external interference. That is, our habits can impact the levels of this hormone. In this sense, check out some ways to naturally increase serotonin in the body:


In general, foods rich in tryptophan (an amino acid that increases the production of serotonin in the central nervous system) are the best for those who want to increase the levels of the “happiness hormone”. Check out some:

  • Dark chocolate;
  • White meat;
  • Banana;
  • Pineapple;
  • Tomato;
  • Milk and milk products;
  • Chestnut from Pará.

These are just a few examples. If you want a more complete list of foods that can help you feel good, you can seek help from a nutritionist. Thus, the professional may indicate those who have a higher tryptophan index.

Practice exercises

It is not new that physical exercises are very beneficial to health and that they can alter the hormonal concentrations of our body – including serotonin.

In general, the practice of physical activities is one of the healthiest ways to increase the production of serotonin in the body. Therefore, when we include this habit in our routine, it is normal for us to have a greater sense of well-being, disposition and happiness.


Have you ever heard about people who suffer from a type of seasonal depression that affects them during the coldest periods of the year? This may be due to a lack of vitamin D.

This vitamin is an important nutrient for the production of serotonin. So, sunbathing can help a lot to balance the levels of this hormone so important for our well-being.

However, care must be taken. Excessive or wrong sun exposure can be quite harmful. So, always choose to do this at times considered safe: before 10am and after 4pm.

If you live somewhere that usually has the most closed time or is unable to sunbathe due to other issues, seek help from a doctor. That way, he / she can indicate a vitamin D supplementation, if applicable.

Have moments of leisure

As we have seen, serotonin is responsible (among other things) for regulating our mood. There is nothing better for that than valuing leisure moments and ensuring that they are part of the routine.

Many people give up small daily moments of leisure, such as taking time out to watch something they enjoy, being with their family, relaxing, etc. However, this can be very detrimental to the full functioning of the body.

This is because when our mind is not well, it tends to reflect on our body. Therefore, it is essential that serotonin levels are good in order to provide a feeling of well-being and allow for a good night’s sleep, a good appetite, etc.

Therefore, be sure to include leisure moments in your daily life, even in small doses. It certainly won’t be long before you realize the effects of this on your life – especially if done in conjunction with the other habits mentioned.

Differences between serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine

Serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine have some common factors, but the main thing is that they are all neurotransmitters that somehow interfere with feelings of well-being, pleasure and happiness.

However, despite this, they are not the same hormone and have unique characteristics, so that each one has its importance. See what are its other functions, in addition to mood regulation:

  • Serotonin – regulates sleep, appetite, heart rate, body temperature, sensitivity and intellectual functions;
  • Dopamine – is known as the pleasure neurotransmitter (provides a feeling of reward), but it also acts on the levels of attention, motor functions, learning, etc;
  • Noradrenaline – is directly linked to the body’s alertness and its main action is the maintenance of blood pressure.

In general, these neurotransmitters can act together (mainly serotonin and dopamine). However, the way in which they are synthesized in the organism and their specific individual functions is what differentiates them.

Serotonin is a substance that acts directly on our sense of well-being and happiness. However, remember that cultivating good habits can be the main way to keep it at its normal levels and enable a good quality of life.

Be sure to keep following the Healthy Minute for more information on well-being, food and health in general!