Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter that works in the brain to send signals between individual nerve cells. Decreased levels of serotonin in the brain have been linked to problems such as insomnia, anxiety and depression. Because of these side effects of insufficient serotonin, many health care professionals have done extensive research on how to increase serotonin levels. By increasing serotonin, those suffering from anxiety or similar issues often find significant improvement in their condition and experience an increased sense of well-being and a more positive outlook.
There are several ways to increase serotonin levels, some of which require prescription medication. Those who suffer from anxiety or depression severe enough that it significantly impacts day-to-day life should always consult with a medical professional. Severe disorders should be treated with prescription medications under a doctor's care, in most cases. Many of these medications, such as anti-anxiety drugs and antidepressants, are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, whose major function is to increase a person's levels of serotonin.
For less serious or intermittent bouts of anxiety or the occasional low mood, there are other ways to increase serotonin levels naturally. Unfortunately, many people resort to a "quick fix" when they feel anxious or depressed, turning to sugar, caffeine or high-carbohydrate sweets such as chocolate. These options can provide a short-term lift in mood, but that lift is often followed quickly by a plummet in mood and energy. In the long term, stimulants such as caffeine actually decrease the levels of available serotonin in the system, having an opposite effect from what originally was intended.
Better options for foods that increase serotonin levels are nuts and seeds, whole grains, milk and high-protein foods such as turkey. Options such as these provide more body-friendly carbohydrates and are a great source of tryptophan, an amino acid that the body converts into serotonin, thus keeping levels of this mood-enhancing neurotransmitter at normal levels. This healthy approach is a much better way to increase serotonin levels and will keep moods consistent longer than using simple carbohydrates or stimulants.
Other ways to increase serotonin levels naturally include exercise and exposure to the sun. Exercise is considered to be one of the best ways to alleviate anxiety and mild depression, and it sometimes works as well as prescription drugs for short-term, mild cases. Depression and anxiety also can be helped by spending more time outside — one reason why depression is often more prevalent during the winter than during the summer.