Serotonin is a feel good chemical in our brain. One might ask, how can we increase our serotonin levels naturally without the use of a drug. Serotonergic manipulation has been researched for the last 4 decades. They key - the link between serotonin and depression; not just the treatment but the susceptibility to depression.
In the future, it is considered that it will be possible to predict with increasing accuracy who is susceptible to depression based on their serotonin levels. The source article details the studies.
Diet. The possibility that the mental health of a population could be improved by increasing the dietary intake of tryptophan, an anti-depressant.
The idea, common in popular culture, that a high-protein food such as turkey will raise brain tryptophan and serotonin is, unfortunately, false. This is because tryptophan is transported into the brain by a transport system that is active toward all the large neutral amino acids and tryptophan is the least abundant amino acid in protein. After the ingestion of a meal containing protein, the rise in the plasma level of the other large neutral amino acids will prevent the rise in plasma tryptophan from increasing brain tryptophan and therefore
Therefore increasing tryptophan relative to the dietary intake of other amino acids remains an interesting idea but not yet proven.
Bright light exposure is a standard treatment for seasonal depression but some studies now suggest it is effective for non seasonal depression. Only a few generations most of the world’s population worked outdoors for much of the day, resulting in bright light exposure even in Winter.
The beneficial effect of bright light exposure in healthy individuals has been studied widely and Lamps designed for the treatment of seasonal affective disorder are readily available,
Recent guidance in the UK points to treating mild clinical depression with various strategies, including exercise rather than antidepressants, because the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression.
Similarly to light exposure, there has been a change in level of physical exercise most humans engage with since the days of primarily working in agriculture.
Several lines of research suggest that exercise increases brain serotonin function in the human brain. This therefore could mean the prevention of depression can be added to the other benefits of exercise.
One possible non-pharmacologic strategy for raising brain serotonin is to use positron emission tomography. Participants underwent positive, negative and neutral mood inductions and those that reported levels of happiness were positively correlated and those that reported levels of sadness were negatively correlated with serotonin synthesis in the right anterior cingulate cortex.
This suggest that self-induced or psychotherapy can alter brain metabolism. The study also raises the possibility that the interaction between serotonin synthesis and mood may be 2-way, with serotonin influencing mood and mood influencing serotonin.
Non-pharmacologic strategies needed to be studied just as much as pharmacologic devices. The effect of non-pharmacologic interventions have shown interesting responses, which need to be studied further.
The primary purpose of this editorial is to point out that pharmacologic strategies are not the only ones worthy of study when devising strategies to increase brain serotonin function. The effect of non-pharmacologic interventions on brain serotonin and the implications of increased serotonin for mood and behavior need to be studied more especially given the vast discrepancy in funding.