1. Be happy.
Studies have shown that when you choose to redirect your attention to the positive, your serotonin levels increase. It’s been known for years that your thoughts can alter blood flow to the brain, but only recently have scientists discovered that how you think can also alter neurotransmitter levels. Meditation has been shown to increase dopamine levels, and feelings of happiness also alter serotonin levels in your brain.
Low serotonin receptor function is associated with poor mood, and high serotonin levels are associated with better mood. Basically, while low serotonin may cause you to feel sad, feeling happy may also increase your serotonin levels. It’s not clear which is more powerful, but one way to increase serotonin may be through psychotherapy methods like cognitive behavioral therapy, meditation, and my personal favorite, HeartMath training.
Doing Heart Math training literally strengthens the part of your brain responsible for turning on the "happy state."
2. Get outside more.
Mark Sisson has written some excellent articles on the importance of sunshine and light exposure. He’s made a great point about how working outside can increase your productivity, happiness, and health. The problem is that it’s hard to move your office outside (although there are some tricks you can use to make it work). Nevertheless, working outdoors is not something most people are going to do. However, other research is showing that bright light exposure may be a way to help increase serotonin levels and alleviate depressive symptoms.
Bright light therapy is especially effective in pregnant women. On a slightly macabre note, autopsies have shown that people who died in the summer have higher serotonin levels than those who died in the winter. In studies where they purposely restrict tryptophan to lower serotonin levels, bright light prevents the normal drop in serotonin levels. If you’ve been suffering from depression or unexplained sadness, try to get outside more often. If you can’t, think about getting a wakeup light or installing some halogen bulbs in your work area.
In fact, since I live in Canada where it gets dark in the winter, I have 1000 watts of halogen light mounted above my desk, which serves nicely to stave off the winter blues.
If you’ve been reading the blog or listening to the podcast for any length of time, you’ve probably figured out that excess exercise is not Bulletproof. However, the right kinds of exercise can be beneficial for a number of reasons. A massive review of most of the available evidence found that exercise is extremely good at improving depressive symptoms and increasing mood. Some forward thinking agencies are even prescribing exercise instead of antidepressants, because "the risk–benefit ratio is poor for antidepressant use in patients with mild depression." In other words, exercise is more effective and safer, at least for people with mild depression. In animals, exercise increases serotonin levels and the firing rates of serotonin neurons. Does this mean you should start training for the Boston Marathon? No, but it is evidence you might benefit from a strength plan like the one we’ve laid out here. To learn more about the benefits of Bulletproof exercise, listen to our interview with Dr. Doug McGuff, M.D.
The last, and possibly most effective way to increase serotonin levels in your brain and improve your mood is to eat the Bulletproof Diet. In animals and humans, tryptophan increases serotonin levels. In cases of light to moderate to depression, tryptophan can also improve mood. Even in healthy people who are ranked as slightly more irritable than most, small amounts of tryptophan can make them more agreeable and less irritable. However, there is a difference between dietary and supplementary tryptophan.
Tryptophan supplements raise serotonin levels, but dietary tryptophan does not. If you do take tryptophan as a supplement, don’t take it when you have recently eaten protein, the other amino acids in protein compete with the absorption of tryptophan in the brain.
There is also evidence that a high tryptophan diet may be bad for you over the long-term. However, there are a few foods that may increase serotonin levels. Some of the proteins in whey can improve mood in humans after just a few hours. This might be one of the reasons people feel so much better eating Upgraded Whey.
In the end, changing the types and amounts of protein you eat is probably less effective than the types and amounts of fat you eat. Studies have shown that consuming omega-3s improves mood. On the other hand, consuming large amounts of oxidized artificial trans fats can decrease your mental performance and hurt your mood. When you eat these fats, they’re assimilated into your brain and other tissues. They replace the fats that you need like omega-3s, and make you more irritable, less intelligent, and less Bulletproof.
The Bulletproof Diet is high in omega-3 fats, clean saturated fats, and moderate amounts of animal protein to give your body what it needs for a stable mood, but not too much to cause inflammation.
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