Boost Your Brain Health: Increasing Serotonin in Addiction Recovery

Serotonin, a crucial neurotransmitter, plays a key role in regulating mood, sleep, and appetite. Its deficiencies often lead to conditions such as depression and anxiety. Understanding ways to increase serotonin without drugs can be an invaluable tool in enhancing brain health and overall well-being. Seven Arrows Recovery Center emphasizes elevating serotonin levels through natural methods and exploring the role of holistic treatment in recovery. 

Here, we explore dietary adjustments, exercise, sunlight exposure, and mindfulness, providing practical strategies for boosting serotonin levels naturally. These approaches not only aim to increase serotonin in the brain but also offer comprehensive benefits to mental health without relying on medication.

Dietary Adjustments for Enhanced Serotonin

Foods Rich in Tryptophan

Incorporating foods rich in tryptophan is essential to increase serotonin in the brain. Tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin, and its intake through diet can significantly affect your mood and mental well-being. Here are some tryptophan-rich foods that you can add to your diet:

  1. Turkey and Salmon: These proteins are packed with tryptophan and contain other nutrients that support overall health.
  2. Eggs and Cheese: Both are versatile options that boost your tryptophan intake.
  3. Nuts and Seeds: A handful of mixed nuts or seeds can be an excellent snack to increase your tryptophan levels.
  4. Tofu and Pineapples: For those who prefer plant-based diets, these foods offer a great way to consume tryptophan.

Impact of Carbohydrates on Tryptophan Absorption

Carbohydrates play a crucial role in the absorption of tryptophan into the brain, which enhances serotonin production. Including these carbohydrate-rich foods helps facilitate this process and boost overall mood and brain health. Some accessible carbohydrate-rich foods include:

  • Whole Grains: Foods like oats and whole wheat bread are beneficial.
  • Fruits and Vegetables: These provide necessary carbs and contain fiber and essential vitamins.

Recommended Dietary Patterns

Adopting a high-quality diet is linked to increased levels of serotonin. At Seven Arrows Recovery, diet will play a significant role in the healing process, and education on diet will enable clients to maintain these healthy habits. The Mediterranean diet is particularly beneficial due to its balance of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean proteins, and healthy fats. Mimicking a Mediterranean diet, here’s what a serotonin-boosting diet might include:

  • Lean Meats and Low-Fat Dairy: These provide essential proteins without excessive fats.
  • Olive Oil: Olive oil is a healthy fat that can replace less healthy options such as butter and canola oil.
  • Limit Intake of Processed Foods: Reducing consumption of refined grains, processed meats, and sugary drinks can help maintain optimal serotonin levels.

Supplements to Consider

While diet is crucial, certain supplements can also support serotonin levels. Supplements should not replace a healthy diet, but as the name suggests – supplement it. Always consult with a healthcare professional before starting any new supplement. Some of the recommended supplements include:

  • Tryptophan Supplements: Can directly increase tryptophan levels.
  • Probiotics and SAMe: These may influence serotonin production positively.
  • Herbal Supplements: Options like St. John’s Wort and ginseng might be beneficial but require professional guidance due to potential interactions with medications.

By making these dietary adjustments and considering the role of supplements, you can effectively increase serotonin levels and enhance your mental health.

Exercise as a Serotonin Booster

Understanding the Impact of Exercise on Serotonin Levels

Regular exercise is a powerful tool to increase serotonin levels naturally, offering therapeutic benefits such as enhanced mood and improved cognitive functions. Engaging in physical activities increases the metabolism reserve and antioxidation in the brain, which supports overall mental health.

Types of Exercise for Serotonin Boosts

Specific exercises may be especially beneficial for the production of serotonin. These include:

  • Aerobic Exercises: Activities like running, cycling, and swimming trigger the release of tryptophan into the bloodstream, which is crucial for serotonin production.
  • Resistance Training: Weight lifting and bodyweight exercises help strengthen neural connections, potentially preventing cognitive decline.
  • Yoga and Mindfulness Exercises improve physical health and reduce stress, which is beneficial for maintaining balanced serotonin levels.

Optimal Exercise Regimen

Adhere to specific guidelines to effectively maintain physical fitness and mental well-being. Aim for 150 minutes of moderate aerobic activity or 75 minutes of vigorous activity weekly. Moderate intensity is optimal as it can enhance serotonin levels without inducing excessive fatigue, which might hinder overall productivity. Remember that consistency is key; prioritize regular exercise over sporadic bursts of high-intensity workouts to reap the maximum benefits for your health.

Exercise’s Role in Disease Prevention and Mood Regulation

  • Preventive Benefits: Exercise has been shown to lower the risk of developing neurodegenerative diseases such as Parkinson’s Disease (PD) and dementia. It also enhances the brain’s resilience against neurotoxicity.
  • Mood Improvement: Exercise improves mood and concentration through the production of endorphins and serotonin, a natural state of euphoria often referred to as the “runner’s high.”

Practical Tips to Incorporate Exercise into Daily Routine

  • Start Small: If you are new to exercising, begin with short sessions and gradually increase the duration.
  • Mix It Up: Combine different exercises to keep the routine interesting and cover various aspects of physical health.
  • Stay Motivated: Set goals and track your progress to stay motivated. Finding exercise partners can also help maintain regular activity.

By incorporating regular physical activity into your daily routine, you increase serotonin levels and enhance your overall well-being. This proves that ways to increase serotonin without drugs are effective and accessible.

The Role of Sunlight and Outdoor Activities for Serotonin

Understanding Sunlight’s Impact on Serotonin Production

  1. Biological Mechanisms: Sunlight stimulates the retina, which sends signals to the brain to increase serotonin production. This neurotransmitter, often called the “happiness hormone,” is crucial in mood regulation.
  2. Vitamin D Synthesis: Exposure to ultraviolet-B radiation in sunlight prompts the skin to produce vitamin D, known as the “sunshine vitamin,” which is essential for bone health and immune system function.
  3. Circadian Rhythms Regulation: Natural sunlight helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles by affecting melatonin production, which is vital for good sleep quality.

Practical Guidelines for Increasing Sunlight Exposure

  • Daily Sunlight Routine: Aim for 10 to 15 minutes of sunlight exposure daily, ideally in the morning to kickstart serotonin production for the day.
  • Outdoor Activities: Engage in outdoor physical activities such as walking, cycling, or gardening to combine the benefits of exercise and sunlight.
  • Protective Measures: Always wear sunscreen for extended periods outdoors to protect against UV radiation.

Benefits of Sunlight Beyond Serotonin

  • Mental Health Improvements: Regular sunlight exposure can reduce symptoms of anxiety, depression, and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).
  • Enhanced Cognitive Functions: Studies have shown that sunlight exposure can improve cognitive performance, attention, and memory.
  • Physical Health Benefits: Moderate sunlight exposure has preventive benefits against certain types of cancer and helps treat skin conditions like psoriasis and eczema.

By integrating these strategies into your daily routine, you can harness the natural power of sunlight to boost your serotonin levels and improve overall well-being, aligning with effective ways to increase serotonin without drugs. Seven Arrows Recovery is situated in a serene landscape with plenty of opportunities for outdoor activities and sunlight. 

Mindfulness and Stress Reduction Techniques for Improved Serotonin

Introduction to Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT)

Mindfulness-Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT) combines traditional cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness strategies. It is designed to help you recognize and disengage from habitual, negative thought patterns that can trigger a relapse into depression. By focusing on the present moment non-judgmentally, MBCT allows you to alter your response to stress and emotional challenges, effectively increasing serotonin levels without drugs.

Key Practices in MBCT

  1. Routine Meditation: Engage in daily meditation sessions, focusing on breath and body sensations to foster a state of mindfulness.
  2. Mindfulness Exercises: Perform exercises that enhance awareness, such as mindful eating or mindful walking, integrating mindfulness into everyday activities.
  3. Cognitive Awareness: Learn to identify thoughts as mere thoughts; observe them without judgment and let them pass without getting emotionally involved.

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) Techniques

Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction (MBSR) is a program that uses mindfulness meditation to address the anxieties, pains, and illnesses that can burden your life. Here’s how you can practice MBSR to reduce stress and boost serotonin levels:

  • Daily Meditation: Set aside time each day for guided or self-directed meditation.
  • Body Scanning: Periodically engage in a body scan technique, which involves paying close attention to bodily sensations.
  • Yoga: Incorporate gentle yoga exercises into your routine to improve physical strength and flexibility while also enhancing mental focus and relaxation.

Practical Steps for Implementing Mindfulness Techniques

  • Establish a Quiet Space: Dedicate a quiet area in your home where you can practice meditation and mindfulness without interruptions.
  • Set a Regular Schedule: Consistency is critical. Try to meditate at the same time each day to establish a routine that supports sustained attention and mindfulness.
  • Use Guided Sessions: Initially, you may find guided meditations helpful in guiding you through the process. Many apps and online resources are available to support your practice.

Integrating mindfulness and stress reduction techniques into your daily routine, you can effectively manage stress and enhance your mental health, contributing to increased serotonin levels and overall well-being.


We’ve explored various strategies to naturally enhance serotonin levels, highlighting its crucial role in mental health and overall well-being. Seven Arrows incorporates these methods and activities, including dietary adjustments, regular physical exercise, sunlight exposure, mindfulness, and stress reduction techniques, to ensure recovery supports and enhances overall brain health. By prioritizing natural elements, practices, and activities, individuals can holistically uplift serotonin levels, promoting mental and physical wellness. This highlights the significance of balanced lifestyle choices in preventive healthcare, offering a pathway to a happier, healthier life through holistic and empowering approaches to mental health management. If you or a loved one are seeking recovery in Arizona, where mental health and holistic healing are prioritized, reach out to Seven Arrows Recovery today. 

Laura Harder, LAC, M.A.

About the Author:
Laura Bailey holds a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art from Temple University in Philadelphia, and a Master of Arts in Art Therapy and Counseling from Southwestern College in Santa Fe. Laura has worked in community mental health and residential settings throughout New Mexico and Arizona since 2013. Laura has a passion for treating addiction, trauma, and co-occurring disorders.

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Clinical Director

Lindsay Rothschild LCSW, CCTP, SAP

Lindsay Rothschild is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Substance Abuse Professional with a passion for assisting others in activating their own inner healing intelligence. She completed her Master’s Degree in Social Work at Arizona State University in 2011 and went on to study various ancient wisdom traditions for healing. Her training as a Clinical Trauma Professional and over a decade of experience working with trauma survivors has afforded her a rich understanding of the powerful impact of trauma on the mind, body and soul.

Lindsay studied holistic nutrition and trauma informed yoga at the Southwest Institute of Healing Arts. Lindsay is certified in the Trauma-Conscious Yoga Method™ and is also a registered yoga teacher. She most recently completed training in Ketamine Assisted Psychotherapy (KAP). Lindsay partners with the Arizona Trauma Institute to facilitate trainings for mental health professionals and educators in the community in an effort to promote awareness around Trauma Informed Care. Lindsay is also the owner of Roots to Rise, PLLC where she provides somatic psychotherapy, EMDR therapy, supervision, trauma informed yoga, and substance abuse professional services. Lindsay describes herself as having a wild and free spirit, an open heart and a belief that all humans have the capacity for transformation and growth.

Medical Director

Dr. Tracey Oppenheim MD

Dr. Oppenheim was born and raised in Michigan. She completed her medical school education, general and child and adolescent psychiatry training at the University of Michigan. Go Blue! She is passionate about the mind body spiritual connection and has completed additional training in integrative psychiatry. Dr. Oppenheim believes in each individual’s ability to heal through discovering their inner healing intelligence.