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Serotonin is a hormone that acts as a neurotransmitter, relaying nerve signals from one part of the brain to another. Serotonin is believed to influence many physical and psychological functions, including mood, appetite, libido, cognitive reasoning, sleep and social behaviors. Consequently, changes in serotonin levels can directly affect how our bodies and minds respond to different stressors. Ideally, more serotonin is better than less.

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Eat a meal that is high in slowly digested carbs such as oatmeal, whole grains, beans and lentils. Stay away from highly refined and processed foods like white bread, muffins, bagels, candies and sugary, low-fiber cereals. Eating slowly digested carbs will release insulin into your bloodstream, which in turn will cause tryptophan– the amino acid from which serotonin is made–to freely enter your brain and increase your serotonin levels.

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Get more light. In a study in the "Archives of General Psychiatry," patients suffering from depression felt noticeably better after receiving light treatment. When the treatment stopped, serotonin levels decreased by 20 percent and the patients' depression reappeared. Dr. Michael Terman of Columbia University says exposure to light stimulates serotonin stores in the nervous system and works in a way similar to Prozac. Clinical light therapy sessions can be expensive and hard to come by in some localities, but even going outside more, increasing interior lighting and minimizing your use of sunglasses can be effective.

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Decrease your stress. "Dr. Bob Arnot's Revolutionary Weight Control Program" says that "stress robs the brain of serotonin." Exercise, especially aerobic, and meditation are effective stress relievers and help to keep away the need to relieve stress with junk food.

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Sleep longer and better. Serotonin levels are replenished during your sleeping hours. To get a better night's sleep, eat your bigger meal at lunch and eat lightly at dinner. Avoid too much protein right before bed. This will allow you to not only sleep sounder, but will aid weight loss goals by forcing your body to burn fat stores instead of recently ingested food.

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Take a vitamin B supplement. Vitamin B is necessary for serotonin production and is quickly used up during stress and times of high energy output. If your diet is rich in green vegetables, whole grains and dairy products, you're probably getting enough. But if your nutrition is inadequate, consider taking a B complex supplement (the various B vitamins work best in your body when taken together). Pay particular attention to your intake of vitamin B6, which affects the rate at which tryptophan converts to serotonin.

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Increase your calcium and magnesium. Both nutrients are important for serotonin production. Eating plenty of nuts, dairy products and green vegetables should give you an adequate supply of both, but consider taking a supplement if your diet is lacking.

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Decrease caffeine, alcohol, sugar and artificial sweeteners. These stimulants may make you feel good temporarily, but they are poor substitutes for serotonin, the real "feel good" natural chemical your body produces. They also can make it harder for your brain to balance your moods. Artificial sweeteners also can interfere with your body's natural hormone operations.

About the Author

Monica Miller

Monica Miller has been writing professionally for more than 15 years. She has been published in "Woman's World," "Country Woman," "San Diego Family," "Columbia," "The Liguorian," "Boys' Life," "National Geographic World," and many other print and online magazines. She has a Bachelor of Arts degree in political science from the University of St. Thomas.