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How to improve mental wellbeing Lift mood naturally How to improve your mood supplements for mental health increase serotonin and dopamine

How to improve mental wellbeing? Your brain chemicals hold the answers.


The World Health Organization defines mental wellbeing as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” [1]. Your brain produces chemicals that contribute to your mental wellbeing. These include serotonin, dopamine, GABA, acetylcholine, and oxytocin. Many supplements for mental health aim to increase their levels to promote wellbeing. Though these brain chemicals perform a variety of functions in the body, they need to be produced exclusively in the brain for brain benefits. 

Serotonin: the feel-good chemical

What is the best way to lift mood naturally? Increase your serotonin levels. Serotonin in the brain is responsible for regulating your mood and sleep-wake cycle. Researchers trying to answer the question of how to improve your mood focus primarily on the role of serotonin. Higher levels of serotonin are associated with better mood. Brain scans show that serotonin levels increase when participants were in a better mood and decreased during low mood [2][3]. 

Serotonin is produced from tryptophan, a building block of protein. Once consumed, tryptophan is converted to 5-HTP which is then converted to serotonin (5-HT). 

Ways to increase serotonin levels:

  • Increase tryptophan intake: Foods high in tryptophan include (per 100g): Frozen dried tofu (750mg), Chia seeds (720mg), pork (630mg), mozzarella cheese (600mg) and chicken (380mg). Your body uses less than 3% of food’s tryptophan to make brain serotonin [4].
  • Supplement with 5-HTP: This is the efficient way to increase serotonin levels because 5-HTP can easily enter the brain and is directly converted to serotonin. 
  • Exposure to bright light: Exposure to light activates serotonin production [5]. The NHS recommends this as a treatment of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) which is accompanied by low mood [6]. A general recommendation is exposure to 10,000 lux (measure of intensity of brightness) for 30 minutes per day [7].

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Dopamine: the reward and pleasure chemical

Good food, sex, socializing, thrill-seeking and other activities that give you a sense of reward and pleasure, are courtesy of dopamine. Dopamine contributes to mental wellbeing by motivating and challenging you. Studies [8][9][10] found higher dopamine levels in motivated individuals and in response to challenging tasks and new experiences.

Dopamine is produced from L-tyrosine (building block of protein), found in protein rich foods. L-tyrosine enters the brain and is converted to L-DOPA which is converted to dopamine. 

Ways to increase dopamine levels

  • Increase tyrosine intake: Foods high in L-tyrosine include (per 100g): Parmesan cheese (2300mg), frozen dried tofu (1800mg), beef steak (1200mg), egg (500mg). For those with inadequate dietary intake or restrictions, L-tyrosine can be taken in supplemental form to increase dopamine levels. 
  • Exercise regularly: Aerobic exercise like walking, running, and swimming increases dopamine levels [11]. Animal studies found that exercising increased dopamine levels by 40% and the levels stayed high for a week [12]. Another study found exercising for 2 hours increased dopamine levels by 30% [13]. Exercise is a great way to increase serotonin and dopamine levels.
  • Practice meditation: Meditation, an act of mindfulness, has shown to increase dopamine levels by 65% during a single hourly session [14]

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GABA: the relaxation chemical

GABA is the main relaxation brain chemical that maintains the balance against excitatory brain chemicals [15]. Low stress levels are needed to maintain optimal GABA levels [16]. Food sources like kimchi, sourdough, fermented fish, and white tea can provide small amounts of GABA, but only a small amount can enter the brain [17]

L-theanine is a nutrient found in green tea, which easily enters the brain and has an effect within 30 minutes [18]. L-theanine can increase the relative concentration of GABA and promote relaxation without sedation [19].

Ways to increase GABA levels

  • Increase L-theanine intake: 15 years’ worth of research evidence found that regular intake of 200-400mg L-theanine (13-26 cups of tea) for 2 weeks reduced stress and had a calming effect [20]. A high dose that is effective is easier to achieve through L-theanine supplementation, compared to drinking many cups of tea.
    • Practice yoga: Practising yoga for an hour, three times a week is shown to increase GABA levels by 13%-27%, based on the level of experience [21].

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    Acetylcholine: the memory and attention brain chemical

    Acetylcholine is a fast-acting brain chemical that is involved in learning, memory, focus and attention tasks [22]. Increasing acetylcholine levels improved memory recall during tests, reaction times and number of tasks completed [23] [24] and a high amount of acetylcholine is released in brain areas that process short term memory for long term retention [25].

    Acetylcholine is produced from choline, a nutrient found in protein-rich foods. Those with low choline intake can take it in supplemental form, with the best available one being Alpha GPC. Alpha GPC is 41% choline by weight and increases acetylcholine levels faster than other forms of choline. It can freely enter the brain to increase acetylcholine levels in 1-3 hours after intake [26].

    Ways to increase acetylcholine levels:

    • Increase choline intake: Foods high in choline include (per 100g): beef liver (426mg), fried egg (273mg), smoked salmon (224mg), dried shiitake mushrooms (202mg). 
    • Supplement with Alpha GPC: Alpha GPC is an efficient form of choline needed to increase acetylcholine levels. Choline supplementation is shown to improve working memory, even in alcohol-damaged brains [27]. 

    Brain feed has created the world’s 1st 500mg Alpha GPC capsule containing 99% Alpha GPC* (the purest form of Alpha GPC). Read more here

    Oxytocin: the bonding chemical 

    Oxytocin is a hormone that is intimately involved in social bonding and promoting trust [28]. It decreases stress and anxiety by promoting familiarity and bonding. It is referred to as “love hormone” due to its role in romantic attachment [29]. It is also involved in sexual and reproductive functions. 

    Ways to increase oxytocin levels:

    • Embrace your loved ones: Hugging a loved one or a pet is shown to increase oxytocin levels due to increased bonding experience
    • Volunteer: Positive social interactions like giving charity and volunteering for a cause increase oxytocin levels [30].
    • Sing: Singing, regardless of whether you are an amateur or professional, increases oxytocin levels [31]
    • Get a massage: 15 mins of moderate pressure massage was shown to promote calmness and increase oxytocin levels [32].


    1. World Health Organization. The world health report 2001: mental health: new understanding, new hope. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2001.
    2. Perreau-Linck, E. et al. (2007). In vivo measurements of brain trapping of C-labelled alpha-methyl-L-tryptophan during acute changes in mood states. Journal of psychiatry & neuroscience: JPN, [online] 32(6), pp.430–434.
    3. Hulsken, S. et al. (2013). Food-derived serotonergic modulators: effects on mood and cognition. Nutrition Research Reviews, 26(2), pp.223–234.
    4. Banskota, S. et al. (2019). Serotonin in the gut: Blessing or a curse. Biochimie, [online] 161, pp.56–64. doi:10.1016/j.biochi.2018.06.008.
    5. Sansone, R.A. et al. (2013). Sunshine, Serotonin, and Skin: A Partial Explanation for Seasonal Patterns in Psychopathology? Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience, [online] 10(7-8), pp.20–24. 
    6. NHS (2021). Treatment - Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). [online]
    7. Campbell, P.D. et al. (2017). Bright Light Therapy: Seasonal Affective Disorder and Beyond. The Einstein journal of biology and medicine : EJBM, [online] 32, pp.E13–E25. 
    8. Treadway, M.T. et al. (2012). Dopaminergic Mechanisms of Individual Differences in Human Effort-Based Decision-Making. The Journal of Neuroscience, [online] 32(18), pp.6170–6176.
    9. Chew, B. et al. (2019). Endogenous fluctuations in the dopaminergic midbrain drive behavioral choice variability. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116(37), pp.18732–18737.
    10. Bunzeck, N. et al. (2006). Absolute Coding of Stimulus Novelty in the Human Substantia Nigra/VTA. Neuron, 51(3), pp.369–379.
    11. Heijnen, S. et al. (2016). Neuromodulation of Aerobic Exercise-A Review. Frontiers in psychology, 6, 1890.
    12. Bastioli, G. et al. (2022). Voluntary Exercise Boosts Striatal Dopamine Release: Evidence for the Necessary and Sufficient Role of BDNF. Journal of Neuroscience, [online] 42(23), pp.4725–4736.
    13. Sutoo, D. et al. (2003). Regulation of brain function by exercise. Neurobiology of Disease, [online] 13(1), pp.1–14. 
    14. Kjaer, T.W. et al. (2002). Increased dopamine tone during meditation-induced change of consciousness. Cognitive Brain Research, [online] 13(2), pp.255–259.
    15. Nuss, P. (2015). Anxiety disorders and GABA neurotransmission: a disturbance of modulation. Neuropsychiatric Disease and Treatment, [online] 11, p.165.
    16. Jie, F. et al. (2018). Stress in Regulation of GABA Amygdala System and Relevance to Neuropsychiatric Diseases. Frontiers in Neuroscience, 12
    17. Boonstra, E. et al. (2015). Neurotransmitters as food supplements: the effects of GABA on brain and behavior. Frontiers in Psychology, [online] 6.
    18. Nobre, A. et al. (2008). L-theanine, a natural constituent in tea, and its effect on mental state. Asia Pac J Clin Nutr, [online] 17(S1), pp.167–168. 
    19. White, D. et al. (2016). Anti-Stress, Behavioural and Magnetoencephalography Effects of an l-Theanine-Based Nutrient Drink: A Randomised, Double-Blind, Placebo-Controlled, Crossover Trial. Nutrients, [online] 8(1), p.53.
    20. Lopes Sakamoto, F. et al. (2019). Psychotropic effects of L-theanine and its clinical properties: From the management of anxiety and stress to a potential use in schizophrenia. Pharmacological Research, 147, p.104395.
    21. Streeter, C.C. et al. (2010). Effects of Yoga Versus Walking on Mood, Anxiety, and Brain GABA Levels: A Randomized Controlled MRS Study. The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine, 16(11), pp.1145–1152.
    22. Picciotto, Marina R. et al. (2012). Acetylcholine as a Neuromodulator: Cholinergic Signaling Shapes Nervous System Function and Behavior. Neuron, [online] 76(1), pp.116–129.
    23. Tabassum, S. et al. (2016). Relationship between memory improvement and brain acetylcholine following chronic choline supplementation in rats. J. Biochem. Mol. Biol, [online] 49(2), pp.40–47.
    24. Klinkenberg, I. et al. (2011). Acetylcholine and attention. Behavioural brain research, [online] 221(2), pp.430–42.
    25. Haam, J. et al. (2017). Cholinergic modulation of the hippocampal region and memory function. Journal of Neurochemistry, 142, pp.111–121. 
    26. Frank, K. et al. (2022). Alpha-GPC Research Analysis. [online]
    27. Waddell, J. et al. (2017). Choline and Working Memory Training Improve Cognitive Deficits Caused by Prenatal Exposure to Ethanol. Nutrients, 9(10).
    28. Viero, C. et al. (2010). REVIEW: Oxytocin: Crossing the bridge between basic science and pharmacotherapy. CNS neuroscience & therapeutics16(5), e138–e156. 
    29. JK, M. et al. (2019). Oxytocin-functions: an overview. MOJ Anatomy & Physiology, 6(4).
    30. Zak, P. J. et al. (2022). Oxytocin Release Increases With Age and Is Associated With Life Satisfaction and Prosocial Behaviors. Frontiers in behavioral neuroscience16, 846234. 
    31. Grape, C. et al. (2003). Does singing promote well-being?: An empirical study of professional and amateur singers during a singing lesson. Integrative physiological and behavioral science : the official journal of the Pavlovian Society38(1), 65–74. 
    32. Morhenn, V., Beavin, L. E., & Zak, P. J. (2012). Massage increases oxytocin and reduces adrenocorticotropin hormone in humans. Alternative therapies in health and medicine18(6), 11–18.

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