The Difference Between Dopamine & Serotonin

Smiling woman sitting outdoors watching the sunset.

Dopamine and serotonin are both neurotransmitters associated with mood elevation. A lack of either or both of these neurotransmitters can cause feelings of depression and anxiety. However, there are some key differences between them. Dopamine is linked to certain symptoms of depression, including low energy and lack of motivation, while serotonin affects your capacity to process emotions and stress, which can lead to feelings of anxiety and depression. 1 2

What is Dopamine?

The brain releases dopamine when it is expecting a reward. This is why you may feel an elevated mood when you cross a task off your to-do list or when you are anticipating getting something you want. For example, if you are shopping for a new pair of shoes or baking a batch of cupcakes, your brain anticipates the feeling of receiving a reward and releases dopamine. 3 Dopamine is associated with feeling awake, energetic, and reduced feelings of fatigue. 4 Low levels of dopamine leave you feeling tired and unmotivated, which lowers mood and makes it difficult to take action.

Natural Ways to Boost Dopamine

  • Eating foods rich in protein such as beef, turkey, legumes, and eggs
  • Massage therapy
  • Physical activity
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Reaching goals – set small, achievable goals for yourself often so that reaching your goals becomes a regular part of your routine
  • Listening to music

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is released during the sleep cycle and is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan. 5 Serotonin plays a large role in gut health and improves immune function, as well as increases our capacity to process emotions and reduce anxiety. 6 7 This means that in addition to being important for regulating mood, serotonin is also essential for maintaining a healthy digestive system and protecting the body from colds, flus, and other illnesses.

Natural Ways to Boost Serotonin

  • Physical activity
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Eating foods rich in amino acids alongside carbs – try whole wheat bread with turkey and/or cheese, oatmeal with nuts added, or salmon with brown rice
  • Exposure to sunlight
  • Consuming probiotics
  • Massage therapy
  • Meditation

If you experience feelings of depression, anxiety, or fatigue, integrating some of the above ways to boost serotonin and dopamine naturally may help you. If those feelings are severe and you think that you may be experiencing a mood disorder, a professional assessment and medication may be the best option for you.

If you are having thoughts of harming yourself or others, seek medical attention immediately. 

Speak to a healthcare practitioner to determine what course of treatment is right for you.


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