Posted on: May 8, 2015 at 7:56 pm
Last updated: October 15, 2020 at 3:48 pm

Headaches can come in all shapes and sizes, one of which is referred to as a migraine. A migraine is generally classified as a severe headache often accompanied by sensory disability, such as flashes of light and blind spots. Some people who have chronic migraines experience nausea, pain in their arms and legs, vomiting, and increased sensitivity to light and sound.


Migraines vary for each person; some experience migraines for a couple of hours, while others experience them for days at a time.

There are countless factors that cause migraines, including stress level, diet, weight, environmental triggers, and even hormone levels. Today we’re going to specifically discuss the relationship and correlation between chronic migraines and serotonin levels in the body.


Ever experienced a migraine? Listen up!

Migraines and Serotonin

First and foremost, what is serotonin?

Serotonin is a chemical that is naturally produced by your body. Serotonin works as a neurotransmitter and a hormone messenger in your body and is most popularly known as the “happy hormone.” Serotonin is thought to be responsible for maintaining emotional and mental balance. A shortage of this hormone can lead to anxiety and depression.

Due to the fact that serotonin is a neurotransmitter, it can affect your entire body. Here is just a shortlist of the areas in which a shortage of serotonin has been known to impact:

  • Mood and social behavior
  • Sleeping habits
  • Memory function
  • Sexual desire and sexual function
  • Appetite
  • Digestion

There are 3 places in which the highest levels of serotonin are found within the body:

  1. The walls of your intestine (90%)
  2. Platelets in your blood
  3. The central nervous system

When consumed or produced, it begins as dietary tryptophan and our bodies have the ability to then change it into serotonin.

Now, in connection with migraines, serotonin plays a primary role. Serotonin acts on blood vessels, including the intracranial vessels inside your skull. It has the ability to constrict the vessels because of its control over smooth muscle action. Dilation of these same intracranial vessels often results in migraines and headaches – thus serotonin aids in relieving migraines because it inhibits dilation and promotes constriction.

Studies have proven the link between migraines and low serotonin levels within cell tissues. The link is so strong in fact that researchers have started to refer to migraines as “low serotonin syndrome.”

When you are experiencing a migraine, your body goes through a sharp increase in urinary excretion of the main metabolite of serotonin, which results in low serotonin levels.

So, not only does low serotonin cause migraines, when you have a migraine, your body releases serotonin, so it is a very difficult cycle to get out of. In addition, serotonin is also believed to increase your body’s pain threshold, which makes migraine pain more manageable. Those who have low levels of serotonin also have a decreased pain threshold, putting an even larger emphasis on the migraine pain.

Factors That Cause Low Serotonin Levels


Low Protein Intake

Serotonin is converted from tryptophan (amino acid), which we can attain through our diet. Tryptophan can be found in protein-rich foods like red meat, turkey, chicken, beans, cheese, lentils, and eggs.

Nutrient Deficiencies

Vitamin B6, zinc, magnesium and vitamin C are essential in the conversion process from tryptophan to serotonin. When your body has a nutritional deficiency it is unable to fulfill this duty, leaving your body low on serotonin. Ensure that your diet is filled with colorful fruits and vegetables, leafy greens, healthy fats, and proteins.

Poor GI Health

As mentioned above, 90% of our serotonin is found in our intestinal tract. Inflammation and any other bodily damage can disrupt those levels making it difficult for your body to regulate its mood. As well, when we have poor gut health, we’re unable to absorb the other nutrients that make serotonin synthesis and distribution possible.

Other Factors

Chronic stress and poor sleeping patterns,

3 Easy Steps to Increase Serotonin Levels Naturally

1. Increase foods high in tryptophan and vitamin B6

  • Turkey
  • Eggs
  • Fish
  • Beans
  • Lentils
  • Chicken
  • Avocado
  • Spinach

2. Spend more time outside

Studies illustrate that walking outside in natural light is an excellent way to increase your body’s natural serotonin production.

3. Stress Less

Do the things you love more often and stress less. Studies show that improved mood is correlated with high serotonin levels in the blood. Serotonin levels contribute to mood, while good moods and high spirits contribute to serotonin production.

What Should You Do?

If you do struggle with mood disorders, anxiety, or depression, I would consider visiting your doctor to discuss options. I would strongly recommend trying a natural course of action before resorting to the common prescription drug SSRI’s (fluoxetine, paroxetine, sertraline and citalopram).

Although SSRIs are approved by the FDA to treat mood disorders and depression, they can result in many other damaging side effects. Here’s a list of potential side effects:

  • Agitation
  • Diarrhea
  • Drowsiness
  • Dizziness
  • Dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Vomiting
  • Decreased libido
  • Weight gain

If you’ve gone to the doctor and your serotonin levels seemed to be at a healthy level, then keep on researching the natural remedies for migraines so that you can find a unique treatment for you. Remember, even the little things count towards eliminating your chronic migraines Never discount the power of a migraine preventative diet!


1) Pizzorno J, Murray, M. Textbook of Natural Medicine, 4th Ed. Churchill Livingstone. 2012. Chapter 190: 1614-1627.

2) Hamel E. Serotonin and Migraine: biology and clinical implications. Cephalgia. 2007 Nov;27(11):1293-300..

3) Young S. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. J Psychiatry Neurosci. 2007 Nov; 32(6): 394–399.

4) Burtis CA, Ashwood ER, Bruns DE. Textbook of Clinical Chemistry and Molecular Doagnostics, 5th Ed. Elsevier Ltd. 2012. Chapter 30: 851-894.

5) Rang HP, Ritter JM, Flower RJ, Henderson G. Rang and Dale’s Pharmacology, 8th Ed. Elsevier,Ltd. 2015. Chapter 15: 197-20

Dr. Nadia Saleem
Naturopathic Doctor
Contributor to The Hearty Soul.

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