Why is Serotonin Important?
Serotonin is a chemical produced by the nerve cells to send signals between the nerve cells or neurons throughout the body. It is produced in the brain, where its primary functions are performed, and in the intestines. It is mainly located in the digestive system. However, it is also found in the blood platelets and the entire central nervous system. It can be synthesized from tryptophan in a biochemical conversion process, an essential amino acid found in foods like cheese, nuts, and red meat.
It is scientifically called 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) because of the combination of tryptophan and tryptophan hydroxylase, a chemical reactor. A deficiency of tryptophan can result in low serotonin levels, causing anxiety and depression, which are both known as mood disorders.
Naturally, serotonin is a neurotransmitter referred to as a mood stabilizer that affects the whole body, including one’s emotions and motor skills. It affects the muscles, cardiovascular system, and several elements in the endocrine system. Normal levels affect the body’s psychological and physical functions, making one emotionally stable, happier, calmer, more focused, and less anxious. It generally helps with:
- maintaining healthy bones,
- regulating the body’s temperature,
- body temperature,
- reducing depression,
- controlling anxiety,
- healing wounds,
- stimulating nausea, etc.
Impacts of Serotonin on the Body
A deficiency or excess of serotonin can negatively impact one’s emotional, physical, and mental well-being.
Mood: In the brain, serotonin controls mood, anxiety, and happiness. It is referred to as the body’s “feel-good” chemical. Its fundamental role in influencing a person’s mood is essential to an individual’s general sense of well-being. Low levels of serotonin have been known to cause depression. Serotonin levels increased by medication can cause reduced arousal.
Treatment for depression involves the prescription an antidepressant called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) by the doctor. Although experts are not sure how SSRIs work, they can help manage depression symptoms. The drugs may not work at once as they may worsen the condition, but the symptoms will improve with time.
Digestion: Serotonin helps detect when an individual is filled up while eating by reducing the appetite. It also contributes to the functioning of the bowel and the gut. In the gut, serotonin is produced as a response to having consumed toxic or irritating food by removing the unwanted food from the body as quickly as possible. This response can cause increased serotonin levels to make an individual feel nauseated and vomit.
Sleep-Wake Cycles: Serotonin stimulates parts of the brain that regulate sleeping and waking, and this determines when an individual sleeps, wakes, how well, and how much the individual sleeps. Reduced serotonin levels can cause trouble with sleeping by affecting the pattern and quality of sleep. Serotonin works with other neurotransmitters such as dopamine in regulating these activities.
Blood Clotting: A blood clot is activated when serotonin is released by the blood platelets to help with open wounds. The serotonin released causes the narrowing of tiny arteries called arterioles which help form blood clots. As this occurs, the flow of blood slows down. The slowing of blood flow and the narrowing of the arterioles (a process called vasoconstriction) is essential in blood clotting in the healing of wounds.
The Health of the Bone: Increased levels of the chemical compound in the body affect the density of bones by leading to a condition that results in the weakening of the bones called osteoporosis. There should be a normal level of serotonin in the body to help with the health of bones. According to research, antidepressant SSRIs are linked with reduced bone mineral density.
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Causes of Low Serotonin Levels
Low serotonin levels are not known to result from a single cause. It may occur if one of the reasons is not having sufficient serotonin or not making adequate use of the serotonin available, or a combination of both reasons. This may be due to an insufficient number of serotonin receptors in the brain or if those serotonin receptors are not effectively working. Other factors that may cause low serotonin levels include nutritional and vitamin deficiencies.
Low serotonin levels in the body can cause depression, a state of sadness or melancholy where someone loses interest or pleasure in activities. It can be a severe medical illness that may lead to suicidal thoughts. It is a problem that may lead to loss of appetite, weight loss or gain, fatigue, too little or excess sleeping, helpless feeling, irritability, etc.
How to Boost Serotonin Levels
Communication between brain cells is enhanced when the level of serotonin is increased, and in the process, an individual’s mood is lifted. The level of serotonin in the body can be improved by the following.
- Regular exercising does not just help increase serotonin levels, but it also improves an individual’s overall health
- Eating a healthy diet that contains foods like cheese, egg, nuts, turkey, pineapple, tofu, and salmon,
- Meditating regularly to help relieve stress,
- Going for a massage therapy helps to reduce cortisol (a stress hormone),
- Increasing one’s exposure to bright sunshine or light therapy.
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The Serotonin Syndrome
It is a condition in which the intake of certain drugs or an increase in the dosage of a particular drug can cause the level of serotonin in the body to increase. Its diagnosis cannot be made by carrying out a test. However, physical examinations can be done by a physician. The physician will also ask for symptoms displayed, medications, or any substance taken by the patient that may result in the condition. The symptoms can turn from mild to severe if not adequately treated or not treated on time. Symptoms associated with this syndrome are:
- dilated pupils,
- high blood pressure,
- high fever,
- loss of muscle agility,
- rapid or irregular heartbeat,
- muscle rigidity,
- flushed skin,
- stiffness of the muscle,
- twitching muscles.
If treated appropriately, the symptoms will vanish within 24 hours, provided that the drug that caused it in the first place is discontinued. If serotonin syndrome is untreated, it can be life-threatening.
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1. What causes a lack of serotonin?
Although there is no clear indication of a lack of serotonin in the body, healthcare experts say it may be caused by:
- a poor diet,
- chronic stress,
- not taking in enough sunlight,
- certain drugs,
- brain changes or age-related health.
2. Can too much serotonin cause anxiety?
When the levels increase in the body, it can result in anxiety, among other things.
3. Can serotonin make you happy?
It is one of the neurotransmitters that makes you happy by helping to stabilize your mood.
4. What are the signs of low serotonin levels?
Some significant signs include:
- change in sleep patterns,
- mood swings,
- clotting difficulties,
- problems with digestion, etc.
5. Can too much serotonin cause depression?
Too much of the neurotransmitter in one’s body cannot cause depression but will result in serotonin syndrome. However, low levels may cause depression.
6. What is dopamine vs. serotonin?
Both neurotransmitters, dopamine, and serotonin, are chemical messengers in the brain that send signals through the nerve cells to regulate different functions in the body. Generally called the happy hormones, both affect the brain and body similarly, but they do so differently. Dopamine helps with the feeling of motivation and rewards, while serotonin affects one’s mood and emotions.
7. What increases serotonin?
It can be increased by:
- eating a healthy diet,
- getting enough sunlight exposure,
- the gut bacteria should be kept healthy by eating high-fiber foods,
- exercise regularly, etc.