Serotonin is a chemical produced by your nerve cells. This important signaling molecule serves as a messenger between the nerve cells in your body. Serotonin lives throughout the digestive system, in blood platelets, and in your entire central nervous system.
Serotonin is also produced from tryptophan, an amino acid that is found in red meat, nuts, and cheese. A person with tryptophan deficiency may also experience decreased serotonin levels. When your serotonin levels are low, you may experience a variety of mood disorders, including depression and anxiety.
Role of Serotonin
Serotonin impacts every system in the body. It can affect your emotions, your motor skills, your physical health, and much more. Serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer. This chemical is also significant for digestion, eating, and sleeping. Let’s take a look at the different ways serotonin is used throughout the body.
- Bowel Movements – Serotonin is primarily found in the stomach and intestines and used by the digestive system to control bowel movements and digestion. Serotonin can also reduce your appetite and can help as person recognize when they are full.
- Mood – Serotonin is used by the brain to regulate mood. With low serotonin levels a person is at an increased risk of experiencing depression.
- Toxin Protection – If a person consumes a toxic or irritating substance, the body begins increasing its production of serotonin. This extra serotonin helps move the offending food through the digestive tract, allowing it to pass it through the digestive system quickly to be expelled from the body either through vomiting or diarrhea.
- Sleep – Serotonin stimulates the areas of the brain that controls waking and sleeping patterns. The stimulation of various serotonin receptors can promote sleepiness or wakefulness.
- Blood Clotting – Serotonin is used by the body to aid in wound healing. After an injury occurs, the body releases serotonin to trigger the blood vessels in an area to narrow, which aids in blood clotting to staunch the bleeding.
- Bone Health – Serotonin can impact your bone health. If your serotonin levels are too high, it can lead to osteoporosis which can weaken bones and lead to bone loss.
- Sexual Function – Low serotonin levels have been associated with increased libido. Conversely, increased serotonin levels can reduce libido and lead to reduced sexual function and desire.
Serotonin and Mental Health
Serotonin helps regulate your mood. It works by enabling your brain cells to communicate with other cells in your nervous system. When your brain does not have enough serotonin, it can decrease your mood and eventually lead to depression. Conversely, too much serotonin in the brain can increase nerve cell activity which can increase the risk of anxiety.
When your serotonin levels are balanced, you will feel happier, less anxious, and calmer. You will be more emotionally stable and experience improved focus. Learning how to balance your serotonin levels can help improve your mood and reduce many of the symptoms associated with an unbalanced level of serotonin in the body.
Balancing your Serotonin Levels
There are several ways that your serotonin levels can be increased, including medications and natural options.
- SSRIs – SSRIs (selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors) are medications prescribed to treat depression. SSRIs are antidepressants that work by blocking the reabsorption of serotonin in the brain.
- SNRIs – SNRIs (serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors) are another type of antidepressant that block the re-uptake of serotonin; however, they also impact norepinephrine levels in the body. This type of medication is often referred to as a dual acting antidepressant.
Serotonin is often referred to as the happy neurotransmitter because of the mental health benefits offered. If your serotonin levels are low, you can experience depression and other mood disorders. Luckily, there are several things you can do to improve your serotonin levels naturally.
- Sunlight – If you live in a Northern climate, you are at an increased risk of developing seasonal depression. Seasonal depression is often treated using light therapy or spending time outdoors. Light therapy involves specialized light bulbs that provide full spectrum lighting.
- Exercise – Regular exercise helps the body produce a variety of neurotransmitters, including serotonin and dopamine. Most experts recommend getting at least 30 minutes of moderate exercise daily to improve your mood and increase your energy.
- Diet – Eating a healthy diet that includes foods rich in tryptophan can help increase your serotonin levels naturally. Some of the best foods include turkey, cheese, nuts, eggs, pineapple, tofu, and salmon.
- Meditation – Meditation is a stress relief technique that can decrease stress levels and promotes a more positive outlook on your life. Daily meditation can improve your serotonin levels naturally and improve your mood.
- Massage – Massage therapy can help reduce cortisol levels and promote the production of serotonin naturally. This hands on technique helps relieve depression and anxiety while relaxing the body, mind, and spirit.
- Probiotics – Many researchers believe that your gut microbiota can impact your serotonin levels. Eating fermented foods and taking a probiotic supplement may help to increase your body’s production of serotonin and improve your mood.
While serotonin is present throughout your body; it is generally considered a brain chemical. Research has determined that approximately 95 percent of serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract. Our functional medicine providers understand serotonin and that balancing this important mood chemical requires a holistic approach. Our team will evaluate your diet, lifestyle, digestive health, nutrients and much more to ensure you are optimizing your serotonin levels for your optimal health.