Serotonin: What It Is, Functions and More
Have you ever stopped to think about where your feelings of joy, happiness, and tranquility come from? How does your brain know when it's time to feel good or bad? The answer lies hidden within the molecular makeup of the human brain: a neurotransmitter called serotonin. This powerful chemical is responsible for regulating many aspects of our mental health, including our moods and general well-being.
Most people have a basic understanding of what serotonin is. That is good news, but what is arguably more important is knowing what it does.
And many roles indeed it has. With so many aspects of our health tied into this molecule, it's time we take a deeper look at it. And that's what we're going to be doing in this blog post.
What Is Serotonin Anyway?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical messenger that is produced by nerve cells in the central nervous system and transmitted through the spaces between cells. It is also classified as a hormone, often being called the "happiness hormone".
It is found in the brain, blood, and gastrointestinal tract of animals, including humans. Low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression, while higher levels may contribute to feelings of well-being and happiness.
For this reason, it is good to know what symptoms of low serotonin may look like too so that you can more easily pinpoint if that might be the case.
Fun Fact: Even though serotonin is most often associated with functions related to the brain and nervous system, over 90% of it is produced in the gastrointestinal tract.
That also helps add credibility to the theory that the health of the microbes which reside in your GI tract is tied intricately to your overall health.
Functions Of Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate mood. It is often called the "happy hormone" because it is associated with feelings of happiness and well-being. Serotonin plays a role in regulating other aspects of mood as well, including anger, sadness, and anxiety. When levels of serotonin are low, people may experience symptoms such as depression, anxiety, and irritability.
By far, the most well-known association between serotonin levels when they are low is depression. However, low levels of this neurotransmitter are associated with a variety of other mental health conditions.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is believed to play a role in sleep regulation. It has been shown to increase the amount of slow-wave sleep, which is the deepest stage of sleep. Slow-wave sleep is important for restoring and repairing the body's tissues. Serotonin may also help to promote feelings of relaxation and calmness, which can help to promote sleep.
Insomnia actually shows a relationship with low serotonin levels, sometimes helping to explain why difficult sleep is common in depressed states.
Appetite And Digestion
Serotonin is also involved in the regulation of appetite and digestion. It is known to act on a specific area in the brain called the hypothalamus, which controls hunger and eating behaviors. Low levels of serotonin are associated with increased appetite and cravings for carbohydrates, which can lead to weight gain.
Serotonin also plays a role in the digestive process by helping to regulate contractions of the intestines.
Disorders such as IBD (inflammatory bowel disease) and GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease) may be linked to low levels of serotonin.
Promotes Wound Healing
Here's an unexpected one- it can also promote the speedy healing of wounds! How does it do this? By helping to increase the production of collagen, a protein that is responsible for repairing and rebuilding tissue.
Low synthesis of collagen is typically associated with slower wound healing and delayed recovery from injuries. Serotonin has been shown to increase collagen synthesis, which can help to speed up the healing process.
Take a scoop of Radiance collagen powder daily to keep your skin, hair, and joints in top condition for whatever is thrown its way!
Affects Sex Drive
There's a reason medication that tends to interfere with levels of neurotransmitters such as serotonin sometimes causes changes to sexual function and libido.
In part, low levels of serotonin may lead to a decrease in libido and can also impair performance.
It is important to note that serotonin isn’t the only neurotransmitter involved in sexual function — norepinephrine, dopamine, and acetylcholine are all known to play roles as well. However, it does appear that low serotonin levels may primarily contribute to sexual dysfunction.
To optimize serotonin levels and improve sexual functioning, it is important to make sure that you are getting enough of the essential nutrients needed for production, and also adopting lifestyle management techniques that can help to balance levels.
Serotonin is involved in the regulation of body temperature in a number of ways. One way it does this is by constricting or dilating blood vessels in the skin. When the body needs to warm up, serotonin can cause the blood vessels in the skin to constrict, reducing blood flow to the surface of the skin and helping to conserve heat. When the body needs to cool down, serotonin can cause the blood vessels in the skin to dilate, increasing blood flow to the surface of the skin and promoting heat loss.
Serotonin can also affect the body's temperature regulation center, which is located in the hypothalamus. This center receives input from temperature sensors in the skin and other parts of the body and sends out signals to the muscles and sweat glands to help maintain a stable body temperature. Serotonin can interact with this system to help modulate the body's temperature.
It's worth noting that serotonin is just one of several factors that can affect the body's temperature regulation system. Other factors include environmental temperature, hormone levels, and your body's specific metabolic rate.
May Influence Learning and Memory
Serotonin is thought to play a role in learning and memory through its effects on the neurotransmitter systems in the brain. This system facilitates the transmission of signals between nerve cells in the brain. Serotonin is involved in the transmission of signals between nerve cells in a number of brain regions that are important for learning and memory, including the hippocampus, the amygdala, and the prefrontal cortex.
Another way that serotonin is thought to facilitate learning and memory is by modulating the activity of other neurotransmitters, such as dopamine, acetylcholine, and norepinephrine.
These neurotransmitters are involved in the consolidation of memories, which is the process of strengthening and stabilizing newly formed memories so that they can be stored in long-term retention. Serotonin may help to regulate the activity of these neurotransmitters and facilitate the consolidation of memories.
In addition, serotonin is believed to play a role in the formation of new connections between nerve cells in the brain, a process called neuroplasticity. This may be particularly important for the formation of new memories, as it allows the brain to adapt and change in response to new experiences, and also following brain injury.
Neuroplasticity would enable a rapid return of motor functions in the impaired victim, as well as the ability to form new memories.
Yet, despite all that we know, the relationship between serotonin and learning and memory is exceedingly complex, and there are surely more mechanisms in play that are yet to be discovered.
May Influence Pain Perception
Did you know that two people, exposed to the exact same painful stimuli are almost guaranteed to perceive it differently? This can be attributed at least in part, to serotonin.
Serotonin is involved in the regulation of pain perception, and it is even thought to act as a natural painkiller. It does this in a number of ways.
For one, serotonin influences pain perception by inhibiting the transmission of pain signals in the spinal cord. When serotonin is released at the site of a painful stimulus, it can bind to receptors on the cells that transmit pain signals, reducing the intensity and duration of the signals that are sent to the brain.
In addition to inhibiting the transmission of pain signals, serotonin is also thought to have a modulating effect on the way that the brain processes pain.
It is believed to interact with other neurotransmitters and brain regions involved in the perception of pain, such as the prefrontal cortex and the amygdala, to help regulate the emotional and psychological response to pain. This helps explain why some people are said to have a higher pain tolerance.
Finally, serotonin is thought to have a role in the development of chronic pain. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with increased sensitivity to pain and the development of chronic pain conditions, such as fibromyalgia. In contrast, increasing serotonin levels through the use of medications or other means may help to reduce pain sensitivity and improve long term pain management.
Serotonin May Help Lower Cortisol Levels
Cortisol is a hormone produced by the adrenal gland that is involved in the body's stress response. High levels of cortisol can have negative effects on the body, including weight gain, impaired cognitive function, and weakened immune system function.
Serotonin is thought to play a role in the regulation of cortisol levels through its effects on the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, which is a system in the body that helps to regulate the body's stress response. When the body is under stress, the hypothalamus releases corticotropin-releasing hormone (CRH), which stimulates the pituitary gland to release ACTH. ACTH then stimulates the adrenal gland to produce cortisol.
Serotonin is believed to inhibit the release of CRH from the hypothalamus, which can reduce the secretion of ACTH and cortisol from the pituitary gland and adrenal gland, respectively. By inhibiting the release of CRH, serotonin may help to lower cortisol levels and reduce the body's stress response.
This makes a lot of sense when you stop to think about it, since highly stressed states that are characteristic of high cortisol, frequently occur in people diagnosed with depression and generalized anxiety disorders.
Symptoms Of Low Serotonin
Low serotonin levels can cause a range of symptoms, including:
- Depression: Probably the most common association, low levels of serotonin have been linked to depression; increasing serotonin levels through the use of medications or other means may help to improve mood in people with depression.
- Anxiety: Low serotonin levels have been associated with increased anxiety and other panic disorders.
- Sleep disturbances: Serotonin is involved in the regulation of sleep; insomnia and circadian rhythm disorders are oftentimes commonplace.
- Poor appetite and weight changes: Serotonin is involved in the regulation of appetite; people with low serotonin levels may have a decreased appetite or may experience weight gain or weight loss.
- Reduced ability to concentrate: Low serotonin levels may impair cognitive function, including the ability to concentrate and focus, and cause you great mental anguish.
Of course, this is not an exhaustive list of symptoms, nor does it mean it will occur in everyone with low serotonin. It is merely a list of the most common symptoms that it might be low.
How To Increase Serotonin Levels
Ruling out a medical condition that causes neurotransmitter imbalances, it is always a good approach to attempt to remedy the matter using natural means.
These might include:
- Tryptophan-rich foods: Tryptophan is an amino acid that is a precursor to serotonin. Foods that are high in tryptophan may help to increase serotonin levels. Examples of tryptophan-rich foods include poultry, eggs, cheese, nuts, seeds, and tofu.
- Carbs: Carbohydrates can increase the production of serotonin in the brain. Simple carbs, such as those found in sugary foods and refined grains, may have a particularly strong effect on serotonin levels.
- Bananas: Bananas are a good source of carbohydrates and also contain nutrients such as potassium and vitamin B6, which may help to boost serotonin production.
- Salmon: Salmon and other fatty fish are high in omega-3 fatty acids, which are important for brain health. Omega-3s may help to increase serotonin levels and improve mood.
- Fermented foods: Fermented foods, such as yogurt and sauerkraut, contain probiotics that may help to improve gut health and increase serotonin production.
- Field of Greens- our powdered superfood formula that supplies a trove of veggies, fruits and botanicals to help supply what you may be missing. A scoop daily can do wonders for you health.
- Exercise: Exercise has been shown to increase serotonin levels and improve mood. Exercise may help to increase serotonin levels by promoting the release of neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain that are associated with mood and well-being (such as other endorphins).
- Sunlight: Sunlight exposure and the Vitamin D obtained can increase serotonin levels and improve mood. Vit D is thought to stimulate the production of serotonin in the brain, and it may also help to regulate the body's internal clock, which can improve sleep and boost mood.
- Sleep: Adequate sleep is important for maintaining serotonin levels and overall health. Lack of sleep can decrease serotonin levels and contribute to feelings of depression and anxiety.
- Social connections: Social connections and positive relationships can increase serotonin levels and improve mood. Engaging in social activities and interacting with others is an effective approach to combating the social symptoms of depression.
- Relaxation techniques: Techniques such as meditation, deep breathing, and progressive muscle relaxation can help to reduce stress and increase serotonin levels. These techniques may work by promoting the release of neurotransmitters and other chemicals in the brain that are associated with relaxation and well-being.
The importance of maintaining optimal serotonin levels cannot be overstated. It trickles down into so many aspects of your life and health that it would be remiss for you to attempt to ignore telltale signs that something is going wrong.