A lot of different hormones can actually help us feel better. There are plenty of ways to trigger the release of these hormones. Even simple activities like exercising, spending time outside, cuddling a puppy, and the like can act like triggers. There is a group of feel-good hormones, like Serotonin, because of the happy and euphoric feelings they produce. They are also considered neurotransmitters, which carry messages across the spaces between nerve cells. The four feel-good hormones are:
Many get into the battle of serotonin vs dopamine. But there is no point, as all the above hormones play separate roles and their presence is equally important. Serotonin is associated with happiness, focus, and calmness, which are more permanent. Dopamine is associated with rewards and motivation, giving a sense of temporary pleasure. Endorphins act as a pain reliever, lower stress, improve mood, and enhance the sense of well-being. Oxytocin is often called a love hormone that is released during sexual activity and lets you feel bonded to the object of your desire.
We will be talking about serotonin in this article in detail.
What is serotonin?
This is a hormone that is involved in the function of several different organ systems in the body. It is known as the happy chemical because it appears to play an important role in regulating mood, emotions, and even digestion. As a neurotransmitter, serotonin sends messages between nerve cells in the brain. That makes it important for influencing mental health and brain function.
The Science Behind: How It Works
An area in the center of the brainstem produces serotonin. It then acts on many different parts of the brain to affect a variety of functions and behaviors, like:
- the stress response
- body temperature
Serotonin sends signals between your nerve cells. It is found in many parts of your body like in your digestive system, blood platelets, and throughout the central nervous system. It is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan. This amino acid should enter your body through your diet. It is commonly found in foods such as meat, dairy products, eggs, and nuts. The scientific name for serotonin is – 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT).
The hormone functions as the precursor for melatonin which helps to regulate sleep-wake cycles and the body clock. Scientists believe that it plays an important role in regulating mood and the central nervous system. It affects functions throughout the body. It effects on –
- bone metabolism
- eye health
- blood clotting
- neurological disorders
- cardiovascular health
Functions of Serotonin
- 90% of serotonin in your body is produced in your intestines and helps control your bowel movements and functions.
- Nausea and vomiting tendencies are initiated by illness or from some foods due to the formation of serotonin in your stomach and intestines.
- Serotonin in the brain regulates feelings of happiness and anxiety.
- It controls the body’s sexual functions.
- Platelets in your blood store serotonin. It releases the hormone to help stop bleeding and heal wounds.
- Your ability to sleep and stay awake is very much influenced by this hormone and others.
Serotonin and Mood Regulation
Serotonin is known as the happy chemical, which plays a crucial role in regulating mood. Low levels of this in the brain have shown a correlation with depression. Yes, there is a link between serotonin and depression, but whether low levels of it cause depression or depression causes low levels of this hormone- that’s not proven yet. As a neurotransmitter, it sends messages between nerve cells in the brain, and that makes it an important molecule for influencing mental health and brain function.
At its normal levels, serotonin makes us feel happy and calm. As it regulates our mood, it is often a target of medications that are usually used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. For example, if you find an increase in the levels of serotonin, it could be due to some of the antidepressants known as SSRI – Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors.
Sleep is something that is linked to your sleep patterns. You will appear cranky and irritated if you are sleep-deprived or your sleep pattern is disrupted. Serotonin plays a part in regulating when, how much, and how well you sleep. Serotonin is not the only one that regulates sleep. Serotonin and dopamine are the two neurotransmitters that, along with melatonin, regulate the sleep cycle. Your body needs serotonin to create melatonin. So not having enough serotonin or having an increased level can affect the quality and pattern of your sleep.
Factors Influencing Serotonin Levels
The factors that influence serotonin levels are:
- Genetics: Research shows that some genetic disorders may impact the ability to produce or metabolize serotonin in the body.
- Balanced Diet & Nutrition: If you eat tryptophan-rich foods, that might boost serotonin levels. Foods high in trans fat do not provide the brain and body with the nutrients they need and lead to both mental and physical health concerns. Eating foods with more carbohydrates will help tryptophan stay in the blood, which impacts serotonin levels.
- Physical Activities & Exercise: Physical activities and exercise stimulate the release of tryptophan in the body, which helps produce serotonin. It often subdues other amino acids and makes it easier for tryptophan to reach the brain. 30 minutes a day of regular exercise helps release tryptophan and boosts serotonin. That results in a better mood and overall well-being.
- Sunlight Exposure: Sunlight exposure usually improves moods, especially in people with depression. Sunlight and serotonin are positively correlated, according to studies. That is why it can help to treat depression. Lack of sunlight and vitamin D play a crucial role in low levels of serotonin, which cause seasonal affective disorders (SAD). This leads to a sad mood and low energy. It happens in dull, gloomy rainy seasons with gray clouds.
- Sleep Cycle: Changes in sleep patterns can impact serotonin levels as they regulate the circadian rhythm phases. A night of less sleep may cause an increase in serotonin levels.
It is important to know how multiple factors can lead to a lowered level of serotonin. Like –
- Prolonged stress
- Unbalanced diet
- Digestive issues
- Toxic substances
- Drugs and alcohol
- Hormone changes
- Lack of sunlight
The signs of low serotonin levels are usually:
- Low energy and fatigue
- Negative thoughts
- Memory problems
- Changes in sleeping and eating habits
- Depression and anxiety
Boosting Serotonin Naturally
The best way to boost the production of serotonin is to produce more tryptophan in the body, and the best way to do it is to exercise every day for a minimum of 30 minutes per day.
You might depend on certain foods to naturally boost serotonin. Tryptophan is commonly found in foods that contain protein. Following are some examples –
- Poultry chicken, turkey, and goose
- Eggs (but not fried eggs)
- Soy products
- Foods high in omega-3 fatty acids
Other natural ways to boost serotonin would be:
- Exposure to sunlight
- Meditation and mindfulness practices
- Social connection and their support
Medications: SSRIs and Beyond
If you are going through depression, ADHD, PTSD, SAD, or any other mental disorders, doctors might prescribe you medicines that increase the levels of serotonin. SSRIs are the most prescribed type of antidepressant.
SSRIs: They increase the levels of serotonin in the brain. They block the reabsorption of the chemical so that more of it remains active. Some of the medicines with SSRIs are Prozac with fluoxetine and Zoloft with sertraline.
Supplements: Some supplements might have the ability to raise the levels of serotonin. But please keep in mind that they are not a replacement for medications prescribed by your doctor and should not be taken alongside other medications. Some of the examples are – St. John’s Wort, SAMe, and Tryptophan.
While you’re taking medications that affect serotonin, please keep in mind that you shouldn’t use other medications or supplements without the permission of your doctor. Mixing medications is dangerous and may put you at risk of a serious condition called serotonin syndrome.
Medications, supplements, and other substances that increase the serotonin level in your body can lead to a serious condition known as serotonin syndrome. The things that affect serotonin levels are –
- John’s Wort
- MDMA (ecstasy)
Symptoms of Serotonin Syndrome:
- Flushed skin
- High fever
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Muscle stiffness
In mild cases, your doctor will advise you to stop taking the serotonin medication to resolve your symptoms. In more serious cases, your doctor will provide additional medications to treat the symptoms. Your doctor might advise hospital treatment to manage severe serotonin syndrome. It is seen that it usually takes 24 to 72 hours to resolve the symptoms. So, if you suspect serotonin syndrome, call for medical help immediately as it can be life-threatening if delayed.
Serotonin can keep depression away and provide a feeling of euphoria. This hormone boosts the mood primarily other than doing a plethora of work inside the body. Being called the ‘happy hormone’, serotonin is one of the keys to feeling good. When you feel happy and euphoric, when all seems to be right with the world around you, you are feeling the effects of serotonin. So, it can be said that your overall well-being depends on serotonin. Who doesn’t wish to be happy with no stress? No one right??!! That is why you need a balanced level of serotonin to be happy and healthy.
Serotonin contributes to a wide range of bodily functions. Many aspects of well-being may depend on a balance in serotonin activity. Due to many mental disorders, doctors prescribe medicines with serotonin to increase its levels. But you need to be aware of it as things could get worse if the serotonin levels are not in a balanced state.