What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is an important neurotransmitter in the brain, commonly found throughout nature. The way it works and what it impacts in the body and brain are astonishing. Learn more about the incredible way Serotonin works and how to reap some of Serotonin’s positive rewards.

What is Serotonin?

Neurons communicate by specialized areas of the cells called synapses. The first nerve cells dump neurotransmitters into space between and the second nerve cell on the other side has receptors which respond accordingly. As receptors recognize the neurotransmitter, signals are sent inside the second cell which pass the signal onward and do whatever is required. Serotonin as a neurotransmitter regulates signal intensity. It also accompanies other transmitters, changing a neuron’s response to a particular signal. Serotonin levels which are too high may lead to sedation whereas low levels of the neurotransmitter may be associated with psychiatric conditions or even sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS).

Mood Neurotransmitter

Serotonin regulates mood: higher levels promote happiness while lower levels may make a person feel depressed. Many depression drugs target the serotonin system by attempting to boost serotonin levels or sensitivity. Artificial boosters such as drugs may work in the following ways:

  • Target serotonin system by attempting to artificially boost serotonin levels or sensitivity.
  • Prevent breakdown of serotonin in body
  • Recreational drugs may target serotonin (Mescaline, LSD, psychedelics) by mimicking serotonin and activating serotonin receptors in the brain
  • Ecstasy may cause brain’s neurons to release stored serotonin (creating euphoric feelings)

Serotonin and the Gut

Approximately 80 to 90 percent of the human body’s total serotonin is found in specialized cells in the gut (not in the brain as many may think). Serotonin was tied to food long before it was thought to be a mood hormone. Serotonin depletion can make a person’s body go into starvation mode and is the key in functioning of gut muscles, causing contraction of intestines. The digestive system has its own neural network and largely controls itself without input from the brain. Many studies suggest certain serotonin boosting foods can help a person feel better simply by ingesting more food with increased levels of serotonin.

Light Triggers Serotonin

A simple way to trigger serotonin production is to venture outside. Scientists discovered a connection between light and serotonin almost accidentally. Increased levels of light are believed to help individuals with non-seasonal depression. A walk in the sun, getting away on vacation in the winter or getting a specialized lamp can help elevate levels of serotonin. Some additional mood boosters may include:

  • Meditation
  • Relaxation techniques
  • Connecting with friends
  • Counseling

Balance is the key to boosting serotonin levels in a healthy way. Over-eating carbohydrates and sugar can lead to decreased sensitivity to serotonin which leads to negative mental and physical side effects. Eating a protein rich diet, getting sunshine and working on proper nutritional balance can help keep serotonin levels at a level which supports proper mood and gut health for the long term.

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