Serotonin is the happy hormone or the chemical that makes us happy. Signs such as migraines, frequent infections, depression, insomnia, memory loss, IBS, social phobia, aggression, and even loss of sexual preference might be indications of serotonin deficiency or imbalance.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a powerful neurotransmitter that’s responsible for some of the body’s important functions. It plays a role in regulating your mood; serotonin also affects your sleep cycle, appetite, and digestion, among others.
About 95% of the serotonin in your body is produced in the lining of our gastrointestinal (GI) tract. This is where it regulates the movement of the intestines, and the remaining 5% is produced in your brain, where it transmits signals between nerve cells.
Serotonin is known to be synthesized from an amino acid compound known as tryptophan, by a short metabolic pathway consisting of two enzymes, where tryptophan is first converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP) by the tryptophan hydroxylase, then to serotonin (5-HT) by the enzyme aromatic amino acid decarboxylase.
The Serotonin produced in the platelets of the blood and cells of the gut can’t cross the blood-brain barrier, while tryptophan and 5-HTP can.
Any disturbance to these mechanisms or damage to serotonin receptors can eventually lead to a decrease in overall serotonin effects in the body.
What Role Does Serotonin Play In Our Health?
As a neurotransmitter, serotonin helps in the conveyance of information from one part of the brain to another and is believed to influence a variety of psychological and other body functions.
We have approximately 40 million brain cells in our body. Most of these brain cells are influenced either directly or indirectly by serotonin. These include brain cells related to mood, temperature regulation, sexual desire and function, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, and some social behavior,
Serotonin deficiency occurs when your body doesn’t have enough serotonin, and this can happen for several reasons. This deficiency is associated with a range of physical and mental symptoms.
Keep in mind that serotonin’s role in these symptoms, especially the psychological ones, isn’t fully understood, but the one thing everyone seems to agree on is that serotonin’s function is much more complex than previously thought.
When serotonin is out of balance, or lower than normal, it can result in impaired body functions and psychological disorders, which is known as serotonin deficiency.
In terms of our body function, serotonin can also affect the functioning of our cardiovascular system, muscles, and various elements in the endocrine system, and researchers have also found evidence that serotonin may play a role in regulating milk production in the breast
They argued that a defect within the serotonin network may be one underlying cause of SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Potential Causes Of Serotonin Deficiency
Researchers aren’t sure about the exact causes of serotonin deficiency, as some people may simply produce serotonin less than others. However, potential causes may include:
- having fewer serotonin receptors
- having serotonin receptors that don’t successfully receive serotonin
- Inherited defects that decrease BH4, which is a cofactor required for the production of serotonin.
- serotonin breaking down rapidly
- low levels of elements like L-tryptophan, vitamin D, vitamin B6, or omega-3 fatty acids, which your body needs in order to produce serotonin
- Mutations in the TPH1 and TPH2 genes, which metabolize tryptophan and are eventually responsible for the production of serotonin.
- Mutations in the SPR gene, which plays a role as a key enzyme in serotonin production.
- Mutations in the serotonin transporter gene which takes serotonin into the cells.
What Are The Symptoms Of Serotonin Imbalance?
Serotonin deficiency seems to affect men and women differently, and this deficiency may cause a range of psychological and physical symptoms that include:
- low energy
- depressed mood
- poor memory
- poor appetite
- post-traumatic stress disorder
- social anxiety disorder
- low self-esteem
- low sex drive
- eating disorders
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder
- panic disorder
Serotonin deficiency may also cause several physical symptoms, including:
- carbohydrate cravings
- weight gain
- irritable bowel syndrome
Link Between Serotonin And Depression
One theory about how depression develops centers on the regeneration of brain cells, which some believe that it is mediated by serotonin. Thus, depression may occur when there is a suppression of new brain cells, and stress is the most important precipitator of depression.
Common antidepressant medications (SSRIs), are designed to boost serotonin levels, helping to kick off the production of new brain cells, which in turn allows the depression to lift.
How Serotonin Deficiency Is Treated
There are a few proven ways to increase serotonin in your body.
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) don’t work for everyone, and they can also cause a range of side effects in some cases. However, there are several effective natural remedies you can try:
- Intentionally creating a happy mood by doing something you love or thinking about things that you know will make you happy. Doing so increased serotonin levels in the brain.
- Exercise: Physical activity improves brain serotonin levels by increasing both the production and the release of serotonin in the brain. Aerobic exercises such as walking, running, or swimming, seems to be the most effective exercises.
- Diet: Foods that contain the nutrients your body needs to produce serotonin should be your priority. such foods include egg, cheese, pineapples, tofu, salmon, etc… Also, avoid caffeine or reduce your intake because it can lower serotonin levels.
- Bright light, either from the sun or a light box, has been shown to increases the level of serotonin in your brain.
Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are antidepressant medications that help your body utilize serotonin more efficiently. They somehow prevent your brain from reabsorbing serotonin, resulting in more serotonin circulating throughout your brain. This helps increase the amount of serotonin that’s available to use.
SSRIs treat effectively a variety of psychological disorders like depression, addictions, social phobia, anxiety, etc…
SSRIs are specific to serotonin and do not interfere with other neurotransmitters, however, SSRIs may have side effects such as nausea, lowered libido, diarrhea, anxiety, tremors, or loss of bone mass.
Some common SSRIs include:
- escitalopram (Lexapro)
- citalopram (Celexa)
- paroxetine (Paxil)
- fluoxetine (Prozac)
- sertraline (Zoloft)
As stated already, bright light exposure, exercise, and increased tryptophan intake all increase serotonin levels, and carbohydrate intake acting by means of insulin secretion lead to increased tryptophan levels, and, therefore, increased serotonin production.
On the contrary, protein intake seems to decrease serotonin synthesis.