What Is Serotonin
Serotonin (5-hydroxytrptamine, 5-HT) is a chemical and neurotransmitter found in the human body that carries signals between nerves. The word Serotonin originated from a discovery in 1948 by Maurice M. Rapport that classified it as a serum agent that affected vascular tone. A biochemical process in the body combines Tryptophan (component of proteins) with tryptophan hydroxylase (a chemical reactor) to form 5-hydroxyltruptamine (5-HT), which is Serotonin.
Serotonin is manufactured in the brain and the intestines, with 90% in the gastrointestinal tract. Serotonin is also located in the blood platelets and the central nervous system and influences many body and psychological functions. However, Serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and therefore Serotonin used in the brain must be produced there.
Serotonin functions as a neurotransmitter, influencing both directly and indirectly the majority of brain cells. Serotonin assists in:
Bowel Function – Roughly 95% of the body’s Serotonin is
found in the gastrointestinal tract and triggers the gut nerves that
contract the intestines, but also signal pain, nausea and other GI
Clotting – After a wound, the platelets release
Serotonin so the vasoconstriction (narrowing of the tiny arteries) can
reduce blood flow and assist with the formation of blood clots.
Sleep - Serotonin is synthesized by the pineal gland to produce melatonin, the hormone directly related to healthy sleep.
Cardiovascular – Serotonin maintains cardiovascular
system efficiency. High Serotonin (such as with the use of
antidepressants) can lead to a rapid heart rate and high blood
Mood – Serotonin plays a major role in mood, anxiety control and happiness. Ecstasy and LSD cause a massive rise in Serotonin levels.
Liver – Helps to regenerate the liver.
Cell Health – Serotonin is necessary for efficient cell division.
Nausea – After ingesting a toxin, bacteria or
irritant, Serotonin is produced in the gut to increase time to expel
the irritant in diarrhea. The increase in blood Serotonin levels also
stimulates the nausea area in the brain to warn the body of the irritant
Sexual Function – High levels of Serotonin can cause a
reduction in libido and sexual function. This explains why
antidepressants have a side effect of decreased libido.
Body Temperature and Breathing – Serotonin in the brain
play an essential role in maintaining a healthy balance in body
temperature and respiration (breathing). Serotonin is produced by the
nerve cells in the brain stem, the area that controls the heart,
respiratory system and sleep cycle.
Bone Density – Studies have shown that sustained high
levels of Serotonin can lead to an increase in osteoporosis. Studies
have shown that persistent high levels of Serotonin with the use of
SSRIs can weaker skeletal bone.
Serotonin and Sleep
Serotonin plays a role in sleep cycles and in wakefulness states. Serotonin is synthesized by the pineal glad to make melatonin, the hormone directly related to sleep.
Serotonin levels are lower in sleep than while we are awake and are at their lowest during REM (Rapid Eye Movement) sleep, the dream sleep. Neurons with Serotonin receptors are active during all stages of sleep until we reach REM stages, then Serotonin quiets. When Serotonin levels drop, acetylcholine (neurotransmitter) rises in the brain. This is why many on antidepressants have reduced dream sleep – the high Serotonin levels inhibit the increase in acetylcholine.
The Serotonin System is Very Complex
Serotonin is involved in a broad range of physiological and behavioral
processes including cardiovascular regulation, pain sensitivity,
appetite, sexual behavior, cognition, learning, mood and respiration.
The Serotonergic system is a complex structure that is critical to
address not only biological responses but challenges from the
Altering this system chemically upsets a fine balance within the body. Increasing Serotonin with antidepressants can cause symptoms including diarrhea, nausea, vomiting, headaches, shivering, agitation, restless, confusion and uncoordinated movement. If Serotonin rises too high, dangerous symptoms including irregular heartbeat, seizures and trembling can indicate Serotonin Syndrome, a potentially fatal condition.
Natural Ways to Build Serotonin
Serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter meaning is does not stimulate the brain. Adequate levels are necessary to balance any stimulating signals. Any stimulant medications or items like caffeine and sugar can cause a depletion of serotonin over time. Serotonin also regulates carbohydrate cravings, pain control, digestion, and is critical for proper sleep, so supporting natural Serotonin levels through a healthy diet is essential.
The following may naturally assist in the production of Serotonin:
- Vitamin B6 - Foods rich in B6 include spinach, turnip greens, garlic, cauliflower, mustard greens, celery, fish, poultry, lean beef.
- Grain like Seeds – Buckwheat, millet, amaranth and quinoa are seeds with grain-like taste and properties that are healthy, high-protein carbohydrates that boost Serotonin.
- Fermented foods – aid in digestion and the assimilation of nutrients.
- Sunshine – Early morning sun can boost the body’s production of melatonin. Serotonin converts to melatonin.
- Eliminate Sugar – Low Serotonin causes intense cravings for sugar as the body’s way of trying to increase neurotransmitter levels. However, sugar can cause insulin resistance, hypoglycemia and diabetes.
Foods that have the highest concentrations of Serotonin:
Our bodies naturally use the precursors from foods to build Serotonin levels. Serotonin in its complete form cannot pass through the blood-brain barrier, so serotonin-rich foods must be included in our diet to provide the building blocks. How we eat affects or mood and our mood affects how we eat. A diet high in Folate also improves Serotonin levels.
Foods that provide the building blocks for Serotonin production are:
- Blackeyed Peas
- Sesame Seeds
- Pumpkin Seeds
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