What is Serotonin?
Have you ever wondered what hormone is responsible for your mood and feelings? Serotonin is the key hormone that stabilizes our mood, feelings of well-being, and happiness. This hormone impacts your entire body. It enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with each other. Serotonin also helps with sleeping, eating, and digestion. However, if the brain has too much serotonin, it may lead to depression. If the brain has too much serotonin, it can lead to excessive nerve cell activity. It also helps reduce depression, regulate anxiety, and maintain bone health.
How Does Your Body Use Serotonin?
Your body uses serotonin in various ways:
- Serotonin is in the brain. It is thought to regulate mood, happiness, and anxiety. Low levels of serotonin are linked to depression, while increased levels of the hormone may decrease arousal.
- Serotonin is found in your stomach and intestines. It helps control your bowel movements and function.
- Serotonin is produced when you become nauseated. Production of serotonin increases to help remove bad food or other substances from the body. It also increases in the blood, which stimulates the part of the brain that controls nausea.
- Serotonin is responsible for stimulating the parts of the brain that control sleep and waking. Whether you sleep or wake depends on the area is stimulated and which serotonin receptor is used.
- Serotonin is released to help heal wounds. Serotonin triggers tiny arteries to narrow, which helps forms blood clots.
- Having very high levels of serotonin in the bones can lead to osteoporosis, which makes the bones weaker.
How Does Serotonin Impact Your Mental Health?
Serotonin helps regulate your mood naturally. When your serotonin levels are at a normal level, you should feel more focused, emotionally stable, happier, and calmer.
What Problems are Associated with Low Levels of Serotonin?
Low levels of serotonin are often associated with many behavioral and emotional disorders. Studies have shown that low levels of serotonin can lead to depression, anxiety, suicidal behavior, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. If you are experiencing any of these thoughts or feelings, consult a health care professional immediately. The sooner treatment starts, the faster you’ll see improvements.
What Problems are Associated with High Levels of Serotonin?
Serotonin syndrome can occur when you take medications that increase serotonin action leading to side effects. Too much serotonin can cause mild symptoms such as shivering, heavy sweating, confusion, restlessness, headaches, high blood pressure, twitching muscles, and diarrhea. More severe symptoms include high fever, unconsciousness, seizures, or irregular heartbeat. Serotonin syndrome can happen to anyone, but some people may be at higher risk. You are at a higher risk if you increased the dose of medication that is known to raise serotonin levels or take more than one drug known to increase serotonin. You may also be at risk if you take herbal supplements or an illicit drug known to increase serotonin levels.
Questions to Ask Your Healthcare Team
If you suspect that your serotonin levels are too high or low, the first step is to speak with a health care professional. Consider asking your doctor:
- Is my medication causing serotonin syndrome?
- If I am experiencing feelings of depression, are my serotonin levels too low?
- Are my levels of serotonin affecting any other aspects of my health?
Edited: January, 2019
Editor: Irina Bancos, MD