What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized, stored, and released by specific neurons in the brain. Natural Serotonin is involved in the regulation of several processes within the brain, including, depression, mood, emotions, aggression, sleep, appetite, anxiety, memory and perceptions. Serotonin regulates these processes through pathways that innervate (connect to) different brain regions. Most cells in the brain, over 40 million, are either directly or indirectly affected by serotonin levels as well as muscles, and parts of the cardiovascular and endocrine systems. Because of this far reaching influence, low serotonin levels are often attributed to anxiety, panic attacks, obesity, insomnia, and fibromyalgia.
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The function of serotonin depends on the region of the brain into which it is released (it also depends on the type of serotonin receptor present in that region). For example, the serotonin neurons in the neocortex in the front of the brain (frontal cortex) regulate cognition, memory, and perceptions. The serotonin neurons in the hippocampus regulate memory and mood. The serotonin neurons in other limbic areas such as the amygdala also regulate mood.
The neuroanatomy picture shows the connection between two neurons (the "synapse"). Natural Serotonin is stored in small vesicles within the nerve terminal of a neuron. Electrical impulses (arising in the Raphé nucleus, for example) traveling down the axon toward the terminal cause the release of serotonin from small vesicles into the synaptic space. Once in the synaptic space, the serotonin binds to special proteins, called serotonin receptors, on the membrane of a neighboring neuron (this is usually at a dendrite or cell body). When serotonin binds to serotonin receptors (there are actually at least 14 types of serotonin receptors), it causes a change in the electrical properties of the receiving neuron that generally results in a decrease in its firing rate.
Causes and contributors of low Serotonin Levels and Deficiency
Serotonin is synthesized in the brain and body from tryptophan an amino acid. Tryptophan converts into 5- hydroxytryptophan then into serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), if all of the co-factors are present. A shortage of tryptophan is believed to be a major culprit leading to depression. High levels of tryptophan in the brain directly influence increased serotonin production and new brain cell production begins to rise.
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The following factors can cause low serotonin levels:
- Artificial sweeteners (aspartame)
- Cigarette Smoking
- Dietary deficiencies of nutrient co-factors
- Ecstasy, Diet Pills, and certain medications
- Genetic Predisposition
- Hormone Imbalances (thyroid, adrenal, estrogen)
- Insulin Resistance
- Poor Diet
- Lack of exercise
- Lack of sunlight
- Problems converting tryptophan to Serotonin
- Problems with Digestion
- Stress and Anger
- High Cortisol Levels
Low Serotonin Symptoms
Low serotonin levels are often attributed to anxiety, depression, panic attacks, insomnia, obesity, fibromyalgia, eating disorders, chronic pain, migraines, and alcohol abuse.
Negative thoughts, low self-esteem, obsessive thoughts and behaviors, PMS, and Irritable Bowel Syndrome are also symptoms of low serotonin.
Determine Natural Serotonin Levels with a Serotonin Test
Testing for low serotonin levels is available and helpful in determining an appropriate treatment. Neurotransmitter tests can now provide precise information on deficiencies or overloads in key neurotransmitters such as dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin. A serotonin test can measure serotonin levels to determine if a serotonin imbalance is present.
Find out more about Neurotransmitter testing that can determine your natural serotonin levels.
Serotonin Foods help increase Serotonin naturally:
- Complex Carbohydrates
- kidney beans
- rolled oats
- pumpkin seeds
- sunflower seeds
- baked potato with skin
- Tahini (sesame butter)
- almond butter
- Eat a variety of fresh fruits and vegetables (organic if possible)
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily
Once your natural serotonin levels are low enough to cause syptoms it is very difficult to significantly raise serotonin levels enough by food alone. SSRI's or selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors and SNRIs, serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors do not actually increase the amount of serotonin molecules in the brain. SSRI’s are thought to block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin by certain nerve cells in the brain. This theoretically leaves more serotonin available in the brain. However if you have low serotonin to begin with these medications either will not work well, or work for a while then "poop out".
Natural serotonin supplements are likely to be the most effective means to raise serotonin levels in the brain while being safe and without the side effects of anti depression medications. Derived from seeds of Griffonia simpicifolia, a native African plant, 5-HTP, or 5-hydroxy tryptophan, is a safe dietary supplement that introduces higher levels of tryptophan into the blood stream which then enter the central nervous system and facilitate the needed synthesis of serotonin.
Lifestyle Changes to increase Serotonin:
- Get plenty of exercise (30 minutes at least three times a week)
- Eat regularly throughout the day.
- Get plenty of natural sunlight
- Manage stress and negative emotions
- Get 6-8 hours of quality sleep a night
- Set time aside for fun and relaxation
- Take a multivitamin daily
- Prayer and Meditation
- Take a serotonin supplement