We Know: All About Serotonin
What is serotonin?
Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine (5HT), is a chemical found primarily in the brain, intestines, platelets, and the connective tissues. Serotonin is formed from the essential amino acid tryptophan. It is a neurotransmitter that plays a role in regulating moods and behaviors.
How is serotonin produced in the human body?
The precursor of serotonin is tryptophan. The human body does not make tryptophan, so tryptophan must be obtained externally from the foods we eat. Poultry, dairy products, bananas, and nuts provide excellent sources of tryptophan. Tryptophan in the body undergoes an initial chemical reaction with the enzyme tryptophan hydroxylase, which adds a hydroxyl group to the amino acid. A second chemical reaction with amino acid decarboxylase removes a carbon, forming the serotonin.
What function does serotonin serve?
Serotonin molecules are located in the Raphe Nuclei of the medulla and act as a neurotransmitter to conduct nerve signals in the brain. Serotonin levels control the moods, sleep patterns, appetite, behavior, and temperature centers of the brain. Therefore, the proper balance of serotonin in the brain helps maintain our levels of comfort and well being. Serotonin also acts as a vasoconstrictor that narrows the blood vessels. Finally, it plays a role in the intestines to inhibit gastrointestinal secretions.
What happens when the body doesn't make enough serotonin?
Low levels of serotonin in the body produces changes in mood, sleep, and behavior patterns, and leads to mental disorders such as depression. With moderate to severe cases, medical professionals may prescribe prescription drugs such as antidepressants to increase the brain's supply of serotonin.
What are the side effects of too much serotonin?
High levels of serotonin result in migraine headaches and symptoms of nausea. Use caution when taking serotonin supplements, as these supplements can cause a condition known as Serotonin Syndrome which results in increased confusion, twitching, shivering, sweating, and terror.
What can I do to get the right levels of serotonin?
Serotonin levels are affected by what we eat and do. Ingestion of certain drugs, minerals, and our exercise patterns can seriously impact how our bodies produce serotonin. As long as individuals maintain diets rich in complex carbohydrates and vitamin C, the body should get a sufficient supply of tryptophan to make the right amounts of serotonin. Vigorous exercise and natural sunlight also helps increase the body's production of serotonin.