Serotonin is produced by way of a biochemical conversion procedure, and it starts with tryptophan, which is used to develop cells. These cells in turn, use a chemical reactor known as tryptophan hydroxylase to create serotonin.
Because serotonin works like a neurotransmitter, your brain uses it to send messages, and due to its widespread distribution, it affects several bodily functions including psychological responses. There are over 40 million brain cells in each person, and more than 50% of this is affected by serotonin.
Simply put, serotonin affects the brain cells involved in social behavior, temperature regulation, memory, sleep, appetite and sex. Serotonin also affects body functions like your muscles, the cardiovascular system and some parts of your nervous system.
There is also evidence that low serotonin levels contribute to breast milk production, and problems within the serotonin system may be the reason for SIDS (sudden infant death syndrome).
Serotonin in Men and Women
Men have slightly higher levels of serotonin than women, but the difference is insignificant. However a study published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal shows that men and women react differently to serotonin level drops. Men don’t always become depressed, but do become compulsive, while women are more cautious but are prone to depression.
Men and women process serotonin the same way, but they react to it differently. While researchers still aren’t sure why this is the case, it’s obvious that women become prone to anxiety and mood swings while men become susceptible to alcoholism and quick to anger.
Serotonin and Depression
Given these facts, it’s easy to see why researchers are convinced of the low serotonin levels depression link. One of the symptoms of serotonin deficiency is panic attacks, and the reason for this is imbalance, and this is also the reason for depression.
There are several theories that explain the link between serotonin levels and depression, and how it affects mood. One possible reason is the brain’s low serotonin cell production makes it harder for the chemical to get to receptor sites. Links between tryptophan shortages and depression have also been established, which further solidifies the connection between the two.
It is believed that depression focuses on brain cell regeneration, a procedure that involves serotonin. A study conducted by neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, PhD of Princeton indicates that depression develops when new brain cells are suppressed, the most frequent cause being stress.
While many researchers re convinced of the link between serotonin and depression, it’s difficult to gauge the levels in the brain. Even so, it’s very likely that the affected neurotransmitters are reduced when you have depression. Researchers have also determined that blood pressure is lower among people with depression, and this could be reflective of the brain’s serotonin levels.
Apart from depression, lack of serotonin may also result in anger, irritability and obsessive compulsive disorder.
Signs and Indicators
Low serotonin levels symptoms include the following. It should be stressed that symptoms vary on a case to case basis and that not all signs may manifest.
- Sudden craving for sweets
- Lack of self-confidence
- Suffer from panic attacks and excessive worry
- Entertaining thoughts of suicide
- Irritable, easy to anger and aggressive
There are also physical symptoms that are associated with low serotonin, including irritable bowel syndrome, migraines and asthma. Studies also show that low serotonin levels may cause frequent headaches, so that’s something you should look at. However, these physical symptoms may be indications of another ailment, so you need to check for other symptoms before concluding that it’s due to low serotonin.
Antidepressants such as SNRIs (serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors) and SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) can reduce the symptoms of depression, but they don’t offer a permanent solution to increasing serotonin. It’s also unclear about what their long term effects will be.
There are natural steps you can take that might increase your serotonin levels, such as diet. Contrary to what some people believe, there are nutrients and foods that will increase the tryptophan level in your body, the amino acid which produces serotonin. Your diet should include protein rich foods like chicken and meat, as they’re rich in tryptophan. Tryptophan is also found in nuts, fowl and dairy foods.
Foods rich in carbohydrates also help because as the food enters your body, it leads to an insulin release and causes amino acids to get in your body except tryptophan. While the rest of the amino acids are scattered in your body, tryptophan stays in your bloodstream and eventually makes its way in your brain, producing serotonin. You can also benefit by taking vitamin B6 either from food or supplements.
Exercise helps improve one’s mood, and in many cases is as effective as psychotherapy or an antidepressant medication without the side effect. It was once thought that you need to work out for several weeks before results could be determined, but now research from the University of Texas shows that a 40 minute workout is enough to improve your mood and could help increase serotonin.
Aside from those already mentioned, your serotonin level will also get a boost if you take 5 HTP serotonin, an amino acid that has been scientifically proven to increase the brain’s serotonin content. In addition, it helps relieve depression, anxiety, migraine headaches and sleep apnea among health conditions.
The important thing to remember is that when you encounter symptoms of the condition, take steps to correct it as soon as possible. It also helps if you switch to a healthy diet and exercise regularly to reduce your risk.