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In this article we will talk about Serotonin, and what it does! Day to day, chemical reactions are happening all the time throughout our entire body and our brain so that we stay well. Some of these reactions control our moods, and many things control our perception of the world around us. Although all feelings are personal experiences, all humans know what anger, or sadness, or happiness feels like; however, have you ever wondered why we feel what we feel when we experience those emotions? Well, it all has to do with neurotransmitters and hormones.

What Does it Function in the Brain?

Humans brain with serotonin pathways infographic

Serotonin is the ‘button’ that activates or deactivates, regulates, or drives our body crazy in matters as important and fundamental as, for example, mood. 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT) or Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is synthesized from the transformation of the amino acid tryptophan. It is a fundamental neuromodulator of the human nervous system. Behavioral and neuropsychological processes modulated by Serotonin include: 

  • Mood 
  • Perception 
  • Reward
  • Anger
  • Aggression
  • Appetite
  • Memory
  • Sexuality
  • Attention

Its metabolism is associated with various psychiatric disorders, and its concentration level is reduced by stress. Serotonin has a general modulating and behavioral inhibitory effect, influencing almost all brain functions, inhibiting directly or by stimulating GABA (gamma-amino-butyric acid). In this way, it regulates thymia, which is the external behavior of the individual, sleep, sexual activity, appetite, circadian rhythms, neuroendocrine functions, body temperature, pain, motor activity, and cognitive functions. To recap:

  • Causes Relaxation and Reduces Aggressiveness: Serotonin also serves to stabilize the human being’s emotional state in situations of tension. Specifically, it serves to inhibit aggressiveness and the violent behaviors that can derive from it. Thus, the most impulsive and violent people tend to have lower levels of Serotonin acting on key points in the brain than those who are more peaceful.
  • Regulates the Temperature of Our Body: Among the basic maintenance functions of our body’s integrity that we associate with Serotonin, there is also temperature regulation. This is a very delicate balance because a difference of a few degrees in body temperature can lead to large groups of cell tissues’ death. 
  • Regulates Libido: Serotonin has an inhibitory effect on the hypothalamic release of gonadotropins with the consequent decrease in normal sexual response.
  • Regulates Our Circadian Rhythm: Serotonin is the mediator responsible for phases III and IV of sleep.

Serotonin Deficiency

A jug of milk and some eggs sitting alongside a whisk on a wooden table

Serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone, has multiple effects both on the brain and at a peripheral level. The lack of Serotonin at the brain level causes depression, phobias, sleep problems, eating disorders (such as the desire for sweets and lack of feeling full), memory deficits, decreased libido, impaired regulation of temperature, self-injurious symptoms, and increased sensitivity to pain. The lack of Serotonin is a consequence of a deficit of tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid: it is only obtained through food. It is found in eggs, milk, and whole grains. Because of this, people who follow a vegetarian diet without eggs or dairy products are at higher risk for lack of tryptophan. Adequate levels of vitamin B6 and magnesium are essential as cofactors of tryptophan metabolism.

Tryptophan Deficiency

Structural chemical formula of tryptophan amino acid molecule with foods containing tryptophan, which is needed to produce serotonin

Tryptophan, the essential amino acid, has several important purposes, like making melatonin. It also creates niacin, which is crucial in creating Serotonin. A deficiency can be a consequence of the lack of supply or due to inflammatory processes; in these processes, much more tryptophan is consumed, so the amount of the substance available for serotonin synthesis decreases. It is a fact that nowadays, the situations of inflammation in the body are more and more frequent. Many patients are in a state of chronic inflammation, people with excess abdominal fat have a chronic inflammatory process. The degree of abdominal fat is seen today as one of the most significant health risks.

Around the time we go to sleep, 5 to 10 mg of melatonin are produced in a short time. This leads to a decrease in Serotonin in the brain and tryptophan in the blood. Because of this, our appetite for food rich in tryptophan and sugar increases. At the peripheral level, the effects of a lack of Serotonin are multiple: There is a constriction of the blood vessels, which leads to an increase in blood pressure. There is an irritable colon, muscle aches that can lead to fibromyalgia, a tendency to thrombosis due to platelet aggregation and inflammation.

How to Increase Levels?

Ways to increase serotonin infographic

Serotonin is obtained through the metabolic process of tryptophan, an essential acid that is not produced in the body naturally; that is why we leave you with some tips to maintain these stable levels:

  • Increase the dose of vitamin B12, B6 B3; these improve the metabolism of tryptophan.
  • Take supplements with quality tryptophan or that contains 5HTP (5 hydroxytryptophan); as we have said from this amino acid, our body transforms it into Serotonin.
  • Take deep breaths with essential oils. These work by their aromatic molecules coming into contact with the sense of smell; this gives an emotional response, triggering the release of neurotransmitters such as Serotonin and dopamine.
  • Sunbathe for 20 minutes; the sunlight increases the production of Serotonin in the brain.
  • Exercising; this releases endorphins and Serotonin, so after doing sports, one feels so happy.
  • Rhodiola Root improves the transport of Serotonin precursors, that is, tryptophan and 5-hydroxytryptophan in the brain; this improves cases of depression, fatigue, and anxiety.
  • Avoid the consumption of sugars and refined flours; these alter our intestinal microbiota, as this type of food favors the proliferation of anaerobic bacteria (pathogenic bacteria) over the others.
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