Although neuroscience is still in its formative years, we can already relate lots of personal and internal experiences by just looking at research. As we pursue the sophisticated yet delightful neurochemical mixture that energizes our brains, serotonin is a little bit of a puzzle.
Studies reveal that it performs a significant role in managing mood, cravings, relaxation, and dreaming. It also has both a sedating and stimulating effect that are, in some way, associated with the flow of ideas in our minds.
But what exactly is serotonin?
It is a kind of chemical compound that delivers signals from one part of the brain to another. Among the 40 million brain cells we have, most of them are affected by serotonin.
Numerous scientists and experts claim that unevenness in serotonin levels may even result to depression. Studies show that in the event where biochemical errors are present, such as a deficiency in tryptophan, the substance which serotonin is derived from, insufficient receptor sites, or serotonin`s failure to reach them, may already result in depressive symptoms, along with obsessive compulsive disorders (OCDs), anxiety, fear, and anger.
Serotonin continues to be in the limelight for its possible function in combating factors and illnesses that influence a lot of people today – panic and depressive disorders being one of them.
Prescription drugs such as Paxil, Prozac, and Zoloft are known as exclusive serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These medications alter the extracellular amount of serotonin in the brain by reducing its re-absorption, which some believe even promotes depression. Some scientists claim that by boosting the amount of serotonin in the synaptic cleft, they can reduce depressive symptoms, while others believe that these SSRIs are costly placebos. It is likely that the compound’s concentration is only one factor among many when it comes to depression.
Though we are aware that serotonin has effects on mood disorders such as depression, researchers continue to look for answers as we are still not certain how, to what extent, and why it works this way.
Dreaming and Sleep
Serotonin goes through phases together with your circadian rhythm, the daily cycle of hormones, neurotransmitters, and other signals in your body that tells you when it is daytime or nighttime.
Increased levels of serotonin are linked to wakefulness, and minimal levels of it are related to sleep. Because of this, it is perfectly logical that the rapid eye movement sleep cycle (REM) occurs when the serotonin system turns off while we are sleeping, and is also where most of our dreams happen.
Melatonin, on the other hand, helps serotonin in its role in dreaming and sleep. It helps prepare the body for darkness and rest, while also managing our circadian rhythm in the process.
The Brain-Gut Connection
Surprisingly, about 95% of serotonin in our body exists within our gut.
The human brain and gut communicate through the vagus nerve and spinal cord, and serotonin is a vital neurotransmitter at both ends of this system. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is transformed into 5-HTP in the small intestine, which is then modified into serotonin.
How to Boost Serotonin in Your Body
It is certainly not easy to figure out the ideal quantity of serotonin required for our bodies. An excessive or an inadequate amount can each have advantageous and detrimental outcomes. However, it does seem that improving one’s serotonin levels will help enhance concentration, strength, and mood.
Consuming food abundant in tryptophan will help the body synthesize 5-HTP, which can then be converted into serotonin. These particular foods include, but are not restricted to, seeds, nuts, red meat, cheese, beans, tofu, chicken, lentils, turkey, fish, oats, and eggs. Though there are also 5-HTP dietary supplements available in the market, it is more ideal to get your daily tryptophan source from whole and raw ingredients, as these also contain nutrients that aid the substance’s digestion and conversion.
Studies show that serotonin production is a two-way street when it comes to mood. Though the substance is greatly beneficial to it, aerobic exercises and other physical activities are also generally advantageous to its enhancement, particularly when coupled with being outdoors. There are also evidences that suggest contact with bright lights can improve serotonin levels in the body. This may be the reason why sun lamps are used in winter to alleviate seasonal affective disorder.
We human beings have acquired quite an incredible and complicated physiology, and serotonin is probably the most puzzling yet crucial of all neurotransmitters. Being more aware and well informed of the substance, as well as other neurotransmitters, will hopefully help you make healthier choices concerning your brain, your mood and your overall health and wellbeing.