What Is Serotonin & How To Naturally Increase Your Levels Part I
Serotonin has become quite popular in mainstream conversation. People know it has something to do with the brain. They know it affects happiness. However, many people aren’t familiar with its purpose in the body or what it really is. This lack of information can lead to misinformation and confusion.
This is the first in a three-part series of articles on serotonin. This article will also discuss the difference between another prevalent neurotransmitter: dopamine. But first, we should look at serotonin, its function in the body, and why those functions are essential.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmission chemical. This is a fancy way of saying it helps send nerve signals. Ninety-five percent of all serotonin is found and produced in the gut rather than the brain. The reason is that serotonin is a byproduct of tryptophan, an amino acid that naturally balances hormones and regulates mood.
Despite widespread knowledge that it is related to depression, serotonin is a diverse chemical. It plays a heavy role in many of the body’s functions, making it hard to pin down the specific effects. Yes, low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression. But, It also affects other areas.
What Roles Does Serotonin Have?
Mood and Memory
Studies have indicated that poor memory and depressive moods may be linked to low brain serotonin levels. Because serotonin is a byproduct of tryptophan, scientists have found a connection between poor gut health and mood.
With most serotonin being produced and consumed in the intestine, research has found that the chemical plays a role in digestion and gut health. Serotonin signals the gut to become motile. It also helps the system eliminate food that causes gut irritation more quickly. It has been linked to appetite.
Some studies have shown that lower serotonin levels may be linked to lower pain thresholds. In postoperative patients, they reported lower pain levels while having lower levels of serum serotonin. Likewise, patients with higher serotonin levels report less pain.
How Are Serotonin And Dopamine Different?
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter that plays a heavy role in the brain’s balance and depression. Dopamine is more closely linked to our mood and mental state than serotonin.
Dopamine is related to what is known as the “pleasure center.” You’ve likely heard of a ‘dopamine rush.’ This is typically associated with a positive event or a reward. The chemical drives classical conditioning, a process of training someone to do something via a reward mechanism.
Dopamine is often mistaken as a reward chemical. In reality, it is a seeking chemical. Any instance of action that pushes one closer to a valued goal will produce small amounts of dopamine. This incentivizes them to repeat their actions. Dopamine is about the pursuit, but it stops being released once the reward is received and is the highest in the final moments before the reward is received.
Serotonin affects how our emotions are processed via balancing. Low serotonin makes someone more irritable. This lowers their ability to manage stressful or tense situations. Higher levels may also result in overconfidence and the inability to distinguish a problematic choice or situation from a positive one.
Too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. Serotonin is no exception. While popular media might depict people with high serotonin as having a higher quality of life, balance is critical. Dopamine and serotonin are also not interchangeable. Always consult a professional before taking actions that may affect your long-term health.