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What Is Serotonin And How Can It Affect Your Mood?

Over the course of our lives, our moods have changed more times than we can count. For many of us, our mood might change several times per day, but there can also be extreme cases of mood variations, such as bipolar disorder and depression. In order to address these disorders, it is important to understand their cause, and a chemical known as serotonin plays a vital role in the process.

What is Serotonin and How Does it Work?

Serotonin is located in bowels, blood platelets and the brain, which is where it carries out its primary functions. It is produced by nerve cells through a biochemical conversion process and serves myriad purposes, one of which is maintaining mood balance. Serotonin also affects bone density as high levels of this chemical in the bone can reportedly lead to osteoporosis. It helps to regulate bowel functions, causes nausea by stimulating that particular area in the brain if you ingest something toxic, and affects sexual desire, appetite, sleep, memory, and learning.

Generally speaking, normal serotonin levels in the blood tend to range from 101 to 283 nanograms/millimeters, as noted by Healthine.com. However, it is also important to note that there are factors that may cause these numbers to differ slightly. If your serotonin levels are too high or too low, it could have adverse effects on your health, specifically affecting mood and behavior. Serotonin deficiency is often caused by dietary deficiencies and can lead to anxiety, sleep issues and even depression, while high levels (an indicator of carcinoid syndrome) can result in tumors in the colon, appendix, bronchial tubes and small intestines.

What does a Lack of Serotonin Cause?

Upon confirmation of low serotonin levels, doctors often prescribe drugs to raise these levels; however, these raised levels can lead to a bigger problem, namely serotonin syndrome. Symptoms often include diarrhea, headache, sweating, shivering, confusion, vomiting and dilated pupils, but in extreme cases, it can also lead to seizures, rapid heart rate, hallucination, high blood pressure, and irregular heartbeat, and it can even affect muscle dexterity.

Can Exercise Increase Serotonin Levels?

It is possible to raise serotonin levels naturally. Regular exercise and sunshine (light therapy) have been known to help. It is also believed that your diet can play an integral role. Some foods can boost serotonin levels. These include tofu, salmon, pineapple, turkey, kiwi, nuts, tomato, peanut butter, cottage cheese, and eggs.

Serotonin imbalance can also be treated using supplements, which have been shown to improve serotonin-related issues such as depression, insomnia, and anxiety. These types of supplements often contain vitamins and minerals. Folic acid (B9), Pyridoxine (B6), and Vitamins C and D are often used to regulate mood. Magnesium can increase resilience to stress, while zinc contains antidepressant properties.

Herbs and amino acids are also sometimes included in these supplements. Whilst there are mixed reviews regarding whether 5-HTP is an herb or an amino acid, it is generally believed that it can help with issues such as depression, sleep disorders, fibromyalgia, anxiety and even migraines. Keep in mind that this type of supplement is not intended for long-term use.

In Europe, this type of supplement requires a prescription, but in other countries, such as the UK, Canada and the United States, it is sold as an over-the-counter supplement. Sam-E (s-adenosyl methionine) is another type of amino acid supplement often used as an anti-depressant. Tryptophan is also widely used because it is a precursor to serotonin. Please note that you should not take any of these supplements without first getting approval from your doctor. If you are on medication, mixing certain supplements can be dangerous.