What does Serotonin – The Happy Hormone Do?
You must have heard the phrase “Serotonin – the happy hormone.” But, do you know what it means or how serotonin affects your mood? Serotonin is not produced in the brain, as you may have thought. It is mostly produced from the nerve cells in your digestive system (95%). Smaller amounts are produced throughout your central nervous system, specifically in the “Raphe Nuclei,” located in the brainstem. The confusion of where it is produced may be due to its label as a neurotransmitter, which relays messages from one area of the brain
to another and throughout your central nervous system. Serotonin is often referred to as a hormone because its actions within the body behave like hormones. It also goes by the chemical name (5-hydroxytryptamine). Try to remember this name because one of the supplements we are going to discuss is directly related to it. Serotonin plays many roles in your body besides just mood. Serotonin plays a role in bowel function. Serotonin is so protective of your colon that if you eat something irritating to your digestive system, your colon produces more serotonin to move the food that is bothersome out of your gut more quickly. It initiates the brain signals for nausea, diarrhea or peristalsis (movement of feces), so it can bring your colon back to a calmer state. If you have tissue damage and require your blood to clot, your blood platelets will send a request for more serotonin. The additional serotonin causes the small arteries in your circulatory system to narrow and slow the blood flow, assisting with the blood clotting process. Once the bleeding has stopped, and the situation is calm, serotonin production goes back to normal. Serotonin helps control food cravings, and by doing so can help to control your appetite. Serotonin is most often associated with the brain and helping to regulate moods and a sense of well being. But this feel-good sensation only occurs when your levels are normal. When serotonin is low, the symptoms usually result in depression, nervousness, stress and a number of anxiety type disorders. When your serotonin levels are normal, you may feel a sense of calm or general well-being, more focused, happier. Research continues to explore the relationship between serotonin and other health issues such as IBS, where low levels of serotonin may lead to constipation or disruption in gut flow, leading to diverticulitis. The immune function also begins in the gut and low serotonin levels can directly impact immune cell production.
How Can You Get More of this Good Stuff?
Your body produces serotonin naturally but requires a chemical conversion to take place in your body. It requires tryptophan to help begin production. Tryptophan, through a metabolic pathway, is converted to 5-hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), then the 5-HTP is converted into serotonin or its chemical name 5-hydroxytryptamine (remember this name). Your body does not make tryptophan, requiring you to acquire this amino acid from your diet. There is no such thing as a serotonin supplement or even a prescribed medication. Serotonin cannot cross the blood-brain barrier and relies on tryptophan and 5-HTP For serotonin to get through the bloodstream to the
brain, where it takes on the role as a neurotransmitter, it requires these two substances to convert to the acceptable form for uptake. There are other neurotransmitters besides serotonin that affect mood called norepinephrine and dopamine and should be considered if a mood disorder is present. Boosting your natural production of serotonin can be accomplished through supplements such as tryptophan and Natural Factors 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan). It also should go without saying that balancing the gut microbiome (gut flora) and producing a healthy environment through daily use of Probiotics is essential for the production of serotonin. Look for brands like Natural Factors that has probiotics for mood called Calm Biotic and Omega 3 supplements that contain a high level of EPA & DHA, which can help neurons release serotonin and improve its activity. Vitamin D also helps the body to make, release and better utilize serotonin by activating the enzymes that convert tryptophan. Do not combine any natural products for serotonin with medications for the same purpose. It is also suggested that you review the warnings for drug interactions before taking any natural health product or speak to your healthcare provider.
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