You have heard only nice things about serotonin. Some people call it the “happiness hormone“.
But how much do you know about serotonin? Some of the things you’ve heard may be untrue. There is a dark side to it that you didn’t know about. The article will delve into these and more fascinating facts.
1. What is Serotonin?
Serotonin is famously known as “the happiness hormone”. It is a neurotransmitter known for influencing a person’s feelings of happiness and wellbeing.
It is a chemical produced by the nerve cells. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter, sends signals between nerve cells.
The biggest amount of serotonin is concentrated in your digestive system. You also have serotonin in your blood platelets and throughout your central nervous system.
2. How is Serotonin Made?
The raw material for making serotonin is an essential amino acid known as tryptophan. You ingest tryptophan through foods like red meat, turkey and other poultry, soy foods, seaweed, nuts and seeds, cheese, and eggs. Tryptophan is present in most protein-rich foods.
In theory, a deficiency of tryptophan in your body should result in low serotonin levels. When serotonin is low in the body, you will experience mood disorders like anxiety or depression.
While some studies propose that high-tryptophan foods may lead to increased serotonin in the brain which can help treat depression symptoms, other studies find no correlation between tryptophan-rich foods and depression symptoms.
The safest assumption we can make thanks to research is that any increase in serotonin you may get from consuming tryptophan-rich foods is probably very small.
3. What Serotonin Does
Serotonin’s most famous role is as a mood stabilizer – people may not be aware of its other functions. It has a big impact, not just on your emotions, but also on your motor skills.
Serotonin helps you get a good sleep at night, and also helps you with eating and digesting food. It helps reduce depression, heal wounds, regulate anxiety, maintain bone health, and stimulate nausea.
Serotonin performs different functions across your body:
- Mood – Serotonin in the brain is credited with the regulation of anxiety, happiness, and mood. Low levels are associated with depression.
- Nausea – Serotonin rises in production when you eat noxious or upsetting food and helps push it out from your body.
- Bowel movement – Serotonin in the stomach and intestine enables control of bowel movements and function.
- Sleep –
It stimulates areas of your brain which are in control of waking and sleeping. You were being asleep or awake is dependent on which area receives the stimulation and which serotonin receptor is used.
- Blood clotting – Serotonin in blood platelets is released to help heal wounds. The chemical enables narrowing of arteries, leading to the formation of blood clots.
- Sexual function – Low serotonin levels = increased libido. Increased serotonin levels = reduced libido.
- Bone Health – When serotonin levels are too high, this can result in osteoporosis, a bone disease of weaker, thinner bones.
4. Serotonin, Depression, and Antidepressants
Serotonin production helps people cope with depression. For instance, people suffering from depression take Lexapro, an oral medication which helps them deal with their depression and anxiety.
Lexapro is part of a class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs help increase serotonin levels in the brain. The serotonin regulates the person’s mood to help them lose their anxiety.
Depression causes deep feelings of sadness. It makes you lose interest in your usual hobbies and interests. It pervades every aspect of your life, affecting your work, relationships, and appetite.
Lexapro also helps you deal with anxiety disorders. People with anxiety find their bodies going into flight-or-flight mode too often. That’s when the heart beats faster, breathing is rapid, and there is an increase of blood flowing into the muscles of your arms and legs – your body is prepping to run or fight.
Examples of anxiety disorders include posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), generalized anxiety disorder, panic disorder, simple phobia, and social anxiety disorder. The serotonin generated when you take Lexapro helps you cope.
The problem comes when you stop taking Lexapro too suddenly and the withdrawal symptoms begin to kick in. Lexapro’s relationship with serotonin means that sudden stopping will lead to serious emotional and physical symptoms.
The first phase of withdrawal symptoms includes insomnia, irritability, agitation, headaches, and nausea. The second phase, which comes weeks afterward, is worse and includes impaired concentration, bipolar illness, disturbed mood, depression, anxiety disorders, impaired memory, mood swings, irritability, insomnia, and poor stress balance.
Many of these second-phase conditions fail to disappear on their own. These withdrawal symptoms can be so severe that a lot of people are tempted to keep using the medication throughout their lives.
How long the withdrawal symptoms last depends on how much Lexapro you took and for how long. Quitting cold turkey also makes the symptoms last longer instead of a gradual process. Lexapro detox is terrible. This is true also of other antidepressants.
5. Is Too Much Serotonin Bad for You?
Yes. When serotonin levels are too high, you experience a condition known as serotonin syndrome or serotonin toxicity. It is rare but potentially life-threatening.
Serotonin syndrome may occur when you are getting started on an antidepressant medication, when you increase its dosage, or when you take two serotonin-increasing drugs at the same time.
Examples of serotonin-increasing medicines include:
- SSRIs – Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors
- SNRIs – Serotonin and norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors
- Migraine drugs are known as triptans
- Meredine (Demerol), a painkiller
- 5-HTP or other dietary tryptophan supplements (tryptophan is the serotonin-making amino acid)
- Older antidepressants are known as monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs)
- Saint-John’s-Wort, a herbal supplement used for treating depression symptoms
- Garcinia cambogia, a tropical fruit which is used as a weight loss supplement
6. Final Thoughts
Hopefully, this has painted a sober picture of this neurotransmitter that people like to call the “happiness hormone” (note that endorphins and dopamine also get the “happiness hormone” tag). The objective of this article was to enlighten readers on the functions of serotonin and expose the dangers involved when one tries to increase serotonin levels using medication.