Serotonin (also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) has an impact on every part of your body, from your emotions to your motor skills. It is a naturally occurring mood stabilizer and the hormone that aids digestion and sleeping. Serotonin also aids in reducing depression; regulating anxiety, happiness, and mood; and assists with memory, healthy sleeping patterns, sexual function, wound healing and bone health.
You feel happier, calmer, more focused, less worried and more emotionally stable when your serotonin levels are normal. This is why low levels of the hormone have been linked to depression and anxiety.
Symptoms of low serotonin
Serotonin levels in the blood should be between 101 and 283 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL). A blood test may be required by your doctor to evaluate the level of serotonin in your blood. However, doctors often treat a person’s symptoms rather than measuring serotonin levels.
This is because factors other than blood serotonin, such as metabolism, serotonin receptor activity and hormones, can influence the body’s ability to process and utilise the hormone. The following are some of the most prevalent symptoms of serotonin deficiency:
Serotonin levels may be depleted as a result of depression caused by past life events, particularly chronic stress and trauma. As a result, serotonin depletion can both cause and be a symptom of depression.
2. Sleep irregularity
Serotonin aids in the regulation of the body’s internal clock, including the ability to fall asleep, stay asleep, enter REM sleep and wake up in the morning. Serotonin deficiency can cause chronic insomnia, atypical sleep patterns, chronic fatigue and vivid dreams.
3. Chronic pain
Low serotonin levels can cause chronic pain because it changes how muscles function. It can also be significantly linked to fibromyalgia – a type of chronic pain that affects millions of people around the world on a daily basis.
4. Problems with memory or learning
Serotonin has been linked to memory and learning in some studies, therefore sudden memory problems could indicate a serotonin deficiency. Low levels of the hormone can also make it harder to concentrate, study and work due to other symptoms, such as sleep deprivation, depression and anxiety.
Anxiety, including obsessive-compulsive anxiety, can be a sign of low serotonin levels. Anxiety that appears to be unrelated to trauma or PTSD is frequently due to a serotonin imbalance. Chronic anxiety and stress can also deplete serotonin levels, creating a vicious cycle.
6. Problems with appetite
People with low serotonin levels may have issues with appetite and eating disorders. This can include overeating, undereating, or a combination of the two. Serotonin plays an important role in digestion and appetite
Causes of low serotonin
Doctors are often stumped when it comes to determining the source of serotonin deficiency. The ability of the body to produce or metabolise serotonin may be affected by inherited genetic disorders.
Hormonal shifts, such as those caused by starting or stopping hormone replacement therapy; menopause, pregnancy, or advancing age; lack of exposure to sunlight; poor nutrition and vitamin deficiency; certain drugs and medications, especially when used in excess or over a long period of time; and chronic stress are also all factors that may play a role.
Low serotonin levels can be caused by a variety of factors, but the most common are either a lack of the hormone or inefficient use of the serotonin you do have. In the first scenario, your body does not produce enough serotonin to maintain normal levels. The second scenario can happen if you don’t have enough serotonin receptors in your brain, or if the ones you do have aren’t working properly.
We sometimes find that the root cause of low serotonin levels is unresolved trauma, stress, or childhood depression. Traumatic experiences can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), which is a type of anxiety condition that lasts a lifetime. People suffering from PTSD have an imbalance in two neurochemical systems in their brains – serotonin and substance P. The more acute the patient’s symptoms are, the larger the imbalance.
In almost all of these cases, we must attempt to assist the body in retaining and producing more serotonin.
How to boost serotonin naturally
To treat depression, many doctors will prescribe an SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor). Supplements can also increase your serotonin levels via the amino acid tryptophan, as serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan. However, before taking any medication or supplement to increase serotonin levels, always consult your doctor first.
Serotonin syndrome can occur when certain medications and supplements raise serotonin levels too high. Sudden changes in blood pressure, seizures and loss of consciousness are among the signs of serotonin syndrome.
Try consuming foods that contain tryptophan for a more natural approach. Overeating carbohydrates is a form of self-medicating that many people turn to in order to boost serotonin levels, as a burst of refined carbohydrates raises serotonin quickly. However, the effects are short lived as the sugar causes a spike in the stress hormone, cortisol.
Eating healthy carbs and increasing your intake of serotonin-boosting proteins is a much more effective approach to elevating your serotonin levels naturally. The majority of serotonin in your body is produced in your gut, not your brain – the intestines produce almost all of the body’s serotonin.
Other nutrients that contain serotonin
Many foods naturally contain serotonin, but your body also requires other nutrients to generate the neurotransmitter, such as tryptophan, vitamin B6, vitamin D and omega-3 fatty acids. Eggs, cheese, turkey, nuts, salmon, tofu and pineapple are all foods that can boost serotonin levels.
According to a study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, the following factors can also boost serotonin levels:
- Bright light exposure – Sunshine or light therapy are commonly recommended remedies. This also boosts your level of vitamin D, which is needed for serotonin production.
- Exercise – Regular exercise has been shown to improve mood. Working out helps to maintain a healthy weight and increases cardiovascular health, strength and endurance.
- Meditation – Meditation can help relieve stress and promote a positive outlook on life, both of which can significantly increase serotonin levels.
- Massage therapy – This has also been shown to increase serotonin levels while lowering cortisol levels.
Serotonin deficiency can be a challenging issue to solve. A lot of the time, lifestyle and psychological issues play a big part. Serotonin deficiency symptoms can impair a person’s relationships and quality of life, which is why therapy can be beneficial in a variety of ways.
A therapist can assist those who suffer from depression, anxiety, PTSD, OCD and other related disorders linked to low serotonin levels. They can provide multiple tools to cope with day-to-day life and assist in the adoption of healthy self-care strategies.
Therapy can also assist people in becoming better advocates for themselves. A person suffering from anxiety or depression may find it difficult to communicate to loved ones about their symptoms or to request accommodations at work.
Talk to your doctor if you’re concerned about the symptoms you’re experiencing. If your serotonin levels are the problem, you’re not alone. There are a variety of treatment options available, including medications, lifestyle changes and therapy.
Please note: This information is not a real substitute for professional medical care and should not be used to diagnose, treat, or prevent any illnesses. It is purely for informational purposes only.
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