95% of serotonin in our bodies is made in the digestive tract. The serotonin made in the gut is structurally identical to that made in the brain.
What we eat matters! and that's why probiotics found in Tibico drinks can help.
That's why antibiotics, TUMS, omeprazole and other medications that alter the bacteria in the digestive tract can cause: Depression.
Bone density weakness
Poor sex function
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is a naturally occurring substance that functions as a neurotransmitter to carry signals between nerve cells (called neurons) throughout your body.
In the brain, serotonin helps with mood regulation and memory, but the neurotransmitter also has important jobs in other parts of the body. In fact, most of the serotonin in your body is found in your gut, not your brain. Not only do the intestines produce almost all of the body's serotonin supply, but serotonin is required there to promote healthy digestion.
Elsewhere in the body, serotonin also helps with sleep, sexual function, bone health, and blood clotting. Here's a closer look at serotonin's many functions, what happens if you have too little (or too much), and a few ways to balance your levels for optimum health.
What Does Serotonin Regulate?
Serotonin is known to be involved in many bodily functions, ranging from regulating mood to digesting food.
Serotonin's effects in the brain could be considered its “starring role” in the body. As it helps regulate your mood, serotonin is often called the body's natural "feel-good" chemical. Serotonin's influence on mood makes it one of several brain chemicals that are integral to your overall sense of well-being.
The neurotransmitter's effect on mood is also why it's often a target of medications that are used to treat depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders. For example, increasing serotonin levels is the purpose of the class of antidepressants known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs).
Serotonin contributes to normal bowel function and reduces your appetite as you eat to help you know when you're full. The neurotransmitter also plays a protective role in the gut.
For example, if you eat something irritating or toxic, your gut responds by producing more serotonin. The extra "dose" of the chemical moves the unwanted food along, expelling it from your body more quickly.
The response is also why increased levels of serotonin can make you nauseated, and why drugs that target specific serotonin receptors can be used to alleviate nausea and vomiting.
The exact nature of serotonin's role in sleep has been debated by researchers, but it's believed to influence when, how much, and how well you sleep. Serotonin does not regulate these tasks alone; other neurotransmitters like dopamine also play a key role.
A hormone called melatonin is also critical to the proper functioning of your sleep cycle. Your body needs serotonin to make melatonin, so not having enough of the neurotransmitter (or having too much of it) can affect the pattern and quality of your sleep.
Your brain has specific areas that control when you fall asleep, regulate your sleep patterns, and wake you up. The parts of your brain that are responsible for regulating sleep also have serotonin receptors.
The serotonin-melatonin relationship might also contribute to sleep disruption like insomnia that are common in people with depression.
When you have any kind of tissue damage, such as a cut, the platelet cells in your blood release serotonin to help heal the wound. Increased serotonin levels cause the tiny arteries (known as arterioles) of the circulatory system to narrow. As they get smaller, blood flow slows.
This narrowing (known as vasoconstriction) and slowed blood flow are two important elements of blood clotting—a crucial step in the process of wound healing.
Studies have shown that serotonin levels may influence bone density (the strength of your bones). Research suggests that high circulating levels of serotonin in the gut might be associated with lower bone density and conditions like osteoporosis.
If you are concerned about how taking an antidepressant could affect your bone density, do not stop taking your medication. Start by talking to your doctor about other risk factors, such as having a family history of osteoporosis or smoking.
In addition to altering your mood, serotonin can also influence the frequency and intensity of the sexual feelings you have.
Certain antidepressants that increase serotonin levels can have an effect on libido, as elevated serotonin levels have been associated with a decrease in sexual desire.
Serotonin's influence on libido is also somewhat related to the neurotransmitter's relationship to another chemical in the brain: dopamine.
Causes of Low Serotonin
Depression and other mood disorders that are linked to serotonin are multifactorial, meaning there is more than one reason they occur. Having low serotonin levels is not, on its own, enough to cause depression. Low levels can, however, contribute to mood, sleep, digestive, and other issues.
How to Increase Serotonin
Depression is known to be associated with chemical imbalances in the brain. While serotonin's role in depression is more complex than an imbalance, it is believed to play a key role.
Increasing how much serotonin is in the brain appears to improve communication between brain cells, which in turn lifts mood and reduces symptoms of depression. This is why prescription antidepressant medications are used to treat clinical depression and other mood disorders.17
There are also natural ways to increase serotonin levels. Everything from the food you eat to how much sunlight you get can affect how much serotonin your body has, as well as how effectively it can use it.
Many foods naturally contain serotonin, but your body also needs other nutrients, such as tryptophan, vitamin B6, vitamin D, and omega-3 fatty acids, to produce the neurotransmitter.
Foods that are good sources of these key nutrients include:
Beans (such as chickpeas, kidney, pinto, black beans)
Leafy greens (such as spinach, kale)
Nuts and seeds (such as walnuts, flaxseed)
Oily, fatty fish (such as salmon, tuna, mackerel)
Probiotic/fermented foods (such as kefir, yogurt, tofu)
Eating a high-fiber diet that is rich in fruits and vegetables will help keep your gut bacteria healthy. Having a good balance of "friendly" bacteria in your intestines been linked to adequate serotonin levels (as the intestines make about 95% of your body's supply of the neurotransmitter).
Regular physical activity (especially aerobic exercise) has been proven to boost serotonin levels. However, the benefits of regular exercise go beyond your brain.
A workout can help people manage depression and other mood disorders by also promoting cardiovascular health, improving strength and endurance, and helping to maintain a healthy weight.
Your levels of serotonin might get low if you don't get out in the sun regularly. Not getting enough exposure to sunlight is one theory behind why people experience depression during the short, dark days of fall and winter.
Try to spend 10 to 15 minutes outside in the sun each day. Sunlight also boosts your vitamin D levels, which is needed for serotonin production.
Massage therapy has been found to promote the release of serotonin and decrease the stress hormone cortisol, making it an appealing non-pharmaceutical addition to depression and anxiety treatment plans. You don't even need a professional massage to reap the benefits.
A frequently cited study of pregnant women with depression published in the International Journal of Neurosciencein 2004 concluded that massage could be beneficial even when given by someone who isn't a trained massage therapist.
After participants in the study had two 20-minute massage sessions given by their partners, their serotonin levels increased by 28% and their dopamine levels by 31%.