Serotonin is a monoamine brain neurotransmitter. This neurotransmitter is derived from tryptophan and can be found in the gastrointestinal tract, platelets and the central nervous system. It is believed that serotonin contributes to a feeling of well-being. This is why it is commonly called a happiness hormone.
It is confirmed that around 80% of the total amount of serotonin is located in the gut (the enterochromaffin cells). This serotonin is engaged in regulation of intestinal movements. Furthermore, after being synthesized in the enterochromaffin cells serotonin is released into the blood. There it is taken by platelets and stored. Once the platelets are used in coagulation, 80% of the serotonin is released and it actively regulates hemostasis and blood clotting. The other 20% is synthesized by the special neurons in the central nervous system. The function of serotonin which is produced in the central nervous system is to regulate mood, appetite, sleep and muscle contractions. One more function of this neurotransmitter is to assist in cognitive functions such as memory and learning. And finally, serotonin is considered a growth factor for certain cells. For example, it may participate in wound healing.
Low Serotonin Levels and Effects on the Brain
The level of serotonin in the brain may drop due to many factors such as, stress, lack of sleep, improper diet, lack of physical activity etc. Once the level is too low a person starts experiencing certain changes (for example lack of concentration). As a result a person is unable to plan things and organize themselves adequately. Further drop in serotonin levels is associated with stress and boredom and eventually a depression may occur. Apart from the previously mentioned insufficient amount of serotonin in the brain leads to increased irritability, restlessness, anxiety, fatigue, chronic pain etc.
It is essential to bring the level of serotonin to normal and this way prevent some of the potential medical conditions such as obsessive-compulsive disorder, chronic fatigue syndrome, hypomania or bipolar depression. Lack of serotonin may also eventually result in arthritis and fibromyalgia as well as uncontrollable mood swings.
How to Increase Serotonin Levels in the Brain
It is important to consult a doctor who will advise patients on what to do to boost the level of serotonin in the brain. In some cases (if a person is suffering from medical conditions associated with low level of serotonin in the brain) a doctor may suggest certain medications such as antidepressants.
The level of serotonin can be effectively increased with proper food. The transmitter is actually synthesized from an amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan is found in a variety of foods such as meat and nuts. It is also recommended for people to spend a sufficient amount of time in the sun. Exposure to bright light is effective and may boost the level of serotonin. And finally, any kind of physical activity can elevate one's mood. It is not yet confirmed whether physical activity can boost the level of serotonin but it certainly improves one's mood.