Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that plays an important role in your mental and physical health. It is a well-known contributor to feelings of well-being; it is sometimes referred to as a “happiness hormone” despite not being a hormone. Having low serotonin can lead to feelings of depression and losing interest in life, carbohydrate cravings, and difficulty sleeping. Low serotonin can also make it difficult to find motivation to finish projects or act on plans, lead to feeling easily annoyed as well as difficulty in controlling impulses.
Surprisingly serotonin is found mainly in the gut but also the platelets and the central nervous system. Approximately 80 percent of the human body’s total serotonin is located in the cells in the gut, where it is used to regulate intestinal movements. The remainder is synthesized in central nervous system where it has various functions. These include the regulation of mood, appetite, sleep, as well as muscle contraction. Serotonin also plays a part in some cognitive functions, including in memory and learning.
There are a variety of ways you can improve your serotonin levels naturally. One of the easiest is to get out in the sun. UV light, taken in through your eyes without sunglasses or contacts in the way, increases serotonin activity. There are a host of UV light bulbs and products for people to use when getting outside in daylight isn’t an option. It’s important to remember though they should only be used during normal waking hours and not at night when stimulating serotonin would wake you up and make it difficult to sleep.
Massage has also been shown to increase serotonin levels. Studies conducted on pregnant women who were depressed, babies of depressed mothers and women with breast cancer all showed approximately 30% increase in serotonin levels when receiving massages twice a week.
Exercise is has also been shown in numerous studies to increase serotonin levels, particularly aerobic exercise as well as yoga. The difficult part here is that when your serotonin levels are low you most likely won’t want to exercise. It’s important to recognize this and push yourself a little to gain the mood lifting and other health benefits of exercise.
Meditation has also been shown to have mood lifting benefits. One very easy technique is to recall happy events. This simple action has been shown in studies to stimulate serotonin production in the anterior cingulate cortex. This is the part of the brain that controls attention. The opposite is true as well. Studies found that remembering sad events decreased serotonin production in the same part of the brain. Remembering happy evens directly increases serotonin, as well as helping you to decrease your thoughts about sad or depressing events.
Nutrition does play a part in serotonin production. There are certain supplements that are used to help regulate serotonin production because like any substance in your body, you need the necessary building blocks to make it.
- 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP): An amino acid precursor to Serotonin. Supplementation of 5-HTP has been shown clinically to increase Serotonin levels. It has also been shown as an effective compound for mood swings, persistent nightmares and more.
- St. Johns Wort: The botanical compounds of St. Johns Wort have been shown to support Serotonin activity by changing the re-uptake of Serotonin in neuronal synapses. St. Johns Wort has been shown to be an effective compound for certain mental states.
- S-Adrenosylmethionine (SAMe): At least 10 placebo-controlled studies have demonstrated that SAMe has the ability to increase Serotonin and is an effective mood enhancer.
- Serotonin Cofactors: Niacinamide, P-5-P, methylcobalamin, folic acid, and magnesium are essential nutritional cofactors for Serotonin synthesis.
- Probiotics: Because so much of your serotonin is located in your gut it is important that your gut has a healthy biome and sufficient beneficial bacteria.
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Dr. Ron Ledoux is a licensed Chiropractor from the midwest who has been practicing since 2001. He’s also certified in clinical nutrition and has extensive training in nutritional therapies and is enthusiastic about educating and offering natural health care to his patients and the community.