What Is Serotonin & Who Produces It?
Have you heard about serotonin? For those of you who didn`t heard about this hormone, you should know that serotonin has a significant influence on mood and has a lot of properties with an important role on the human body that are less known.
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What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is considered a neurotransmitter that is involved in the nerve impulse transmission, which has been identified in the blood serum in 1948 by some experts from the Cleveland Clinic in the U.S. The scientists have named it serotonin because it was noticed that this serum agent had an influence on vascular tonus.
Since then, the research continued to find more information about this hormone, so serotonin is presently considered an essential neurotransmitter for our good mental and physical functioning.
Who Produces Serotonin?
Although this hormone is a very important neurotransmitter in the brain, around 80%-90% from the total amount is being produced by the gastrointestinal tract, while the rest is synthesized and then released in the brain by the pituitary gland. Because this hormone when being produced in the organism cannot penetrate the bloodstream of the brain, he needs to produce its own hormone. What is great is that if the amount of hormone secreted by our stomach would be injected in the organism, it would have very dangerous side effects.
Tryptophan amino acid is generally used in the production of this hormone. It`s derived from the organism from the foods we eat, showing the essential role that nutrition has on our good functioning and well being.
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It seems that the functioning mechanism of this hormone is distinct for women and men. PET scans of the brain shown that there`re much more receptors of this hormone in women and a lower level of serotonin that carries protein, which scientists claim, might explain the reasons for which anxiety or depression are much more prevalent in women than men.
Following a study a few years ago performed in Germany on mice, scientists have drawn the conclusion that there are 2 genes that are responsible for the production of serotonin: a gene for the production of serotonin in the organism and a gene for the secretion of serotonin in the brain. Also, there was a research performed by some specialists in Austria and Canada that showed that serotonin transporter protein has intensified activity in the winter when the light of the sun isn`t abundant as in all the other seasons. The protein lowers the level of this hormone in the brain, which may offer an answer for the negative mood of certain people in the winter season.
There are a few factors that might increase the production of serotonin in the body:
- Physical activity;
- Rich-carbohydrate diet;
- Remember the events that made you happy.
Light works by stimulating the production of vitamin D, which in turn promotes the secretion of serotonin. Two characteristics of the light of which we are exposed are essential: the light intensity and duration. A strong intensity that acts against the eyes has the effect of stimulating the production of serotonin, but for its beneficial effects is necessary to expose ourselves during the day and not at night, because a strong light at night will prevent the transformation of serotonin in melatonin and, thus sleep disorders will occur.
Physical exercises have also a stimulating role in the production and releasing of serotonin. However, it seems that it would matter if we are doing these exercises with pleasure and at an acceptable intensity and not because we are forced to do them. In this last case, the effect on serotonin isn`t the same.
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Massage is another method to increase the level of serotonin, about which it isn`t known how it acts, but it`s considered to be a form of physical activity and, thus would work pretty much the same.
Remembering the pleasant moments and events that you had lived have a double effect: it increases the level of serotonin and prevents us to think at bad stuff. One of the depression`s characteristics is that people have difficulties in remembering the moments in which they were happy and only remember those in which they were sad.
Nutrition also plays an essential role in the production of serotonin. The food consumption with a high content of simple carbohydrates help in increases the serotonin level, while complex carbohydrates, although they also have a beneficial effect, the protein presence reduces the production of serotonin. Some foods are rich in the content of tryptophan (the ammonia from which is produced serotonin): chicken meat, turkey meat, nuts, bananas, beans, yogurt and a large selection of cheeses.
Still, there are foods that contain serotonin, some of the richest being: nuts, bananas, kiwi, tomatoes, pineapple or plums. However, it should be remembered that these foods increase the level of serotonin from the intestines, but they don`t affect the serotonin from the brain.
The Role & Importance of Serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is related to the good functioning of the organism and influences most of its main functions: sleep, temperature, bone metabolism, mood, memory, sexual behavior, appetite, wound healing or the endocrine system. Serotonin is a hormone that regulates our mood, keeping us happy, reducing anxiety and helping us to sleep.
One of the major roles of this hormone refers to the production of melatonin, that`s why the highest concentration of serotonin can be found in the pineal gland, where its melatonin produced as well.
Serotonin acts on several important functions of the organism, having an inhibitory role. Therefore, serotonin reduces food appetite, sexual appetite and perception of pain.
Serotonin plays an essential role for good mood, that`s why is also called the “hormone of happiness.” Some antidepressants work for the stimulation of serotonin production in the brain, inhibiting sadness and causing a state of well being.
But long before the serotonin effects on mood were noticed, the activity of this hormone was linked to nutrition: increasing appetite an inhibiting other activities for promoting nutrition. Serotonin in the intestinal tissue is very important for their good functioning, favoring their contraction as well as the contraction of digestive muscles during digestion. Also, this hormone controls the nerves from this area, always indicating nausea, pain or similar issues which might happen. For instance, if we consume something that we don`t like, the cells of the stomach start secreting lots of serotonin, which will be causing the necessity of the intestines` release, which leads to diarrhea. If the serotonin level is so high that it exceeds the ability of the digestive system to handle it, the hormone will reach the bloodstream and stimulate the brain to cause vomiting. This is also the reason for which some antidepressants have vomiting or nausea as side effects.
Our hormone is also involved in signaling the sensations of hunger and satiety. The mechanism through which this neurotransmitter regulates food consumption isn`t yet completely understood, but scientists are still working on this.
A recent research performed at the University of Oxford showed that serotonin may have an impact on the way we perceive romance and intimacy. Therefore, volunteers to whom the level of serotonin was lowered have evaluated couples illustrated in pictures and who perceived as being less intimate or romantic than those with a normal level of serotonin.