Serotonin: What is it? Function, Relationship with Mental Health, Deficiency and Syndrome

It is a chemical that has a wide variety of functions in the human body.

It is sometimes called a happy chemical because it contributes to well-being and happiness.

The scientific name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT. It is found primarily in the brain , intestines, and blood platelets .


Serotonin transmits messages between nerve cells, is believed to be active in the contraction of smooth muscles, and contributes to well-being, among other things.

As a precursor to melatonin, it helps regulate the body’s sleep-wake cycles and the internal clock.

It is believed to play a role in appetite, emotions, and motor, cognitive, and autonomic functions. However, it is not known exactly if serotonin affects them directly, or if it has a general role in the coordination of the nervous system.

It seems to play a key role in maintaining balance of mood. Serotonin influences most brain cells both directly and indirectly.

This is how serotonin works in various functions throughout the body:

Bowel function: Most of the body’s serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal tract, where it regulates bowel function and movements. It also plays a role in reducing your appetite while eating.

Mood: In the brain, serotonin affects levels of mood, anxiety and happiness. Illicit mood-altering drugs such as ecstasy and LSD cause a significant increase in serotonin levels.

Clotting: Serotonin contributes to the formation of blood clots. It is released by platelets when there is a wound. The resulting vasoconstriction, or narrowing of the blood vessels, reduces blood flow and helps the formation of blood clots.

Nausea: If you eat something that is toxic or irritating, the intestine produces more serotonin to increase transit time and expel the irritant in diarrhea. This also stimulates the nausea area in the brain, leading to nausea.

Bone Density: Some scientists have linked high levels of serotonin in the bones to increased osteoporosis, but others have challenged these results.

Sexual function: Serotonin appears to inhibit sexual activity. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels in people with depression , but between 20% and 70% of people who take them experience a variety of symptoms related to sexual dysfunction.

Serotonin and mental health

Serotonin helps regulate your mood naturally. When your serotonin levels are normal, you feel:

  • Happier.
  • Calmed down.
  • More concentrated.
  • Less anxious.
  • More emotionally stable.

A 2007 study found that people with depression often have low levels of serotonin. Serotonin deficiency has also been linked to anxiety and insomnia.

Serotonin and depression

Depression has been linked to low serotonin levels, but it is unclear if this contributes to depression or its outcomes.

Symptoms of serotonin deficiency

Low levels of serotonin have been linked to:

  • Bad memory.
  • To feel down.
  • Sweet food craving.
  • Difficulty to sleep.
  • Low self-esteem.
  • Anxiety.
  • Aggression.

How to treat serotonin deficiency

You can increase your serotonin levels through medications and more natural options.

SSRI treatment

Low levels of serotonin in the brain can cause depression, anxiety, and trouble sleeping. Many doctors will prescribe a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor (SSRI) to treat depression.

SSRIs increase serotonin levels by preventing serotonin neurotransmitters from being reabsorbed.

Serotonin levels remain high in the brain. This is believed to elevate the mood .

Boosters de serotonina natural

Outside of SSRIs, the following factors can increase serotonin levels, according to an article published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience:

  • Exposure to bright light: Sunlight or light therapy are commonly recommended remedies for treating seasonal depression.
  • Exercise: Regular exercise can have mood-enhancing effects.
  • A healthy diet: Foods that can increase serotonin levels include eggs, cheese, turkey, walnuts, salmon, tofu, and pineapple.
  • Meditation – Meditating can help relieve stress and promote a positive outlook on life, which can increase serotonin levels.

Serotonin syndrome

Drugs that raise and build up serotonin levels in the body can cause serotonin syndrome.

The syndrome can usually occur after starting a new drug or increasing the dose of an existing drug.

Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include:

  • Diarrhea.
  • Headache.
  • Confusion.
  • Dilated pupils.
  • Goosebumps.

Serious symptoms can include:

  • Muscle spasms.
  • A loss of muscle agility.
  • Muscular stiffness.
  • High fever.
  • Fast heart rate
  • High blood pressure.
  • Irregular heartbeat
  • Seizures

There is no test that can diagnose serotonin syndrome. Instead, your doctor will perform a physical exam to determine if you have it.

Often times, the symptoms of serotonin syndrome will go away within a day if you take medications that block serotonin or replace the drug that is causing the condition in the first place.

Serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening if it is not treated.