Serotonin deficiency can lead to depression, anxiety and a host of other problems that can have a profound effect on quality of life. So what is serotonin, what causes serotonin deficiency, and most important of all, what can you do about it? Let’s find out.
All about serotonin
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter — a chemical used by brain cells to send messages to one another. It is often described as the “happy hormone” due to the important role it plays in creating a positive mood, but there is far more to serotonin than that.
For example, the first function of serotonin that became widely known was that it controls the constriction of blood vessels. It also regulates our gut digestion – if something is not sitting right in your stomach, serotonin levels increase to speed up the whole digestive system. This is why that feeling of discomfort that something is “not quite agreeing with you” can often be followed by diarrhoea.
However, it is its role in regulating mood, sleep patterns, concentration and sexual drive that have made serotonin such a well known word over recent years.
Serotonin deficiency clearly means your body does not have enough serotonin, and there are a number of possible reasons for this. Most commonly, it is either the case that the neurotransmitter is not forming as it should, or it is being broken down too quickly.
The condition is notoriously difficult to diagnose. While a blood test will indicate serotonin levels, it will not tell you what that serotonin is doing in your brain. For this reason, noting signs and symptoms provides a better diagnostic measure than taking blood tests.
The most commonly known symptoms of serotonin deficiency are depression and anxiety. However, there are other tell-tale signs, including the following:
- Eating disorders
- Seasonal affective disorder
- Obsessive compulsive disorder
- Various social phobias
Low serotonin can even increase your risk of developing conditions including multiple sclerosis, blood pressure problems and Alzheimer’s Disease.
The causes of serotonin deficiency are similarly difficult to pin down, but researchers such as Dr. Datis Kharrazian of the Harvard Medical School believe that by and large, we bring it on ourselves through our lifestyle choices. He cites the long-term use of SSRI antidepressants, birth control pills and artificial sweeteners as common causes, as well as excessive intake of alcohol and caffeine.
How to boost serotonin levels
So what can we do to improve serotonin levels? The good news is, there is no need get a doctor’s prescription or to pump our bodies full of medication. There are completely natural health supplements that contain serotonin, and it is also present in a number of foods, including walnuts, bananas, tomatoes, plums, kiwi and pineapple. Unfortunately, eating these products will not in itself do the trick, as the serotonin they contain will not enter the brain.
Eating carb-rich food is another effective way of raising serotonin, however here, you need to be careful, as both sugar and protein can immediately counter the effect. Ultimately, the most effective course of action is usually to combine a natural supplement with a healthy carb-rich diet.