Serotonin: The Smile-Frown Chemical


Serotonin is a chemical found in the brain, blood platelets, and mainly in the digestive system (up to 90%). Its scientific name is 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT. This chemical is a neurotransmitter that delivers messages between our nerve cells. Most of our 40 million brain cells are communicating with serotonin. It is derived from tryptophan which is an essential amino acid, which means that we must obtain this chemical from outside sources. Tryptophan is found in foods like nuts, red meat, and cheese. The normal range for serotonin levels in your blood is 101–283 nanograms per milliliter (ng/mL) which can be determined by a blood test. However, blood tests don’t reveal the brain’s level of serotonin and there is currently not a way to do this. Men and women have about the same amount of serotonin, however, depression is more common in women. This may be because men and women respond to low levels of serotonin differently.

Serotonin plays a number of roles in the body. It helps with eating, digestion, bone health maintenance, healing wounds, sleeping, and helps to reduce and regulate anxiety and depression. Therefore, it is often time called the “happy chemical” because of its role in mood stabilization. When it comes to digestion, serotonin is found in the stomach and intestines and is involved in our bowel movements. This chemical also can be a danger to osteoporosis because high levels of serotonin cause the bones to weaken. Serotonin also helps with our sleep-wake cycle. Low levels of this chemical have been associated with depression and an imbalance can affect anxiety, happiness, and overall mood. When serotonin is balanced in the body, that person feels calmer, more focused, and emotionally stable. On the hand, when serotonin levels are high, a person becomes at risk for tumors in the colon, small appendix, bronchial tubes, and appendix.

There are natural approaches to try to increase serotonin levels in the body. A heathy diet rich in protein can help with foods that include nuts, cheese, eggs, turkey, salmon, pineapple, and tofu. Regular exercise can be a mood enhancer. Sunlight can also help with its vitamin D assistance.

It is important to pay attention to any warning signs that might indicate a serotonin imbalance in the body. This chemical truly does affect every part of the body including mental, physical, and emotional well- being.

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Dr. Megan Johnson McCullough owns a fitness studio in Oceanside CA called Every BODY's Fit. She has a Doctorate in Health and Human Performance, M.A. in Physical Education & Health Science, and she's an NASM Master Trainer & Instructor. She's also a professional natural bodybuilder, fitness model, Wellness Coach, and AFAA Group Exercise Instructor. She has 6 books on Amazon too,.