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May 18, 2021

What is serotonin?

Mental Health Brain Health

Content sponsored by IBC - Native (195x33)

Purchased - Human Brain illustration with biochemical concept in background Hendra Su/

A lot of things can affect your mood — diet, exercise, stress, and even the weather. Inside your body, a brain chemical called serotonin can also impact your mood. Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is essential for how your brain transmits messages throughout your body. It allows your body to mediate mood, improve cognition, and control sleep cycles. If you suffer from low serotonin, you may face anxiety, depression, or trouble sleeping.

What’s a neurotransmitter?

When your brain wants to send a message somewhere in your body, it must transmit it between nerve cells (neurons) to achieve the desired effect. Neurotransmitters relay those messages, and your body has dozens of different types to regulate different functions. Serotonin is one of them, focused on the critical areas of mood, sleep, appetite, and cognition.

The role serotonin plays in mental health

When your body is low on serotonin, it is unable to perform its neurotransmitter function effectively. This makes it harder to regulate your mood: you may have trouble with appetite, difficulty sleeping, or be irritable. Some doctors will prescribe Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) to treat symptoms of depression by increasing the amount of serotonin in the brain; these drugs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant medications. Even if you don’t have abnormally low serotonin levels, SSRIs can increase the amount of serotonin available to your body.

How SSRIs Work

Normally, when your brain is finished using serotonin to transmit a message, it is reabsorbed by the brain before being metabolized. SSRIs block the reabsorption of serotonin into neurons, increasing the amount available to your body and improving transmission of signals. This helps improve your mood, regulate your sleep, and even combat anxiety.

You can have too much of a good thing

Just as too little serotonin has negative effects on your mood, too much of it can also be harmful. Serotonin syndrome is caused by the buildup of too much serotonin in your body. Mild cases result in diarrhea and nausea, but in severe instances, it can cause fever, muscle rigidity, and seizures.

Like all chemicals in your body, serotonin must be regulated to achieve its desired effect: a balanced mood, steady sleep cycle, and more.

Information on this site is provided for informational purposes and is not meant to substitute for the advice provided by your own physician or other medical professional. You should not use the information contained herein for diagnosing or treating a health problem or disease, or prescribing any medication. If you have, or suspect that you have, a medical problem, promptly contact your health care provider.

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