Serotonin is a neurotransmitter we mainly know for the blissful feeling it can give. Often the link is made with MDMA or XTC, which propels a true wave of bliss through the body. However, our lifestyle can also cause an imbalance, leading to deficiency, with a wide range of health problems, especially of a psychological nature.
In this article, you will learn what serotonin is, how to recognize deficiency symptoms, which lifestyle factors can influence this, and I will give you natural strategies to increase your levels.
Although it is officially known as a neurotransmitter, it is also seen as a hormone – another signaling substance in our body – as its effects affect the entire body. Although this chemical signal substance plays a significant role in the brain, 95% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the intestines.(1)
What is Serotonin?
This neurochemical is made from the essential amino acid tryptophan, mainly found in nuts, cheese, and red meat. Tryptophan deficiency can lower levels in the body and can lead to mood swings, such as anxiety or depression.
What are Serotonin Functions?
This signal substance affects every part of your body, ranging from emotions to fine motor skills. Although a deficiency is mainly noticeable in mood, it also affects our sleep, appetite, and the digestion of our food. It also helps to:
- reduce depression
- regulate anxiety
- heal wounds
- stimulate nausea
- regulate bone health
Below we list several bodily functions that this chemical influences even more:
Mood: emotions such as fear, happiness, and mood are regulated in the brain. Serotonin deficiency is mainly associated with depression and anxiety. Increased levels are often caused by medication or drugs such as ecstasy.
Nausea: Serotonin is part of the reason why you get nauseous. The production increases when you have eaten spoiled food or have diarrhea. This chemical also increases in the blood, causing the brain to stimulate nausea to expel the food.
Sleep: This chemical is also responsible for regulating the sleep-wake rhythm. Whether you sleep or wake up depends on which area is being stimulated and which serotonin receptor is being used.
Intestinal Peristalsis: Serotonin is mainly found in the stomach and intestines of the body. Here it helps control bowel movements and function.
Bone Health: High levels can lead to osteoporosis, making bones more fragile.
Sexual function: Low serotonin levels are associated with increased libido, while increased levels are associated with decreased libido.
Blood clotting: The platelets circulating in our bloodstream release serotonin to help wounds heal. The serotonin causes small veins to constrict, causing tiny blood clots that heal the wounds.
The dance of neurotransmitters
Serotonin and the neurotransmitters dopamine and endorphins play an important role in mood and the overall feeling of well-being. When dopamine is low, motor skills will slow down, and motivation will decrease. In addition, Parkinson’s-like symptoms can develop.
With low endorphin production or endorphin resistance, symptoms such as chronic pain will develop, and you will not be able to experience much pleasure anymore. People with low endorphins will also find it difficult to control their emotions and be easily upset.
When someone is both serotonin and dopamine deficient, symptoms will manifest as depression, slow motor skills, lack of motivation, compulsive behavior, and cravings (compensation behavior). This neurotransmitter deficiency often manifests itself in destructive behavior, addiction sensitivity, usual cravings for sugar, smoking, drugs, gambling, and watching porn to deal with stress.
The interactions between the neurotransmitters can reinforce problems, but fortunately, it also works the other way around: when these neurotransmitters are in balance, most of these symptoms will vanish.
Serotonin deficiency in men and women
The symptoms of a deficiency can vary widely and from person to person. However, the symptoms manifest themselves differently in men and women, especially under the influence of different hormones.
Women: with a serotonin deficiency are more than twice as likely to have anxiety, depression, or other mood disorders than men. Women are also more likely to feel the need for comfort food and experience weight gain more often.(2)
Men: with a low serotonin level are more likely to have ADHD-like symptoms, impulsive behavior, addictions (such as alcoholism, gambling, pornography, smoking, or food addictions). They are more likely to experience problems with impulse control. This can manifest in uncontrollable anger or other socially unacceptable behavior.
Serotonin and Melatonin
Serotonin is the precursor of the sleep hormone melatonin. Many people who have sleep problems have a serotonin deficiency.3 It may be helpful to take a melatonin supplement, but this is only symptom relief. Its primary goal should be to improve natural production.
What lowers serotonin levels?
The main lifestyle factors that contribute to lower levels are the following:
- Chronic mental / emotional stress
- Disturbed sleep patterns
- Unstable blood sugar
- Magnesium deficiency
- Vitamin D deficiency
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Leaky Gut
- Chronic inflammation (physical stress)
As you can see, a disturbed sleep pattern is one of the factors that contribute to lower serotonin. This makes it a self-perpetuating system and a vicious circle since it is the precursor of melatonin.
Serotonin and Mental Health
Serotonin, in combination with other neurotransmitters and hormones, regulates our mood. When your levels are normal, you will feel:
- more focused
- less anxious
- more emotionally stable
The role of serotonin in mental health is divergent within science. Some researchers in older studies have questioned whether an increase or decrease can affect depression. Later research claims it does.
Serotonin: key to spirituality and higher consciousness
Swedish research shows that the presence of a receptor that regulates the activity of serotonin in the brain is likely the key to achieving spiritual experiences and transcendence.
Scientists have long suspected that serotonin plays an important role in experiencing spirituality. As early as the 1950s, researchers discovered that LSD, one of the best-known drugs that affect serotonin, can induce mystical and spiritual experiences. When the body releases this neurotransmitter in large quantities, the individual reaches a higher state of consciousness and will experience an immense sense of joy and happiness.
Drugs and serotonin
LSD and XTC (MDMA) give the body a huge boost to production. This is because the hallucinogenic substance psilocybin occupies the same receptors as serotonin. This neurotransmitter is largely produced in the gut. Once released, it spreads through the body via the blood, where it binds to the receptors mainly in the brain. The result is an extraordinarily blissful, relaxing feeling.
When this rush wears off – usually after 3-4 hours – serotonin levels drop dramatically, causing the user’s feeling of happiness to drop proportionally, leaving them with depressed feelings.
In 1938, Swiss scientist Albert Hoffman experimented with LSD. At the time, he was researching lysergic acid derivatives from the ergot fungus that grows on rye. While resynthesizing LSD, a small amount of the drug accidentally landed on his fingertips. He then experienced an unfamiliar sensation. It was the strong effects of LSD.
In the 1940s, LSD made its appearance as a drug under the name Delysid. Psychiatrists used the drug to treat psychosis. Delysid enabled patients to recall repressed memories, giving the practitioner insight into the workings of the patient’s mind. Years later, science gained the insight that it was specifically the substance DMT (dimethyltryptamine) that boosts the production of serotonin and affects the spiritual experience a person then experiences.
In the body, it is the 5HT type 2 receptors that the peptide serotonin binds to. Everyone has these receptors. Serotonin, unlike other peptides, has the power to control both body and mind. The serotonin molecule is composed of tryptophan amino acids and is a powerful mood enhancer. It is a powerful anti-depressant and anti-anxiety agent. In addition, it has almost incredible anti-aging properties for the body. In fact, it eliminates free radicals that accelerate the aging process.
Serotonin or 5-hydroxytryptamine is a monoamine neurotransmitter initially thought to be produced only in the brain. However, recent findings show that 95% of the total amount of serotonin production occurs elsewhere in the body, namely in the enterochromaffin cells in the gut. Intestinal bacteria help in the production of this neurotransmitter.
Serotonine, spiritualiteit en mystieke ervaringen
Iedereen die weleens een xtc-pilletje heeft gebruikt, zal bevestigen dat het buitengewoon gelukzalige gevoel een spirituele ervaring is. Het ontspant niet alleen het lichaam, maar ook de geest, waardoor er volop ‘ruimte’ is voor de geest om open te staan voor ideeën en ervaringen.(s)
What are normal labs?
In general, blood levels are between 101–283 nanograms per milliliter (ng/ml). However, this evaluation may vary slightly depending on the measurements and samples tested, so consult a qualified physician about the specific test results.
SSRIs are often prescribed in mainstream medicine for symptoms of serotonin deficiency. These selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed type of antidepressant. SSRIs increase serotonin levels in the brain by blocking the reuptake of the chemical, so more of it remains active. Examples of SSRIs include Prozac and Zoloft.
Since there may be an interaction with other medications, it’s important to always report them to the doctor or specialist before taking these medications. Otherwise, you have the risk of getting serotonin syndrome.
The serotonin syndrome
Although rare, the opposite of a deficiency is serotonin syndrome. SSRIs can cause serotonin levels to rise to dangerous levels, especially in combination with other drugs that also inhibit serotonin reuptake. Serotonin syndrome symptoms include:
- dilated pupils
Severe symptoms can include:
- muscle twitching, loss of muscle control, cramps
- high fever / overheating
- fast and/or irregular heartbeat
- high blood pressure
In particular, the last symptoms often occur at raves and festivals when festival-goers have an overdose. There are no tests that can diagnose serotonin syndrome, but a combination of the symptoms and context usually provides enough guidance to draw a conclusion.
Often, serotonin syndrome symptoms lessen within a few hours and usually disappear completely within a day after stopping use. Serotonin syndrome can be life-threatening if the use of medication or drugs is not stopped in time.
Ways to increase levels
While SSRIs offer a welcome solution in many cases of depression, they do not address the root causes of low serotonin. We can often effectively address the causes of serotonin deficiency with lifestyle and food choices. Below you will find some ways to increase serotonin levels naturally.
Balance stress – relaxation: a stressful existence should be rewarded with relaxation. The challenge is to find a good balance. Stress depletes serotonin while relaxation and adequate quality sleep support healthy serotonin production.
Sufficient sunlight: sunlight stimulates production. The best time for this is in the morning and around noon. For this reason, many people can become somewhat depressed during the dark winter months; it’s a mild form of deficiency. These people often benefit from a daylight lamp.
Regular exercise: Walking, running, and resistance training all help increase serotonin levels. Exercise is essential to maintain health and healthy serotonin levels.
Experience Gratitude: The focus on positive thoughts is essential for feeling good and generating happiness in life. A feeling of gratitude is the most powerful way for this and, moreover, to achieve a state of heart coherence.
Meditation: Conscious breathing and the ability to control your thoughts through meditation are a great match for the balance to experience relaxation. By claiming 15-30 minutes daily, you invest in your relaxation and enable your body to restore a healthy serotonin balance.
Best serotonin-boosting foods
There is a lot of information on the internet about foods that stimulate the production. Many of these foods, such as bananas, are also high in carbohydrates that interfere with our blood sugar. For that reason, we prefer to choose sources of tryptophan, the precursor, which is not as high in carbs. The best foods for optimizing levels include:
Eggs: Egg yolks are rich in tryptophan, a precursor to serotonin and a substance that the body can convert.
Cow Dairy: Cow dairy is an excellent source of tryptophan. Cheese, in particular, which is actually concentrated milk, is a good source.
Nuts and Seeds: Nuts and seeds are excellent sources of protein and the amino acid tryptophan. By eating a handful of mixed nuts and seeds every day, you ensure yourself enough tryptophan.
Salmon: sometimes you ask yourself, “what isn’t salmon good for?” Indeed, salmon is excellent food, also for stimulating production. It contains a significant amount of tryptophan and also many healthy omega 3 fatty acids.
Magnesium: Magnesium calms the nervous system, and as we know, relaxation is vital to facilitate production. The best choice is a kind of magnesium, which crosses the blood-brain barrier. Choose a supplement with magnesium malate, glycinate, and threonate.
Rhodiola: This adaptogenic herb acts as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor by blocking the body’s enzymes that break down serotonin. Using a Rhodiola supplement can keep the neurochemical active in the brain and body.
St. John’s Wort: St. John’s Wort is the natural variant of SSRIs, but of course, not nearly as effective. It counteracts the reuptake and increases the number of receptors.