Serotonin is a chemical that acts like a hormone and carries messages between the nerve cells in the brain and the rest of your body.
Often referred to as a "feel-good" neurotransmitter, serotonin has a key impact on natural mood.
Formed mostly in the intestines, serotonin also has significant influence over other biological functions such as digestion, appetite, metabolism, sex drive and your sleep/wake cycle.
The good news is you can help to manage your serotonin levels with some simple adjustments to your lifestyle habits, which is key for reducing the risk of a range of conditions from depression and anxiety, to obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic attacks and even post-traumatic stress disorder.
Here, we reveal the basic role that serotonin plays in your overall state of wellbeing and simple steps you can take to ensure you have adequate serotonin production for a happy, healthy life.
Exactly What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is chemically known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), a monoamine neurotransmitter that transmits messages to the central nervous system and peripheral nervous system which controls vital bodily functions, including your mood, sleep, energy levels and digestion.
While similar to dopamine in terms of the overall 'feel-good' response it activates in the body and brain, serotonin creates a longer lasting state of happiness and wellbeing rather than the quick-fix, excitable response that is typically associated with dopamine.
How Does The Body Produce Serotonin?
Serotonin is manufactured by the body's nerve cells which are primarily activated by an essential amino acid known as Tryptophan derived from a healthy diet.
Serotonin is found throughout the body, but mostly in the intestines, brain and blood and plays a significant role in your overall mood.
This is why emerging research suggests that maintaining a healthy gut microbiome can positively influence serotonin levels, potentially alleviating symptoms of anxiety, depression and general emotional imbalances.
The main causes of a lack of serotonin production include a poor diet (which leads to nutritional deficiencies), stress, a lack of sleep and ongoing chronic pain.
On the flip side, a healthy supply of serotonin is produced via a wholesome diet that is rich in fibre and probiotics, together with a handful of important lifestyle habits which we'll share with you here.
3 Tips For Ensuring Your Body Produces Enough Serotonin
To ensure your serotonin levels remain within a healthy range, consider these basic lifestyle strategies:
1. Avoid Inflammatory Foods: The first step is to embrace an anti-inflammatory diet which means a diet which is extremely low in processed foods and refined sugars and grains.
Instead, eat a whole food based diet rich in leafy greens, seasonal vegetables, raw nuts, healthy fats like avocado and olive oil, and organic/pasture raised animal products (if you're not vegan or vegetarian).
Additionally, it's a wise idea to include a variety of naturally fermented foods in your diet on a weekly basis such as, yogurt, cheese (with vegetable enzyme), kimchi, sauerkraut, pickles and olives. Follow these dietary tips and you'll greatly minimise your exposure to inflammatory foods, even if you get off track for a short time every now and then.
2. Daily Exercise: When you engage in regular physical activity, your body modulates neurotransmitters like serotonin, which stimulates feel-good chemicals in the body and brain and promotes optimal brain function.
It's a great idea to get outside and walk for at least 30-45 minutes per day, first thing in the morning if you can. Of course, other forms of exercise also offer amazing benefits, but there's nothing quite like a brisk morning walk outdoors in the fresh air for stimulating contentment and emotional molecules of happiness and joy within the human body.
3. Exposure To Natural Sunlight: Sensible exposure to sunlight is one of the most powerful ways to trigger serotonin production in the body.
The natural warmth and Vitamin D generated by the sun plays a key role in nourishing the gut microbiome. Not only that, the impact of sunlight on mental health is well known and day light exposure to the sun actually helps to the produce melatonin at night, which improves sleep and synchronises your body clock to help lower stress.
Get out into the morning sun at least a few times per week for 30-60 minutes whenever you can. By getting your vitamin D fix in the morning you'll avoid exposure to more intense UV light in the heat of the day which may cause sunburn.
The Main Take Away
Serotonin is a powerful 'hormone-like' neurotransmitter in the body that supports happy mood, as well as other key functions such as energy production, digestion and sleep - all of which play a crucial in your overall wellbeing.
By understanding a little about the role that serotonin plays in the body and brain, you can take proactive steps to balance it.
This really can be as simple as embracing a whole food based diet, practicing regular exercise and getting exposure to natural sunlight for short periods of time as often as you can.
When you follow these steps consistently, you'll go a long way to feeling good within in your physical body and you'll notice you'll be brighter, happier and more balanced in your frame of mind.
Tolman Self Care.