The Serotonin Connection
When we commonly think about being in a bad or good mood, we tend to think it’s because the people or events in our life are impacting us. In fact, we generally don’t take personal responsibility for our moods at all; it’s human nature to look for someone or something else to blame. It may come as a surprise that we can be totally responsible for our own mood, and that it’s entirely possible that it’s due to an element of our own human nature.
It’s called serotonin, and it’s one of the chemicals the brain uses to help and adjust us to the world that is ongoing around us. How does it affect you?
What is Serotonin and Why Should I Care?
Over 18% of the adult population, that’s more than 40 million Americans, experience some level of anxiety in their life.
This is probably a gross underestimate as anxiety-producing aspects of life hit each and every one of us at some point, and for many, it’s a daily occurrence. Do you have that boss who is unreasonable and standing in the way of you enjoying your job and a successful career? Is your relationship with your significant other floundering and you long for hours apart when you can be yourself again? Perhaps the paycheck never seems to reach far enough and you don’t have any ready alternatives to help yourself through it. In-laws, tax issues, house repairs, car repairs, health and weight issues, friends (or the lack of); any and all of these can add stress to a life that is already burdened by high tech, social demands and moral/family expectations. The result is, we are all, at some point, under stress.
It is often observed that it isn’t the amount of stress you’re under; it’s how you allow it to affect you. It may not be that simplistic, however. The human body is a complex machine that is built to take care of itself with little more than oxygen, some water and nutrition, sleep and shelter from the elements to worry about. Humans and their poor self-management skills frequently self-manufacture their own disease and illness, outside of pure genetics.
That said, from time to time, the human body does not function ideally and when that occurs, the effect is noticeable. The “fight or flight” reaction by the body is natural and key to survival when being pursued by a grizzly bear. However, it is inappropriate to spontaneously panic while watching cartoons or napping on your bed, and yet this is the reaction that millions of Americans experience on a daily basis.
The body produces chemicals that are responsible for coordinating this “fighter flight” reaction. One of these is called serotonin. It is a neurotransmitter; a chemical that allows the brain to send signals from one part to another. The interesting thing is that while the brain manufacturers it, 90% of it is found in the digestive track and in your blood platelets.
Serotonin is created from a conversion process that involves tryptophan, which is a building block to proteins. It’s the same chemical you’ve probably heard of that explains why your Thanksgiving turkey makes you sleepy after dinner.
So, here comes your question; why should I care?
As was mentioned, serotonin enables the brain to send messages. Since it circulates so widely, it is believed to have an influence on many other bodily and mental functions, including 40 million brain cells. These effects include mood, appetite, memory, sleep, sexual desire, social behavior, learning and temperature regulation.
And they make a pill for that…in fact, they make several pills for that. As a matter of fact it’s a $12+ billion business…more than $30 million each and every day.
That’s why you should be interested. Can a serotonin adjustment help you feel healthier, or are you simply one the millions who are being fed into that pipeline? Make the decision yourself, but read the rest of this book first.
Let’s Get More Specific
Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter in your body; it’s actually one of fifty. Think of these as telephone lines strung between poles. Someone at the first pole needs to send a message to another pole to let them know bad weather is coming. The signal is sent down the line using serotonin as the transmitter.
It’s that scientific. If your serotonin level is not adjusted appropriately, it’s like one of those lines is too taut or too slack between the poles. There is no mental illness; no stigma should be attached. It simply needs to be fixed.
Serotonin keeps you from becoming depressed or anxious and gives you feelings of optimism, hope; sense of peace and relaxation. If they are too low, however, you might experience panicky thoughts, anxiety, headaches, intestinal distress, irritability, insomnia, rage and even alcohol cravings.
What causes your serotonin to get out of balance? Well, while this is certainly not strictly a female condition, PMS, perimenopause and menopause can factor in. Not only are their estrogen and progesterone levels fluctuating, serotonin can be at fault as well.
When someone has been under an extended period of physical or psychological stress, the body produces stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline. These interfere with the body’s production of serotonin. Serotonin, as a neurotransmitter, controls the drawbridge between your brain and the nerve cells (neurons). If there is not enough serotonin, the proper messages are not getting through. Serotonin makes you feel safe, relaxed and not hungry.
Serotonin, produced from the essential acid tryptophan, must also have sufficient amounts of vitamin Band magnesium. These essential acids can only be obtained from food–your body cannot produce these on its own. If there isn’t enough Vitamin B in the body, the body will synthesize the tryptophan to make niacin; so if you’re not getting enough niacin, this can also contribute to depression.
Tryptophan can only help you if it is absorbed into the bloodstream, but it must compete with other amino acids in order to accomplish this. One component help sit and that is sugar. Thus, it is not unusual to crave sugary or high carbohydrate foods when you are feeling depressed. Then the next step becomes sugar addition and that can lead to insulin resistance.
Mild insulin resistance leads to hypoglycemia (also called hyperinsulinism), then reactive hypoglycemia which is more severe insulin resistance that eventually leads to complete insulin resistance and the resulting diabetes.
Hyperinsulinism blocks the utilization of your fat cells as a source of energy and this causes obesity. It also dumps magnesium into the urine where it can no longer help regulate blood pressure and this leads to hypertension.
Since the brain requires plenty of biological energy (70-80% consistently) which is mostly gets from carbohydrates, in order to synthesize the feel-good neurotransmitters such as serotonin, when that brain energy is starved, it triggers the release of stress hormones. Hypoglycemia makes the body produce excess adrenaline in an attempt to stabilize; hence more panicky feelings, anxiety, phobias, mood swings and even bouts of aggression.
Drugs, such as alcohol, tranquilizers, benzodiazepines and sleeping pills may temporarily counteract the affects of this adrenaline, but they are very addictive and explains why hypoglycemia can lead to drug addiction. Interestingly, most drug addicts, when tested, are found to be hypoglycemic.
Some scientists believe that insulin resistance also interferes with the absorption of phenylalanine and tyrosine, other important brain neurotransmitters, related to dopamine and norepinephrine. The latter, in particular, blocks out any irrelevant information from the brain and allows people to concentrate on the task at hand. If this isn’t at proper levels it can result in ADHD; yet another consequence of insulin resistance and hypoglycemia. Dysfunctions in the dopamine levels can lead to drug addiction.