Serotonin, which is often referred to as the “happiness hormone,” is most often associated with happiness and feelings of well-being. While this inhibitory neurotransmitter definitely has an effect on mood, it also affects our brains and bodies in a variety of other ways. Low serotonin can impact nearly every system in the body, causing symptoms that interfere with just about every aspect of daily life. Here are just a few ways that low serotonin can interfere with your health and well-being.
1. High Anxiety
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors are often used to treat anxiety because anxiety is one of the most common symptoms of a serotonin deficiency. While serotonin is not the only hormone implicated in anxiety, people who suffer from anxiety disorders have been shown to have low serotonin in key areas of the brain.
2. Memory Problems
Serotonin is important for cognition and thinking, especially in the area of memory. When people suffer from low serotonin, they may not have trouble storing new memories, a process known as memory consolidation. This leads to difficulty in school, work and everyday tasks. If your memory just isn’t what it used to be, consider boosting serotonin levels as a method of treatment.
3. Carb Cravings
If you find yourself reaching for sweets and starches when you are feeling depleted, low serotonin may be the culprit. Eating complex carbs can indirectly raise your serotonin levels by shifting metabolism to carbohydrate pathways rather than those that use amino acids. This impacts serotonin levels because tryptophan, an essential amino acid, can then be used as a building block for serotonin rather than for energy.
4. Digestive Difficulties
If you associate serotonin with the brain, you only know half the story. Ninety percent of your body’s serotonin is located in the GI tract, where it plays a key role in regulating digestion. When you have low serotonin in your gut, you may suffer from diarrhea, anxiety and a variety of other gastrointestinal symptoms.
We fall asleep in response to a rise in melatonin and serotonin levels. Without these two hormones, people may find it difficult to fall asleep and stay asleep. In addition to being important to the process of falling asleep, serotonin is also a precursor to melatonin, which means it can be converted into this sleep hormone. If you are low on serotonin, you may be low on melatonin as well.
6. Increased Appetite
Have you been feeling hungry even when you have just eaten? Low serotonin levels may be the reason. Dopamine is the neurotransmitter most implicated in hunger. Serotonin inhibits dopamine, so low serotonin may mean an increase in hunger and eating. If you can’t stop eating, try to choose foods that support healthy serotonin production.
7. Chronic Pain
Abnormal serotonin levels have been repeatedly linked to chronic pain disorders such as fibromyalgia and chronic headaches. If you suffer from muscle aches, headaches, or other chronic pain, low serotonin may be the culprit.
Natural Ways to Treat Low Serotonin
There are a few ways to increase your serotonin if you believe it may be low. Many people find relief taking a 5-HTP supplement. In addition, research has found that meditation, exercise and light exposure all may increase serotonin levels. There are also foods that can increase serotonin levels such as milk, chickpeas and a variety of brightly-colored vegetables. Eating well and taking supplements often can help alleviate symptoms of low serotonin.
Low serotonin is so common in the U.S. that it is almost an epidemic. Many people suffer from vague health symptoms that cannot be treated effectively by modern medicine. Finding natural ways to increase serotonin can allow many people to function better and feel better in their daily lives.