Part 2: Serotonin – the mood booster
Serotonin is also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine, or to fit it onto the back of a jersey, 5-HTP. This champion hormone is thought to extend the lifespan, because a happy life is a full life.
What role does it play? Serotonin affects your central nervous system, which operates your body and brain functioning. This helps with mood, cognition, reward factor, memory, and physiological reactions such as vessel constriction, digestion, and vomiting. Sorry, not sorry. No one likes to vomit, but serotonin is saying, ‘Hey, system overload!”. Speaking of moods, serotonin also controls your memory, fear, stress, addiction tendencies, sex (hello!), and sleep. When you’re happy and feel like life is just a big, deep bowl of cherries, you’re swimming in serotonin.
If you’re looking for a natural boost, feast on tryptophan-containing foods. We hear that term thrown around at Thanksgiving, and yes, you can get it from turkey. Have no fear vegetarians and pescatarians, you can also nosh on cheese, eggs, nuts, seeds, salmon, tofu, and pineapple to feel on top of the world. High protein foods, iron, and riboflavin are key components of tryptophan-containing foods. Pair these with carbs like rice, oats, or whole grains to get the full effect.
Supplements containing vitamins B6, B9, and B12 combined with others can crank up the serotonin in your system. Getting nutrition from foods rather than supplements is always best, as some supplements contain other ingredients and/or have misleading amounts of what is listed on the label. Always dig into the bones of the internet before choosing a brand of vitamins. Also, your body absorbs nutrients faster through food.
Some physical ways you can achieve soaring levels of the mood booster is by regular meditation, exercise, and good ‘ol sunshine. Aerobic exercise is the workout that gets your heart pumping and gives you that natural high feeling, like walking, swimming, running, biking, jumping rope, and jazzercise (it’s all about the leg warmers, Jane Fonda). Ways to lower stress is changing jobs, moving to a pleasant environment, and ending relationships that are toxic. Not only romantic relationships can have toxicity, but also family, business, or friendships can bring you way down. If they stress you out, so long, suckers!
How do you know if you have too little of this hormone? Depression, anxiety, and memory problems are number one symptoms, and the opposite of the great accolades of this hormone, listed above.
Can you over-do it? Ooooh yeah. Highly elevated levels of serotonin can cause shivering, seizures, diarrhea, fever, and rigid muscles. Ugh. Too much of the happy hormone can also cause Serotonin Syndrome. Say whaaat? You heard it. Too much 5-HTP from antidepressants, illicit drugs, migraine medications, or supplements, which create serotonin in your body, can lead to serotonin syndrome, and this is a dangerous situation to be in. Warning signs according to the Mayo Clinic are: rapid heart rate, insomnia, confusion, elevated blood pressure, sweats, headache, or goosebumps, along with the other elevated symptoms noted above. Mild reactions can resolve in a couple days, but when symptoms are ignored and continue, this can lead to death. Whoa Bessie!
As with everything, go the natural route and get it via foods, exercise, sunshine, and meditation. If your body somehow doesn’t produce enough this way, then seek a medical expert’s help. Also, if you are taking prescription anti-depressants, anti-migraine medications, pain meds, supplements, or partaking in snorting Bolivian marching powder in the bathroom stall of a dive bar, ask your physician if any of these combined put you at risk of serotonin syndrome or ending up in a seedy hotel with people you just met half an hour ago, leading up the DEA busting through the door and performing a drug bust.