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Discover More About the Impact of Serotonin

If you’re worried about your mental health or whether or not your serotonin levels are lower than they should be, reach out to your health care provider and find a solution that works best for you.

When you’re in a good mood, it feels like you can do anything. A good mood can give you more energy to get things done and inspire you to spread your happiness around. In the same way, a bad mood can make you feel tired and irritable or cause you to lash out at others or isolate yourself. But how much control do we have over our moods? Can we boost our moods ourselves or is it out of our control?

You may have heard of serotonin. Sometimes it’s called your body’s “natural mood booster” or its “happiness chemical.” But what is it and what role does it actually play in our happiness?

Knowing more about serotonin, the effects it has on us and how we can increase our levels of it can help us take better control of our mental health and wellness.

What Is Serotonin and What Does It Do?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries messages between nerve cells in the brain and throughout the body, according to the National Library of Medicine. Serotonin has many functions – impacting everything from your mood, stress levels, memory, sleep, appetite and more.

Because serotonin is thought to have a role in so many different aspects of our health and well-being, low levels of serotonin or ineffective serotonin activity are often associated with various health and wellness issues, such as depression and anxiety. According to the Cleveland Clinic, low levels of serotonin may be associated with:

  • Depression and other mood problems
  • Anxiety
  • Sleep issues
  • Digestive problems
  • Suicidal behavior
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Panic disorders
  • Schizophrenia
  • Phobias

Scientists are still debating many of the ways our serotonin levels may influence us. For example, research finds low serotonin levels in people with depression, but there is still some debate about whether low serotonin levels can cause depression or if it’s a symptom of depression instead. Many studies are still exploring serotonin’s connection to other health issues as well. One thing experts do agree on is that serotonin plays a wide-ranging and impactful role in our health and wellness.

How Do I Know If I Have Low Serotonin Levels?

If you suspect you may suffer from low serotonin levels, talk to your health care provider. Often symptoms can include:

  • Negative thoughts
  • Low energy
  • Fatigue
  • Irritability
  • Anxiousness
  • Changes in appetite
  • Chronic pain
  • Memory problems

It’s important to understand that these symptoms are not always tied to low serotonin levels. For example, it’s not abnormal to experience low energy if you’re working long hours or to have negative thoughts after a breakup or a health scare.Doctor handing patient prescription in doctor's office. But if you’re experiencing multiple symptoms that you can’t seem to shake, it’s worth discussing it with your health care provider.

Your health care provider may use your description of symptoms to try to make a diagnosis. Providers don’t have an effective way to test for serotonin levels, so an in-depth conversation about your symptoms is the first step.

How Can You Treat Low Serotonin Levels and Boost Your Mood?

Decreased or ineffective serotonin activity is thought to play a role in depression, anxiety, PTSD and other psychological disorders, so ways to increase serotonin are often the primary target for improving patients’ symptoms. Ways to boost serotonin include:

  • Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRI) – These medications are often the first line of treatment for depression and anxiety and include drugs such as Prozac, Lexapro and Zoloft.
  • Other medications – In addition to SSRIs, your health care provider may suggest serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, monoaminoxidase inhibitors, tricyclic anti-depressants or 5-HT receptor agonist/partial agonists. Be sure to ask your health care provider about the benefits and side effects of any medication you’re considering.
  • Exercise – Besides all of the physical health benefits associated with exercise, exercise has also been shown to improve mood, reduce depression and anxiety symptoms, and improve our memory and cognitive function, according to the American Psychological Association. Many experts believe that because regular exercise can increase your brain’s production and release of serotonin, it can be just as powerful as antidepressants in treating mood disorders. Check out the guidelines for how much exercise you need to ensure you’re reaping all the benefits.
  • Exposure to light – According to the National Library of Medicine, individuals who are exposed to shorter hours of daylight tend to suffer more from sadness, fatigue and clinical depression. Adequate exposure to light – both natural sunlight and light therapy – can boost our moods and reduce feelings of anxiousness, fatigue and sadness, research about light shows.Assortment of food - natural sources of dopamine.
  • Nutritious diet – Although many people turn to unhealthy foods like ice cream or a bag of their favorite chips when they’re in a bad mood, research from the American Heart Association shows that a nutritious diet can boost your mood and lower your risk for depression. A diet full of fruits, vegetables, fish and whole grains can not only help you feel better, but it’s healthy for your body too.
  • Stress management – There’s no doubt stress impacts our health and mental well-being, so finding a healthy way to manage your stress can provide you with many health benefits, including a natural way to boost your mood and happiness levels. Consider trying yoga, meditation or music or art therapy as a way to reduce your stress. The Department of Veteran’s Affairs (VA) Live Whole Health series provides a lot of simple ways to get started – from five-minute guided meditations and breathing exercises to articles on mindfulness and gratitude.
  • Mental health treatment – If you’re struggling with symptoms of depression, anxiety or another mental health condition, check out VA’s mental health resources and treatment options. You may find relief from starting individual therapy, group therapy, telehealth and more.

Some people find a combination of strategies works best to boost their happiness levels. For some, it may be seeking support from friends, exercising and using medication. For others, it may be incorporating yoga along with dietary changes to reduce stress and boost their overall mood.

If you’re worried about your mental health or whether or not your serotonin levels are lower than they should be, reach out to your health care provider and find a solution that works best for you.

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