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Essentially, little things make huge impacts on our health and wellbeing, like the bite of a mosquito, an infection by microbes, a deficiency of vitamins or the insufficiency of a chemical substance required by the body. Doctors and physiologists have linked a change in moods to the increase or decrease in serotonin, also known as the happiness hormone, which is a chemical substance that is found in the intestine, blood platelets and the brain. Depression and anxiety, they report, have been tied to a decrease in the brain’s serotonin levels, and a state of being happy has been linked to an increase in the chemical. These tips are necessary for understanding the link between serotonin and moods:

Serotonin in the body.

Serotonin is a chemical messenger that transmits information from one neuron to another between the body and brain. About 90% of it is found in the intestine where it is responsible for appetite, bowel movements, and digestion. The remaining percentage is found in blood platelets, where it is known to regulate clotting and in the brain, where it regulates changes in mood, behavior, and sleep, amongst other functions. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid found in protein-rich foods. Also, the brain must make its own serotonin because the substance cannot be transferred from the intestine or blood to the brain. Hence, the blood transports tryptophan to the brain where it is converted into serotonin for use.

How to get tryptophan from foods.

Foods rich in protein, like eggs, turkey, chicken, fish, nuts and milk, contain tryptophan alongside other amino acids. However, eating only proteins does not make tryptophan available for use in the body because it has to compete to be absorbed with other amino acids found in the proteins. Nutritionists advise that a balanced combination of tryptophan-rich foods with healthy carbohydrates is key. Carbohydrates create an increase in the level of insulin which causes the body to absorb amino acids, leaving the less heavy tryptophan in the blood which transports it to the brain and there it is converted to serotonin.

Purified tryptophan is contained in dietary supplements and certain antidepressants increase serotonin levels.

Dietary supplements work very fast in elevating the moods because tryptophan is made easily available for conversion to serotonin, without having to compete with other amino acids in foods. Antidepressant medications such as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) increase serotonin levels. Vitamin B complex and omega-3 supplements also play a vital role in increasing serotonin levels. The use of drugs and supplements should be under the prescription and supervision of a doctor and should be a last resort as the side effects of the long-term use of drugs and supplements must be considered.

A change in lifestyle can greatly contribute to relieving depression and enhancing moods.

Studies on the link between serotonin and depression are partly theoretical and ongoing. Medications have failed in some cases and depression could be caused by other factors unrelated to the chemistry of the brain. In addition, scientists are yet to ascertain whether low serotonin levels cause depression or whether depression causes a decrease in the level of the substance. Thus, psychotherapists advise that people prone to depression get adequate exposure to bright light, engage in physical exercises, and meditate on positive thoughts.

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This article was first published on 7th June 2017


Nnenna is an editor and writer at Connect Nigeria. She loves fine art, books and places.

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