What is Serotonin?
Neuroscientists believe the brain operates by millions of nerve cells communicating with each other. Brain cells (neurons) communicate with each other by transmitting molecules. These molecules are known as neurotransmitters. Serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters believed to be responsible for various functions, including how we feel on a daily basis.
Neurological research has identified over 50 kinds of neurotransmitters. Scientists have found that several neurotransmitters are directly related to mental health. These specific neurotransmitters are Dopamine, Serotonin, Norepinephrine, and Gamma Aminobutyric Acid (GABA). An imbalance—either too much or too little—of these neurotransmitters is thought to generate psychiatric conditions such as anxiety, depression, ADHD and other emotional disorders.
It is believed that many important brain functions are dependant on serotonin. Serotonin regulates the development of serotonergic neurons and specific tissues. A disruption in serotonergic development can permanently change the brain’s function and behavior.
Deficiencies in serotonin availability have been linked to depression, anxiety, irregular appetite, aggression and pain sensation.
Serotonin Levels and Chemical Imbalance
Serotonin availability and its ability to function properly is dependant on many different vitamins, amino acids and other transport molecules all working together. It is synthesized from the conversion of L-Tryptophan-to-5-HTP, which then crosses the blood-brain barrier and is broken down into 5-HT, commonly known as Serotonin.
A Serotonin chemical imbalance may occur for a number of reasons, though the exact causes or not yet known. What researches do know, is that synthetic reuptake inhibitors may increase the availability of serotonin levels in the central nervous. This is one of the reasons that patients taking SSRI’s may see an improvement in mood within a period of weeks or months.
Alternative medicines have also been used to increase Serotonin availability and reduce overall feelings of anxiety/depression related disorders. St. Johns Wort, for example, has been clinically shown to inhibit the reuptake of the Serotonin neurotransmitters, making Serotonin more available in the central nervous system. Moreover, 5-HTP, which is a precursor to serotonin, has been shown in oral supplementation to cross over the blood-brain barrier into the central nervous system, completely bypassing L-Tryptophan conversion. This is believed to be the reason why individuals taking 5-HTP may report improved mood within 2 weeks of supplementation.