Serotonin: A happiness chemical
Did you know that certain chemicals in our bodies (four neurotransmitters, to be exact) influence our levels of happiness?
Serotonin is one of these wondrous neurotransmitters known collectively as happiness chemicals (in addition to dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins). Specifically, it’s associated with mood and the feelings of relaxation and calm.
Designed to communicate information throughout the body, serotonin is a chemical messenger primarily produced in the gut with a direct connection to the brain. This means that our levels of serotonin can have a powerful effect on our happiness or our lack thereof.
Let’s take a further look.
Serotonin is created by the amino acid tryptophan. Tryptophan converts to 5-HTP and eventually into serotonin. Essentially, tryptophan is the building block for this neurotransmitter.
When levels of serotonin are low at any given time, symptoms can appear such as:
- impulsive behavior
- irritable mood
- sleep issues
- undesirable choices
But what contributes to low serotonin levels?
While research is still ongoing, there’s a strong link to gut health.
Serotonin is highly influenced by the gut microbiome. Poor diet, a lack of helpful bacteria, and the overuse of antibiotics can all impact the creation of this neurotransmitter.
To increase and support healthy levels, practice self-care techniques such as:
- belly breathing
- forest bathing
- aerobic exercise
- getting outside and enjoying the sun (ideally at least 10-15 minutes daily)
- a diet rich in healthy bacteria including pre and probiotics
- eating foods rich in tryptophan alongside healthy carbs for good absorption (such as a turkey and cheese sandwich on wheat bread or a plate of salmon and brown rice)
- mindful use of antibiotics
- 5-HTP supplements
In addition, SSRIs are a common anti-depressant that work to block the brain from depleting serotonin and encourage the body to recycle it instead. This is helpful in severe cases of depression.
While happiness may rely on a variety of lifestyle, physical, and mental health factors, serotonin also plays a significant role.
A healthy diet paired with active self-care can support this neurotransmitter and ultimately, your mood. And that is something to smile about.