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What Is Serotonin?


What Is Serotonin?

Serotonin, A.K.A. 5-HT or 5-hydroxytryptamine, is a substance that occurs naturally that works as a neurotransmitter to carry information between neurons and the entire body. Serotonin is well known for its role in the central nervous system.

Ever wondered what hormones cause changes in your mood and feelings? Serotonin is the main hormone that balances your mood, feelings of wellness, and happiness. Serotonin influences your whole body. It helps brain cells and other nervous system cells to interact with each other.

This hormone also regulates sleep, eating, and digestion. But, if an individual has too little serotonin in their brain, they are more likely to experience depression. On the other hand, if you have too much serotonin, it may lead to extra nerve cell activity. Serotonin also can reduce depression, enhance bone health, and regulate anxiety. Serotonin also helps in blood clots and enhances sexual function. In this article, you learn everything you need to know about this important hormone.

What Does Serotonin Regulate?

From enhancing memory to regulating mood, serotonin is known for its ability to regulate the entire body’s function that includes:


Serotonin is well known to regulate mood. It is considered a natural mood enhancer. When functioning properly, it helps one be calm, happy, focused, and emotionally stable. Serotonin also reduces depression and regulates anxiety. However, it’s important to understand that serotonin doesn’t work alone, it may need neurotransmitters such as dopamine to help enhance mood. Serotonin is also known as a “feel good” chemical.


Serotonin regulates bowel function, minimizes your appetite while eating, and helps you know when you are full. It also protects your gut. For instance, if you consume something toxic or irritating, your gut produces more serotonin. The extra serotonin moves the harmful food along and gets rid of it as quickly as possible from your body. This is also the reason why more serotonin can make you nauseous and why some drugs that target some serotonin receptors can be used to reduce nausea and vomiting.


Serotonin is responsible for triggering the parts of the brain that controls sleep and waking. It controls when, how much and how well one sleeps. Like said before, serotonin requires help from other transmitters such as dopamine to work efficiently. Another hormone called melatonin is also important for your sleep cycle. Your body requires serotonin to produce melatonin. Therefore, low or high levels of serotonin can affect the pattern and quality of your sleep.

Your brain has specific parts that control when you sleep, your sleep pattern, and when to wake up. These parts also have serotonin receptors.

Blood Clotting

In a case of tissue damage, for example, a cut, the platelet cells in your body releases serotonin to assist in healing the wound. Serotonin causes tinny arteries to narrow, forming blood clots. This makes blood flow slowly. Vasoconstriction or narrowing of the arteries and slow blood flow are essential elements of blood clotting important for wound healing.

Sex Function

Besides regulating your mood, serotonin can also affect your sexual feelings. For example, some antidepressants meant to increase serotonin levels may affect libido since high levels of serotonin have been linked with decreased sexual desire. Serotonin effects on libido are somehow related to neurotransmitter’s interaction with dopamine. For instance, a 2017 study on women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) revealed that symptoms of this disorder were linked to high serotonin activity and reduced dopamine activity.

Bone Density

Serotonin levels can affect the strength of your bones. High levels of serotonin in your gut can lower your bone density, causing conditions such as osteoporosis. Research shows that SSRI medications are linked with low bone mineral density. Decreased bone density puts you at risk of fractures. If you are worried about antidepressants’ effects on your bones, the solution does not lie in stopping your medication. Talk to your doctor first about the risk factors, such as a family history of osteoporosis, so that they can direct you on the way forward.

What Causes Low Levels

Mood disorders such as depression are multifactorial. This means that they are caused by more than one factor. Low levels of serotonin alone are not enough to cause depression. However, low serotonin can cause sleep, mood, digestion, and other problems.

Many reasons can cause low serotonin levels. For instance, not having enough serotonin or inefficient use of the available serotonin. In the first scenario, you have low serotonin levels because your body isn’t producing serotonin to maintain the required levels. For instance, low levels of vitamins B6 and D are linked to low levels of serotonin. Essential acids that affect serotonin production, such as tryptophan, can only be acquired through diet.

The other reason for having low serotonin levels is not using the available serotonin efficiently. This may be caused by the lack of enough serotonin receptors in your brain or if the ones available are not working well. For instance, the serotonin receptors in your brain might be absorbing and breaking down serotonin more quickly than required.

How to Increase Levels

As earlier said, serotonin plays a key role in our mental and general well-being. It’s important to have the correct amount of serotonin in your body. There are ways to increase your serotonin levels that include medication such as SSRIs and SNRIs for people with depression. There are also natural ways of increasing serotonin levels, including food, exercise, and light exposure. If you are concerned about your serotonin levels and ways to increase or stabilize them, seek a doctor’s advice so that they can advise you on the right food and ways of ensuring that you have the right amount of serotonin.

Remember, with the right amount of serotonin; you are more likely not to experience depression and be in a better mood.

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Danielle Aubin (she/her), Online Clinical Social Worker/Therapist, Roseville, CA
gu wellness counseling, Virtual Therapist Service in Denver, CO

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