Serotonin in the Gut
Research is ever-evolving on the gut-brain connection, and science has not yet fully uncovered all the facts about the interactions between your gut and your brain. One thing we do know, though, is that the gut hosts the bacteria that helps produce serotonin, the primary neurotransmitter responsible for mood regulation. Research indicates that a lack of serotonin can be caused by a lack of gut bacteria, and people with mood imbalances are often suffering an imbalance in gut flora as well. What causes low serotonin? And how can you boost your mood by improving your gut health?
How Do the Gut and Brain Communicate?
To understand the answer, you first need to understand the nervous system. The central nervous system (CNS) consists of the brain and spinal cord, and is responsible for controlling thoughts, emotions, breathing, heart rate, body temperature and, in some cases, hormone release. The enteric nervous system (ENS), sometimes called the “second brain” is made up of 200 to 600 million neurons that move through the digestive system. These two systems work together, and the ENS also controls some gastrointestinal functions and the release of some neurotransmitters.
Serotonin, along with some other neurotransmitters, travel along the vagus nerve from the gut to the brain. The vagus nerve is the longest nerve, and it emerges directly from the brain. Because chemical signals travel from the gut to the brain and vice versa, people with gut issues have a higher risk of mood imbalances, depression, and anxiety. These are also low serotonin symptoms, and other symptoms of serotonin deficiency include insomnia, panic attacks, irritable bowel, PMS, fibromyalgia, obesity, and eating disorders. Low serotonin can also cause pain issues, like chronic pain, muscle pain, and migraine headaches.
What is Serotonin?
We’ve been talking about serotonin, but what, exactly, is it? Serotonin is a “happy hormone” produced by your body, in the same group as dopamine, oxytocin, and endorphins. Each of these have a different job to do: endorphins are a natural pain reliever, released during exercise, oxytocin is the “love hormone,” and dopamine gives you a feeling of pride when you succeed at something. Serotonin’s role is as the mood regulator, but it also acts as a hormone and neurotransmitter.
Promoting Gut Health and Boosting Serotonin
While serotonin can be synthesized from foods like turkey, salmon, eggs, nuts and seeds, and dark green leafy vegetables. Your gut manufactures about 95 percent of the body’s serotonin, and if you are dealing with chronic digestive issues, your serotonin production is probably impaired. You can increase serotonin production without the use of medication by making certain lifestyle changes.
- Eat more foods rich in tryptophan. These include chicken, turkey, fish, bananas, apples, and prunes.
- Exercise regularly. Exercise does not directly activate serotonin production, but exercise triggers the release of tryptophan into your bloodstream.
- Get some sun. Sunlight triggers the release of serotonin through cues to certain areas in the retina.
- Don’t skip meals. Eat protein with every meal, consume complex carbohydrates, and avoid sugar, junk food, processed foods, caffeine, alcohol, and artificial sweeteners.
- Pray and meditate. Studies have shown that serotonin levels rise in response to prayer and meditation.
Treating the Whole Person
At Advanced Functional Medicine, an integrated medical clinic, we exclusively practice functional medicine. A full functional medicine approach to healing uses a comprehensive diagnostic screening to get to the root of a patient’s issues. Our whole body approach to medicine utilizes all-natural, researched-based nutritional approaches to optimize the body’s natural healing abilities, rather than just using medication to treat symptoms. Each individual receives unique and customized care, formulated based on the latest scientific resource, and we have a 96 percent success rate in patient outcomes. As a medically driven, patient-focused health clinic, we support our patients’ individual health goals, providing natural relief for symptoms of chronic factors and expert guidance about the decisions affecting a patient’s long-term health. It is our goal to help reverse chronic disease without resorting to dangerous or unnecessary drugs or surgical interventions, promoting healing from the inside out, in its truest, healthiest form. To schedule an appointment or learn more about how we can help restore your health and strengthen your body’s unique physiological functions, call 858-500-5572 or contact us through our website.