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What is Serotonin?

Nicole Madison
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Serotonin is a hormone that is found naturally in the human brain; it is also found in the digestive tract and platelets of some animals, including human beings. It is also found in a variety of plant sources, including vegetables, fruits, and even mushrooms. Categorized as a neurotransmitter, it is important in transmitting nerve impulses. It is also described as a vasoconstrictor, which is a substance that can cause narrowing of the blood vessels. The amino acid tryptophan is credited with producing serotonin in the body.

This hormone can be considered a "happy" hormone, as it greatly influences an overall sense of well-being. It also helps to regulate moods, temper anxiety, and relieve depression. It is also credited with being a natural sleep aid. It even plays an important role in regulating such things as aggression, appetite, and sexuality. It also helps with regulating body temperature and metabolism and plays a role in the stimulation of vomiting.

Since serotonin is so important in regulating moods and feelings of well-being, it is often targeted in drugs that are used to affect the mood, such as antidepressants. A class of medications called monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOIs), such as Marplan and Nardil, works to prevent the breaking down of neurotransmitters, allowing them to increase in the brain and relieve depression. Unfortunately, these drugs have many serious side effects, and they tend to react dangerously with some other types of medication.

Selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs), such as Celexa, Zoloft, Lexapro, and Prozac, are also used to fight depression, yet they have fewer side effects, and they tend to react better than other medications. Not all antidepressants work to increase serotonin in the brain, however. Some, like tricyclic antidepressants, such as Elavil, actually work against neurotransmitter reuptake.

Despite its contributions to well-being, too much of this neurotransmitter can be a bad thing. When extremely high levels are in the body, it is toxic, and results of the excess can be fatal. These extremely high levels are referred to as serotonin syndrome. Such high levels would be difficult to obtain through the use of just one antidepressant, however, even in the case of an overdose. However, they may be possible if an SSRI was used in combination with an MAOI medication. It's interesting to note that serotonin syndrome is not always fatal; it can occur in milder, non-toxic forms; for example, the drug ecstasy can cause symptoms of the syndrome, yet the levels rarely reach toxicity.

The Health Board is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.
Nicole Madison
By Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like homeschooling, parenting, health, science, and business. Her passion for knowledge is evident in the well-researched and informative articles she authors. As a mother of four, Nicole balances work with quality family time activities such as reading, camping, and beach trips.
Discussion Comments
By anon161867 — On Mar 21, 2011

Thumbs up for this article! Good information right here. Just what I was looking for.

By anon144727 — On Jan 20, 2011

Look to following a gluten free diet for six weeks. I read about it and take a product called StomachPlus that really helped all of our families mental issues from bipolar to depression.

By ProudMom2 — On Jun 24, 2010

I was recently changed to a new drug called ‘Savella’ to help regulate the serotonin and norepinephrine in my brain and decrease my fibromyalgia symptoms. I was very surprised to find that serotonin stimulates vomiting; in all of my research I had never found a connection. I have had a problem with vomiting in direct sunlight, during fibromyalgia flare-ups and with exhaustion; I take natural herbs to curb my nausea. Currently I take Valium for daily anxiety attacks and also Zanaflex for insomnia, both of which are regulated by this hormone as well. I need to bring this to my doctor’s attention. Thank you WiseGeek.

By anon81087 — On Apr 29, 2010

5 HTP with cofactors (ie Serene by Neuroscience) is a precursor for Serotonin. Our family has had complete success in treating serotonin deficiency with this precursor.

Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison
Nicole Madison's love for learning inspires her work as a The Health Board writer, where she focuses on topics like...
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