While serotonin is a neurotransmitter, 90% of its receptors are located in the gut. As researchers continue to analyze the anatomy of our guts, they’re starting to pinpoint more and more connections. So far, researchers have found a link between our gut health and anxiety, hormones, heart health, and skin appearance.
The Role of Serotonin
Serotonin is a chemical nerve produced by cells. Its main goal is to send the signals between your nerve cells. Considered a natural mood stabilizer, serotonin plays a critical role in regulating our sleep, digestion, and maintaining bone health.
Serotonin acts in various ways across the body, including:
Your bowel movements: since serotonin is mostly found in your gut, it helps regulate bowel movements.
Your mood: serotonin in the brain regulates happiness, anxiety, and mood changes. Low levels of serotonin have been linked with depression.
Your sleeping patterns: serotonin is also responsible for stimulating parts of the brain that manage sleep and waking. An unbalance in your serotonin levels will impact your sleeping patterns.
The Serotonin-Gut Connection
Since most serotonin receptors are located in the gut, it’s not surprising to see more research pointing to a serotonin-gut health connection. So far, altered levels of serotonin have been linked to irritable bowel syndrome.
Another major study led by UCLA biologists analyzed the effects of anti-depressants and other drugs that target serotonin production affecting our gut health. This and other studies continue looking at the ways bacteria affects the production of serotonin and how it affects gut health in general, as well as other health changes.
A key factor when looking at the gut health and serotonin connection is inflammation. So far, research has seen an undeniable connection on those with inflammation. Whenever inflammation was triggered, depression symptoms followed.
On the flip side, these studies point to a new way to look at anxiety or depression episodes. Rather than looking at the use of anti-depressants to reset serotonin levels, it’s all about lowering inflammation instead, without altering the serotonin levels.
What This Means for Gut Health
In the somewhat new field of nutritional psychiatry, professionals are looking at how gut health and mood can be related. Most research has found that the side effects of those who take antidepressants tend to be gut-related. Thus the connection is inevitable.
When there’s an altered gut balance, people are more likely to struggle with:
- Inflammatory bowel disease
- Metabolic syndrome
- Mood problems
How to Maintain Healthy Serotonin Levels
Serotonin is highly receptive to the bacteria we consume. The best way to maintain healthy serotonin levels is through food. Look for foods that contain tryptophan, the amino acid responsible for the creation of serotonin. Cheese, eggs, tofu, and salmon are all serotonin-rich foods that can help maintain a healthy balance.
Remember, if you’re struggling with gut-related issues, always consult with your doctor to see what type of changes you should make to ensure a healthy body.