A serotonin deficiency can cause depression and mood disorders. Serotonin is a chemical naturally found in the body that carries signals between nerves. It is produced in the brain and the intestines; in fact, about 80 to 90 percent of it can be found in the gastrointestinal tract.
Serotonin has long been thought to be responsible for mood balance, and numerous studies point to serotonin deficiencies as being a potential cause for depression.
Serotonin deficiency affects mood, causes mood disorders
Serotonin plays a role in many bodily functions, so a deficiency can contribute to health issues such as heart disease, dementia and even Alzheimer’s disease. Additionally, because the majority of serotonin is found in the digestive tract, a deficiency can lead to digestion issues like irritable bowel syndrome.
The main association, observed time and time again, with serotonin deficiency is its ability to contribute to depression. Although researchers aren’t sure why a serotonin deficiency leads to depression, they do know that increasing levels can help treat it. Unfortunately, this form of treatment does not work on all those with depression and success is only around 40 percent. The theory is that because there are multiple components responsible for serotonin, responses to it can widely vary from person to person.
Aside from depression, low serotonin has also been associated with anxiety, even when depression is not present. It is important to note that when anxiety is present along with depression it is a sign that serotonin levels are to blame over dopamine – another neurotransmitter that plays a role in depression.
Lastly, seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is a condition of temporary depression often experienced during the winter months. SAD is caused by a lack of natural light and serotonin becomes affected when light is limited. This is also why those with SAD eat more carbohydrate-rich foods to boost serotonin.
Serotonin deficiency linked to depression
Although an association has been found between serotonin levels and depression, researchers are unsure if depression leads to low serotonin or if low serotonin is what causes depression. It is currently possible to measure serotonin levels in the blood, but it is not possible to measure serotonin levels in the brain, which could better help us understand the role of serotonin in depression.
One study in particular was conducted on mice without the capacity to create serotonin. They underwent a series of behavioural tests. The mice did not show signs of depression, suggesting there are other factors at play that contribute to depression aside from serotonin.
In a challenging study, also conducted on mice, researchers showed a link between low serotonin levels and depression. The mice were bred to only have 20 to 40 percent of normal serotonin levels. They were then exposed to stressful situations for seven to 10 days. To test depression, the researchers introduced a stranger mouse to see if they would interact. Mice that were serotonin-deficient demonstrated signs of depression by not engaging with the control mice, and the longer the mouse was exposed to stress, the more symptoms they exhibited.
Although the research may be contradicting, researchers still continue to find the true cause of depression, whether it involves serotonin or not.
Symptoms and causes of serotonin deficiency
Causes of a serotonin deficiency include:
- The brain produces too little serotonin
- The brain contains too few serotonin receptors
- The brain’s serotonin receptors are not functioning properly
- Serotonin is being broken down too quickly and not being recirculated
- Serotonin production is inhibited
- Lack of sleep
- Lack of physical activity
- Lack of sunlight
- Not consuming enough high-protein foods
- Consuming high amounts of caffeine
- Consuming too many processed foods
- Food allergies
- Other mineral or nutrient deficiencies
- Insulin resistance
- Lack of blood flow to the brain
- Chronic infections
- Glutathione deficiency
Symptoms of a serotonin deficiency are:
- Cognitive impairment
- Negative thoughts for no apparent reason
- Mood swings
- Sugar cravings
- Indifference about topics you normally care deeply about
- Excessive worrying
- Inability to fall or stay asleep
- Moderate to overwhelming sadness
- Feeling worse when weather is dark or overcast
Boost serotonin levels naturally
Even though a serotonin deficiency can lead to many negative side effects, the good news is you can begin to naturally boost your serotonin levels right now. A serotonin boosting diet can help elevate your levels. Here are the foods you need in order to improve your serotonin.
- Hickory nuts
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