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The feelings we experience are nothing more than chemical reactions taking place inside our bodies.

I briefly touched on the subject of chemical messengers (neurotransmitters) in an earlier blog post related to stress. Refer to this link if you would like to read it now: http://blog.elev8me.co.za/2017/06/27/the-bodys-response-to-acute-short-term-stress-pt-1/.

Are you feeling happy, calm, focused and emotionally stable? You have serotonin to thank for that. When the brain produces serotonin, tension is eased and you feel less stressed, more focused, and relaxed. Serotonin, one of the monoamine oxidase neurotransmitters, is often referred to as the “calming chemical”. You can get this chemical naturally by eating carbohydrates, which will raise the level of insulin in your blood and then trigger a greater ratio of a chemical (enzyme) called tryptophan. This enzyme then rushes to the brain, where it produces serotonin. Tryptophan is found in foods such as bananas, plums and cow’s milk. A diet poor in omega-3 fatty acids may lower the level of serotonin in the brain and cause depression.

Serotonin plays an important role in the regulation of mood, sleep, memory, learning, body temperature, cardiovascular function and endocrine system. However, it also plays a role in the gastrointestinal tract with regard to appetite and vomiting. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with migraines, bipolar disorder, fear, feelings of worthlessness, insomnia, fatigue, anxiety and depression.

Low levels of serotonin can be caused by an anxiety disorder because serotonin is required for the metabolism of stress hormones. In turn, extremely high levels of serotonin in the body have toxic effects and are even fatal in some cases – this is termed serotonin syndrome. Serotonin syndrome occurs when you take medications that cause high levels of the chemical messenger, serotonin, to accumulate in your body. Symptoms can range from mild (shivering and diarrhoea) to severe (muscle rigidity, fever and seizures), and as mentioned can be fatal in some cases if not treated immediately.

There are certain psychiatric medications that regulate the levels of serotonin in the body. Some of them are listed below:

  1. Monoamine oxidase inhibitors
  2. Tricyclic antidepressants
  3. Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors


Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAIOs)
are used to prevent the breakdown of monoamine neurotransmitters (one of which is serotonin) by inhibiting the enzyme monoamine oxidase that is responsible for that. Hence, they increase the concentrations of serotonin in the brain. They are used for patients suffering from depression, but they may have serious side effects such as hypertension.

Tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) were first thought to be antihistamines with sedative properties. It was later discovered that they inhibit the reuptake of serotonin and norepinephrine.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are also used in the treatment of depression. They are classified as new generation antidepressants and inhibit only serotonin’s reuptake, hence they have fewer side effects.

Major symptoms of low serotonin levels:

  • Frequent worry or anxiety
  • Trouble falling asleep
  • A light sleeper that is frequently and easily woken
  • Frequent moodiness
  • Strongly self-critical or feelings of guilt
  • Craving sweet or salty foods (especially later in the day)
  • Obsessive behaviour – perfectionist, controlling or neat freak
  • Easily addicted to sugar, alcohol, TV or games (things you enjoy)
  • Unexplained muscle pains

Ways to increase serotonin levels:

  • Add more tryptophan to your diet by eating more bananas and plums and drinking cow’s milk.
  • Book a massage to get your serotonin flowing.
  • Boost your B vitamins.
  • Soak up some vitamin sun (D).
  • Add more magnesium to your diet.
  • Find ways to be more positive.
  • Exercise more often.
  • Get more vitamin C in your diet.
  • Practise self-care to reduce stress.

By implementing some of these ways to increase your serotonin naturally means you may have to shift long-standing habits. The outcome will be that you are rewarded with feeling better, sleeping better and feeling like your mind is more clear. You owe it to yourself to create healthy habits that will keep you feeling energised for longer!

Until next week,
Stay stress-free,

Author’s note:

All information in this blog was researched for this blog, and is not intended for self-diagnosis or to be used as medical advice. All medical questions should be directed to a healthcare professional such as a doctor or pharmacist.

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