Oh Serotonin. It’s the happy brain chemical that helps us to feel good! As if you don’t want to be served up a slice, stat.
Serotonin is thought to be a neurotransmitter that got its name from it’s ability to affect the serum levels of smooth muscle, but once it was named it was discovered it can do this and a whole lot more!
So why do you need Serotonin? Serotonin does the following:
- It is the chemical responsible for maintaining mood (hello sunshine, goodbye cloudy days)
- It is produced in the intestines and the brain. Up to 90% of it is found in the gastrointestinal tract.
- Serotonin is believed to affect mood and social behaviour, digestion, appetite, memory, sleep and libido.
- Oestrogen (specifically estradiol, one of the forms of oestrogen) regulates serotonin. If your oestrogen is out of balance, serotonin will surely be upset in the process. We’ll talk more about oestrogen soon.
It’s unclear if low levels of serotonin contribute to depression or if depression causes low serotonin, but we know that there is an association between the two. The more I research this, the more I believe that it is the earlier of the two. Here’s why:
Under stress, we naturally make less serotonin as cortisol rises and our digestive system is shut down to meet demands as a normal stress response. The way our bodies are designed, it’s unlikely we need to feel good when posed with danger like being hit by a car or tripping over. It’s not a design fault, it’s actually perfect. But as you are well aware, you (me included) are stressed out like never before meaning serotonin begins to go south. Since up to 90% of this neurotransmitter is produced in the gut, when we are under immense stress and the digestive system shuts down, less serotonin is naturally produced.
On top of this, we understand that as we age, our cortisol levels appear to rise. There are a few reasons why this may be happening, including more worries, less sleep and obviously changes in other hormones. But, as we age our cells also become more resistant to cortisol – that means more in our blood stress and less in our cells which can lead to us being up and down like a yoyo.
High cortisol (which we dug into here) means that come night time you might get your ‘second wind’ just when it’s time to do the exact opposite – relax. This is bad news for your adrenals since this is the time they go into recovery each day. This leads to further adrenal depletion, which in turn leads you to start running low on neurotransmitters including serotonin and so the story goes.
You can see you need serotonin but how to you keep yours in check? I’ve a few ideas.
You’ve resisted, maybe it’s your time, just like me…
Recently I’ve been tapping deeper into meditation, something I’ve resisted for a long time. I hated the idea of sitting still for so long. But equally I became so sick of feeling overwhelmed all. the. time. There had to be a better way. More to the point, I was living for the next thing always thinking once I had it, life would improve. I went through a huge amount of stress and my body was sending me warning signs by way of acne, pain and insomnia. Something had to give. Clearly my cortisol was higher than ever and my happy hormones, like serotonin, were sitting at the back of the bus. What happened in a rapid amount of time has been phenomenal. Suddenly life just got better because I started living in the now. I began to remember things, felt more organised, was a nicer person to be around. I remembered where my keys were for the first time in years. I started with my dear friend Emily Fletcher’s online meditation course only a very short while ago and girlfriend, you need to check it out. Her once a year interactive online training starts on the 1st October (sorry to put the pressure on but this is too good to miss) and registration closes VERY soon. Take a peek here. Emily asks, “You don’t have time to meditate? Let me ask you, do you have time to feel like crap?” I think the answer is clear.
The right ratio of supplements goes a long way.
There are a few good herbal supplements that can assist but the core really is getting your cortisol to play the game. As I’ve shared many times before, ensuring you are getting adequate B’s and Magnesium can make the world of difference. B6 is required for many energy processes in your body, including the production of serotonin. Magnesium is one of the other key players in helping our body under stress. It’s a powerful combo not to be shunned at.
All in a tiny prick so that you aren’t one (oops, see what I did there?)
Acupuncture is also a sure way of decreasing stress on your body and increasing the feel good hormones including serotonin. We’d sure love to help you at my clinic, The Pagoda Tree. In a study that was looking at how well acupuncture treated PMS (remembering it all relates back to stress), it reduced symptoms by up to 55%! That’s one crazy statistic.*
A few simple fixes can really go a long way! Next week, we will dig into oestrogen – the hormone that’s on everyone’s lips, that one we need to feel good and thrive. All hormones in the right balance are the key to a happy, healthy and slow ageing life. Give me more of that I say!
* Kim SY, Park HJ, LeeH, Lee H. “Acupucnture for premenstrual syndrome: a systematic reiew and meta-analysis of randomised controlled trials.” BJOG: An international Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology 118. 2011.