You may or may not have heard about a molecule called serotonin. If you haven’t, now’s your chance to learn some very relevant information about one of the most interesting molecules in your body.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, meaning that it is one of the molecules that our nervous system uses to pass messages back and forth. It is one of the main characters playing a crucial role in many of our body’s functions and feelings, like our mood, aggression, depression, anxiety, and appetite just to name a few.
You may have heard of anti-depressant drugs, Prozac for example, which is a drug from the family of SSRIs, meaning that they increase the amount of Serotonin available for our cells to communicate with. Serotonin is considered by many to be the ‘happy molecule’, because it’s increase is heavily correlated with our subjective feeling of happiness and well-being. It’s important to note though that it’s influence flows far beyond that of the nervous system, it also has an effect on muscles, and hormonal regulation in our body, including out biological clock for example (AKA Circadian rhythm).
It seems pretty clear that the release of serotonin in our body is correlated with many positive feelings, like happiness, reduction of stress, anxiety and aggression, and better memory too. But it’s important to ask:
Are serotonin levels increased as a result of our good mood? Or does our good mood cause an increase in serotonin levels? Here’s where it gets interesting.
The answer to this question is about as clear as answering; what came first, the chicken or the egg? The truth is that you need the egg to make the chicken and you need the chicken to make the egg. The same is true for our mood and serotonin. A very interesting study published in the Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience looked at the ability of a person to induce the release of serotonin with his own thoughts, or psychotherapy, and found out that we can really influence our serotonin levels. The opposite is true as well, as mentioned early, by artificially increasing serotonin levels in
our body we feel better. This creates a snowball effect of good mood.
So we just learned that by thinking good thoughts, and maybe going to psychotherapy treatment we can start the positive snowball effect.
But what else can we do to influence the serotonin levels?
It’s so simple, it was shining right in front of us this whole time! Getting good sunlight increases our serotonin levels. The amazing thing is that this very easy and costless method has been used to treat depression in pregnancy, nonseasonal depression, as well as women who get very sever premenstrual syndrome symptoms (PMS). This is starting to sound like an infomercial for sunlight… but wait there’s more! The sunlight increases the levels of serotonin, along with repressing levels of melatonin during the day and these two effect together really strengthen our circadian rhythm, which is our biological clock. As our biological clock is stronger and more routine, the sleep we get has much better quality, and this has some huge health benefits both in the short-term, and the long term.
There you have it, a free drug which can treat different types of depression, premenstrual syndrome symptoms as well as improve the quality of your sleep. Sign me up!
Why is serotonin so important to our health?
Lowering out stress levels and improving our mood has time and again been proven to have positive overall effect on our health. Here are just two examples of this: The first come from a huge review of a number of studies performed, coming to the conclusion that hostility, and negative moods lead to much higher rates of chronic heart disease and all cause mortality. Although we didn’t really need proof, this confirms the suspicion that your mental health and physical health are intertwined and very strongly connected. The opposite is true as well, not just that poor moods and hostility are detrimental to health, but also that positivity and good moods are positive. An interesting study that followed elderly and frail individuals found that those who were more agreeable, the opposite of hostile, had a much lower mortality rate. How can we sum this all up in a few simple words?
Smile, enjoy the sunlight, and sleep well.
As previously mentioned, the quality of your sleep has some huge effects on our short-term and long-term health. This is a huge subject which is absolutely worth learning more about if your health is important to you, but especially if you have trouble sleeping. Luckily, we have a whole course on the matter that we’d love you to come and check out.