The human brain is a very complex organ, adept at multitasking. Right now you are probably chatting with your friend on Facebook, while listening to the latest song released by your favorite artist, munching on chips, thinking about your day tomorrow and that report you need to submit at school or office.
You might also be probably thinking about someone special (!) and you are also reading this. Can you imagine the amount of coordination required to do all these things simultaneously, without faltering? Keeping such a hungry giant satiated and running 24/7 must require a lot of energy and also efficient minions to work for it!
Most of the serotonin in the body is synthesized by the enterochromaffin cells in the gastrointestinal tract. In this respect, serotonin has been shown to affect levels of appetite. It works in close relation with another neurotransmitter dopamine; dopamine increases appetite, while serotonin decreases it.
A part of the body serotonin also comes from brain cells called serotonergic neurons, and it is this fraction that is associated with your moods, emotions, state of mind and the feeling of well-being.
What's Your Mood Today? - Serotonin and Social Behavior
Serotonin affects the level of your appetite and your mood! How do these two things correlate? We all have heard of at least some version of the Darwin's theory of survival of the fittest. There are two aspects to the survival of an organism in its surroundings - the ability to acquire food, and the ability to compete with others for food and survival.
Comparatively lower or simpler life forms such as fish and worms, serotonin helps the organism to gauge the availability of food in its surroundings. However, mere availability of food is not enough for survival; and therein comes the ability to compete with others for food.
The stronger individual has better chances of acquiring food in the presence of competition, making him dominant and more confident than the rest. In this respect, serotonin has been shown to be associated with a sense of social hierarchy or social status; and your social status definitely affects your mood!
In simple words, people with higher social ranking have greater authority or 'power', and tend to be more confident. They have the ability to divert or 'flee' from a problem they face as they are in a position to be able to do so! They are thus, happier people. Such people are in a state of well-being and are more-or-less content with the life they live.
On the other hand, subordinates rank lower in the social hierarchy. Subordinates can be intimidated by a situation or problem in their lives. The general feeling is one of being helpless. They are compelled to face a problem and do not have the option to escape it, or 'flee' from it. Such people could be less satisfied with their life and thus, less happy.
As stated earlier, tryptophan is the precursor of serotonin in the body. If we consume foodstuffs that are high on levels of tryptophan, the serotonin levels in the body go up. Such foodstuffs include bananas, walnuts, plums, mangoes, eggs, oats, cottage cheese, milk, poultry and even chocolate! This explains why we feel happy after eating a chocolate.
This also points to another interesting fact; when people go on a crash diet, they tend to feel depressed within a couple of weeks; this happens because the serotonin levels in the body are depleted beyond the normal level. Similarly, a cranky baby often settles down after a feed as the serotonin level of the baby is restored!
So the next time you feel blue on a rainy day, go have yourself a chocolate bar, and you might just feel fine again!