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What is Serotonin?

What is Serotonin?

A naturally occurring chemical in the human body, serotonin is vital for certain bodily functions. Here is a brief overview about serotonin and its role in bodily functions.
Sonia Nair
It is a common fact that various chemicals are synthesized in the human body, so as to carry out the different bodily functions smoothly. One such chemical is serotonin, which acts as a neurotransmitter as well as a vasoconstrictor. While a neurotransmitter aids transmission of messages from the brain to the cells, a vasoconstrictor causes narrowing of blood vessels. This chemical is derived by the action of the amino acid called tryptophan. In the human body, serotonin is mainly found in the central nervous system, gastrointestinal tract, and the blood platelets.

Serotonin in the Human Body

Studies show that almost 80% of serotonin in the body is located in the enterochromaffin cells found in the gastrointestinal tract. It plays an active role in regulating the intestinal movements. Once secreted by the enterochromaffin cells, serotonin comes out of the tissues and gets stored in the blood platelets. During situations that trigger clotting of platelets, serotonin is released. There it acts as a vasoconstrictor and regulates clotting of platelets. As compared to the gastrointestinal tract, central nervous system has very low levels of serotonin, but here, this chemical is assigned with various important functions. It includes regulation of sleep, appetite, and mood. This compound is also involved in contraction of muscles, memory, concentration, learning, etc. As this chemical controls various bodily functions, the body maintains a normal serotonin level. Any increase or decrease in serotonin level may result in various symptoms that can range from mild to severe.

Serotonin Imbalance

As mentioned above, the body tries to maintain a normal serotonin level and variations in this level may cause different symptoms. In some cases, depression is linked to reduced level/activity of serotonin in the brain. On the other hand, increased serotonin level/activity in the brain is associated with migraine and nausea.

Excess serotonin activity in the central and peripheral nervous systems can cause a wide array of symptoms that can range from mild to severe and life-threatening. This condition is termed serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of this condition can be mild, like nausea, shivering, tremors, sweating, restlessness, etc. Moderate to severe symptoms include high blood pressure, high body temperature, confusion, increase in heart rate, unconsciousness, heat stroke or hyperthermia, etc. Serotonin syndrome is mainly caused by intake of drugs meant for increasing serotonin levels in the body. It could be due to intake of multiple drugs (meant for enhancing serotonin levels) or due to increase the dosage of the drug, which the person is taking already. The level of this compound in the body may also increase in a person, who is using serotonin drug for the first time. In some cases, the joint action of a prescribed medication, along with serotonin supplements or certain herbs, may result in this condition.

Imbalance in serotonin levels may cause symptoms that could lead to complications, and needs to be treated. In some cases, immediate medical attention is required to avoid complications. So, if you are taking serotonin pills or supplements, always be cautious of such symptoms and complications. In short, you must not use such drugs or supplements without the consent of your doctor. If you are already using such drugs (as per your doctor's advice), then you must not discontinue their use on your own will. In that case, refrain from using other drugs and supplements, without consulting your doctor.

Disclaimer: This article is for informational purposes only and should not be used as a replacement for expert medical advice.