Have you ever felt like your moods are controlling you? There may be some truth to that. Chemicals produced in your brain, serotonin and dopamine, actually control your mood.
What does serotonin do?
In adequate amounts, serotonin makes you feel calm, happy, relaxed and satisfied. Dopamine is responsible for feelings of elation and gives you the ability to focus.
Low serotonin is the most common cause of depression, has been linked to anxiety and affects appetite. The most commonly prescribed anti-depressant drugs are called selective serotonin reuptake inhibiters (SSRIs). SSRIs inhibit reuptake of serotonin in the brain. This causes an increase of serotonin in the synaptic cleft, a small space between brain cells.
Stress and serotonin production
Cortisol, the stress hormone, is the most common culprit for low seratonin production. Serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan, which produces melatonin (sleep hormone). Cortisol increases production of enzymes that turn tryptophan into proteins, as well as enzymes that cause serotonin to break down. With decreased amounts of tryptophan available for serotonin and melatonin production, sleep is interrupted. Lack of sleep contributes to stress – and so the cycle continues.
Feeling tired is just the tip of the iceberg after a sleepless night. Long-term effects from lack of sleep include:
- lower productivity and immunity
- feeling dizzy and light-headed
- increased irritability
- increase risk of heart disease and metabolic syndrome
- increased risk of suicide (in extreme cases)
- sleep apnea increases prevalence of:
- depression (22%)
- anxiety (17%)
- post-traumatic stress disorder (12%)
- psychosis (5%)
Don’t cheat yourself! If you don’t have trouble sleeping but choose to stay up late, you should note that this can also have a significant impact on your health and mood.
When your body is working as it should, cortisol levels are higher in the morning and afternoon, and slowly decrease toward the evening. In individuals with hyperarousal, cortisol levels elevate at night. Increased cortisol production disrupts serotonin production over time, affecting mood and sleep
Supplements can help normalize your stress response and cortisol patterns, building serotonin levels. There are also nutrients you can take to directly support better serotonin production and re-set your sleep schedule.
Gut health and seratonin production
Serotonin has long been thought of as a brain chemical; new estimates show that up to 80 percent of serotonin in the body is found in your intestinal tract. This discovery has prompted a relatively new field of science called neurogastroenterology (the study of brain-gut connections).
Individuals suffering from irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) may not produce enough serotonin. Interestingly, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is five times more common in those diagnosed with IBS. Possibly due to the presence of serotonin in the gut, anti-depressant medications designed to rebalance serotonin are also showing benefits for IBS symptoms.
If you experience digestive disorders like IBS, you may see a dramatic improvement in your mood by working on restoring your intestinal health. Of course, your intestinal health may improve by lowering your stress levels. Really, it’s a win-win situation!
Thyroid function and its effect on mood
Thyroid hormones affect your central nervous system, and therefore, your overall mental health. An underactive thyroid can result in depression; feelings of agitation might result from an overactive thyroid.
The American Association of Clinical Endocrinologists state that every patient diagnosed with depression should have their thyroid examined because thyroid hormones impact serotonin production. For those with major depressive disorders, use of the thyroid hormone triiodthyronine (T3) has proven beneficial in conjunction with antidepressants. Aging, poor nutrition, stress and exposure to environmental toxins all interfere with thyroid hormones and compromise thyroid function.
If you struggle with depression, work with a skilled clinician to rule out poor thyroid function.
Nutrition and its effect on mood
Amino acids are converted into neurotransmitters so, if you want your body to produce adequate amounts of neurotransmitters like serotonin, you must consume adequate amino acids, vitamins and minerals. It’s really that simple!
In addition to amino acids, your body needs vitamin B6 and a number of other vitamins and minerals to process neurotransmitters. What you consume also impacts thyroid hormone production and gut health.
It’s a two-way street: your mood can affect your metabolic health and balance, and metabolic imbalance can significantly influence your mood. Psychologists are starting to realize this and nutritional care is starting to become part of mood disorder therapy.
If you suffer from any mood disorder, such as anxiety or depression, I strongly recommend investigating whether it stems from a metabolic imbalance, especially if you have tried medication and it hasn’t helped.
In my next post I’ll provide you with simple tips to elevate your mood.