In the last couple of weeks I was introduced to a book that I found fascinating, called The Brain in Love: 12 Lessons to Enhance Your Love Life by Daniel G. Amen M.D. I picked it up while at a local bookstore, featured in part because of Valentine’s Day. I opened the book, turning directly to the oxytocin sections (since I had recently written a series of articles about oxytocin) to see if I could learn anything else.
Over the next hour I spent perusing the book, I learned so much about several other hormones and neurotransmitters that chemically impact our emotions and the way we interact in relationships.
Hormones are chemical messengers that send signals from one organ to another. Neurotransmitters are also a chemical messengers, specifically programmed to send information from nerve cells to other nerve muscles or organ cells. Some substances can act as a hormone in one area of the body and a neurotransmitter in another part of the body.
Today I want to talk about serotonin, which acts as a neurotransmitter and a hormone. Serotonin has been shown to affect mood and sleep, memory and learning, sexual desire and function, social behavior, temperature regulation and digestive function. Serotonin has to be produced in our bodies because we cannot get it directly from our food. Our bodies get the materials necessary to create it from proteins in our diet and then manufacture it from there.
The main building block for serotonin is an amino acid called L-tryptophan which is found in high amounts in dairy foods, nuts, chicken, turkey. Ninety percent of serotonin that is produced in our body is found in our digestive system and blood platelets; the other 10 percent is found in the brain.
Serotonin has an impact on several different body systems, however, most articles I found relating to serotonin talk about its relation to depression and the brain. Even though there is a strong belief that low levels or deficiency of serotonin in the brain play a role in depression, there is no way to accurately measure the serotonin levels in the brain.