Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, a chemical which sends messages from one synapse to another in the brain. Our bodies manufacture many different types of neurotransmitters, whose proper functioning make it possible for our brains to work, and therefore make it possible for us to live our lives.
Serotonin affects most of our brain cells, and plays a role in appetite, cognition, memory, mood, sexual urges and temperature regulation. It also affects our hearts and our muscles, and plays a part in the endocrine (hormonal) system.
The chemical name for serotonin is 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT). It is found in the brain stem, and affects many brain functions. It affects the cardiovascular, immune, gastrointestinal and renal (kidney) systems. It stimulates muscles, and sends impulses between nerve cells.
Serotonin interacts with the neurotransmitters acetylcholine, dopamine, epinephrine (adrenaline), gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), and norepinephrine (noradrenaline). Together these major players control most of our brain and bodily functions.
When they perform properly together and serotonin is doing an optimal job, we are relaxed, optimistic and serene. We experience an overall sense of well-being. Our energy level is good, pleasure in life is enhanced, and we are well able to make our own decisions and carry them out.
It is essential that all of these neurotransmitters maintain their delicate harmony for soundness and sanity to be maintained. If they should slip out of proper balance, abnormalities in thought, emotions and behavior can begin to appear. In the case of a severe serotonin imbalance, anxiety, depression, panic, rage, and obsessive compulsive behavior can result. If breakdown continues past a certain point, these abnormalities can deteriorate into dementia.
Once dementia has made its presence known, many new and disturbing behavioral and psychological symptoms can appear. The individual may suddenly be prone to wandering, and may become uncharacteristically aggressive. They may be highly depressed and forgetful, and lose their desire to eat. Excessive anxiety and phobias can increasingly hold sway over them. They may begin to experience hallucinations and paranoia, and become delusional.
Family members, caretakers and loved ones find themselves with a new dilemma. The person they used to know and love has changed, sometimes experiencing dramatic shifts in personality. They may not recognize the people they have held dear. Their reactions are no longer predictable and familiar, and new methods of coping with dementia must be sought and implemented. An unwelcome and foreign dynamic has entered upon the scene.
Dementia: Targeting Noncognitive Symptoms
Memory Loss and the Brain
Journal of Neuropsychiatry
Serotonin – How It Affects Your Health
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