Serotonin is a naturally produced chemical in your body called a neurotransmitter. Neurotransmitters work like orders, going from the brain down nerve pathways to different body parts to tell the body to act a certain way, and back up the pathway to give the brain feedback on how the body is doing. Serotonin is one of the most widely used of these neurotransmitters, and has a role in mood, sleep, memory, social behaviors, sexual arousal and function and learning. Serotonin is one of the main neurotransmitters related to your mood, and neurologists have found a link between serotonin levels and likelihood of depression. Because of this, it is possible to use blood tests to get a better picture of whether someone is depressed. It is important to note that an indication that someone is depressed does not always give a clear picture as to why, and more research must usually be done. Here is a look at how to look at serotonin levels, and some steps to try if they are low:
Serotonin Blood Tests
A serotonin blood test must be done at a laboratory capable of processing the information. It is usually a simple blood draw, and results can take from a day to a week or two depending on whether the lab sends it out or does it in house, and how big the backup for processing happens to be. Doctors need to analyze the results, because depression is not merely about a single number. Depression can show up in a lowish normal range, and it can be lacking in someone who is on the high end of low.
Serotonin and Diet
There is no food that allows you to absorb serotonin directly. It must, instead, be manufactured in the body. This requires its precursor, tryptophan, and the ingredients needed for conversion. Vitamin B-6 can speed the conversion rate, and eating foods rich in B-6 and tryptophan can help the body have the ingredients it needs to keep your serotonin levels at stable rates.
Serotonin and Exercise
Exercise has been known to up metabolism, and as a result, it can also up the rate at which serotonin is produced in the body. It has been shown to have a strong correlation with helping depression, bipolar disorder and other clinical diagnoses, and can in some cases be as effective as meditation or pharmaceuticals in normalizing mood and blood levels. Whether this is due to the metabolic rise or other factors is not well understood.
Other Ways to Help Low Serotonin
In some cases, there are other complicating factors causing depression. This is often nutritional or hormonal. Estrogen and progesterone levels as well as minerals like iron and low vitamin levels like B and D have all been linked to depression, and can be reversed with supplementation.