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Boost serotonin to look, feel and perform at your best

Serotonin is often called the “happiness hormone” but the role of this neurotransmitter is far more varied and influential than simply managing your mood. Here’s how you can harness the power of serotonin to live the fitter, healthier and happier life you want, says New Body Plan’s Joe Warner

Imagine the bustling operations of a sophisticated command centre, effectively orchestrating an array of systems to run smoothly. This is the unseen role serotonin plays within us, a crucial overseer managing a broad spectrum of processes from mood modulation to physical prowess.

For those committed to their health and fitness journey, the comprehension of this biochemical overseer is not merely advantageous – it’s pivotal. Here’s what you need to know about this crucial neurotransmitter so you can harness its influence and impact to live the fitter, healthier and happier life you want!

TL;DR Serotonin is our body’s in-house conductor, directing a host of functions including mood, appetite, sleep, and cognition. By learning to tune this “happiness hormone” through a balanced and nutritious diet, exercise, and lifestyle, you can unlock improved mental health, better sleep, enhanced physical performance and an overall symphony of harmonious wellbeing.

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What is serotonin?

Serotonin, often dubbed the “feel-good hormone“, is much more than a mere puppeteer of our moods. This versatile neurotransmitter, chemically known as 5-hydroxytryptamine (5-HT), is a vital player in a gamut of bodily functions. Born in the brain and the gut’s nerve cells, it travels through an intricate network of neurons, carrying messages that keep our bodies running like a well-oiled machine.

When we delve into the specifics of serotonin’s role, its job description appears almost endless. Beyond its best-known function as a mood stabiliser – regulating happiness, anxiety, and overall emotional wellbeing – it also plays a crucial role in our bodily functions. This includes regulating sleep-wake cycles, digestion, bone health, and cardiovascular function.

What makes serotonin fascinating is its profound influence on cognition and behaviour. Research from the Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience reveals that it can impact memory and learning, while other studies have linked it to social behaviour. It’s a captivating area of study, shedding light on how this small molecule can play such an enormous role in our mental and physical wellbeing.

In short, serotonin acts like the rudder of your physiological ship, steering the diverse processes that ultimately contribute to your health and fitness goals. From the quality of your sleep to the intensity of your workouts, understanding the neurotransmitter is akin to gaining access to the control room of your body’s vessel.

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How does serotonin impact health and fitness?

Serotonin’s impact on health and fitness is as broad as it is profound. This neurotransmitter serves as a vital motivator, bolstering willpower and resilience, thus making regular exercise and dietary discipline easier to maintain. This is backed by research in Neuropsychopharmacology, which emphasises its role in promoting positive mood states.

Moreover, serotonin plays a part in regulating the body’s sleep-wake cycle by encouraging the production of melatonin, the hormone responsible for sleep. Quality sleep is a pivotal factor in physical recovery and performance, and the Journal of Psychopharmacology highlights the importance of serotonin in this process.

When it comes to nutrition, serotonin stands as the guardian of appetite regulation, influencing our eating patterns and choices. It could make the difference between indulging in a sweet treat or choosing a healthier option. The American Journal of Clinical Nutrition points to the connection between serotonin, diet-induced thermogenesis, and the overall energy balance of our bodies.

Finally, serotonin even impacts bone health. A study in Nature Medicine reveals a complex relationship between serotonin levels and bone density, emphasising the need for balanced levels for comprehensive fitness. In short, serotonin is a critical factor in various aspects of health and fitness, from workout motivation to dietary choices and sleep quality.

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What’s the difference between serotonin and dopamine?

Just as two distinct notes create a harmonious tune, serotonin and dopamine, two unique neurotransmitters, work in tandem to regulate various aspects of our mental and physical wellbeing. Yet, they’re not just two sides of the same coin: their distinct roles are instrumental in shaping our health, mood, and behaviours.

Serotonin, as discussed above, is heralded as the ‘”feel-good” hormone, and governs a plethora of bodily functions, from mood and appetite to sleep cycles and even bone health to keep the body’s internal rhythms in harmony, ensuring everything operates as smoothly as a well-rehearsed symphony.

Dopamine, on the other hand, is the standing ovation that follows a brilliant performance. It’s the brain’s reward molecule, fueling feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. It plays a crucial role in how we perceive and pursue rewards, spurring us to action and reinforcing behaviours that lead to favourable outcomes. As highlighted by a study in Nature Neuroscience, dopamine influences our drive, focus, and motivation, shaping our desires and ambitions.

While both these neurotransmitters contribute to feelings of happiness and well-being, their roles are distinctly different. Serotonin helps maintain overall balance and wellbeing, while dopamine pushes us to seek, achieve, and celebrate rewards. It’s in their interplay that we find the intricate and captivating dance of human emotion, motivation, and health.

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How can diet influence serotonin levels?

Diet, believe it or not, is one of the primary tuners of your serotonin orchestra. The amino acid tryptophan is the raw material from which your body makes serotonin. Hence, incorporating tryptophan-rich foods in your diet can help boost your levels. Foods high in tryptophan include eggs, cheese, turkey, tofu, nuts and seeds, and salmon.

Interestingly, your carbohydrate intake can influence serotonin production too. When you consume carbohydrates, your body releases insulin. This promotes the absorption of most amino acids in your body, but not tryptophan. This, in turn, allows more tryptophan to cross the blood-brain barrier and reach the brain, where it can be converted into serotonin.

This isn’t a call to binge on simple carbs like pastries or sugary drinks, though. Complex carbohydrates – found in foods like whole grains, fruits and vegetables – are healthier options. They provide a steady release of energy, preventing the sugar highs and crashes associated with simple carbs.

Does exercise affect serotonin levels?

When it comes to natural methods for boosting serotonin, exercise is a potent contender. Regular, consistent physical activity, such as lifting weights, can stimulate the production and release of serotonin in the brain. More specifically, aerobic exercises like running, cycling, and swimming have been found to be particularly beneficial in enhancing levels.

This is corroborated by a study published in The Journal of Psychiatry and Neuroscience, which found: “Exercise improves mood, and there is evidence that it can improve the brain serotonin function in humans.” Hence, the mood-enhancing effects of regular exercise, brought on by the increased production of serotonin, can be a powerful motivator in maintaining your fitness regime.

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Can sleep impact serotonin levels?

The relationship between sleep and serotonin is akin to a two-way street. Serotonin helps regulate our sleep-wake cycle, also known as our circadian rhythm. This neurochemical helps us feel alert and awake during the day, while its levels naturally dip at night, allowing us to fall asleep. On the flip side, quality sleep can have a positive effect on serotonin levels.

Lack of sleep, or disruptions to the sleep cycle, can knock serotonin out of balance. This can lead to mood disorders, increased stress, and diminished concentration – all factors that can indirectly impact your fitness regimen by sapping your motivation or energy levels.

What are the signs of low serotonin levels?

Identifying low serotonin levels can be akin to piecing together a jigsaw puzzle because the symptoms often overlap with other conditions. Symptoms to look out for include feelings of sadness or depression, increased anxiety, difficulty sleeping or disturbed sleep, low self-esteem, changes in appetite (either poor appetite or overeating), and a reduced interest in activities you once found enjoyable.

These symptoms may not always signify low serotonin levels: other factors can produce similar effects. However, if you experience a combination of these symptoms, or they persist over time, it’s worth discussing them with a healthcare professional.

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Can serotonin levels be too high?

While we often hear about the negative effects of low serotonin, it’s equally important to remember that too much can also be detrimental. This condition, known as serotonin syndrome, is typically caused by an excessive intake of certain drugs, especially those used to treat depression and anxiety.

Symptoms can range from mild, such as shivering and diarrhoea, to severe, including high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and even loss of consciousness. It’s a stark reminder of the importance of maintaining balanced levels for overall health and wellness.

5 ways to control your serotonin level

1. Add tryptophan-rich foods to your meals. Think eggs, cheese, tofu, nuts, seeds, and fish like salmon.

2. Make aerobic exercises a part of your routine. Running, swimming, and cycling could significantly boost your serotonin levels.

3. Prioritise your sleep. Aim for seven to nine hours of quality sleep every night. Establish a regular sleep schedule and create a sleep-friendly environment.

4. Engage in stress management activities. Yoga, meditation, and even simple deep-breathing exercises can help keep stress levels – and thereby your serotonin balance – in check.

5. Stay well-hydrated. Dehydration can lead to mood swings and low energy, potentially disrupting your levels.

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