Could Depression Be a Physical Thing?

Could Depression Be a Physical Thing?

Are you feeling moody? Anxious? Depressed? Trouble sleeping? Sluggish or overactive digestion and bowel movements? Low libido/sexual desire? Poor concentration?

There is common thread running through these symptoms: a lack of the neurotransmitter serotonin. Serotonin is one of more than 40 neurotransmitters found throughout the nervous system. It is intimately tied to our sense of well-being. 

Neurotransmitters are chemicals produced by specialized cells called neurons. Neurons, commonly known as nerve cells, are found throughout the body, not just the brain.  Neurotransmitters work in balance to maintain optimal functioning of body systems and organs. Neurotransmitters allow neurons to communicate with one another. 

All About Neurons

Some neurons produce neurotransmitters and other neurons receive them. Neurotransmitters flow from one neuron to the other across the synapse, a small space between each neuron.

Excitatory neurotransmitters stimulate neurons into  action. Inhibitory neurotransmitters  stop the actions of the neurons. Modulatory neurotransmitters send messages to many neurons at the same time and also influence the flow of other neurotransmitters. 

Some neurotransmitters are found only in the brain, other neurotransmitters are found throughout the body and are crucial in maintaining body functions. Neurotransmitters affect the functions in the cells of our brains, organs, muscles, bones, and blood. 

The Role of Serotonin

Serotonin is an inhibitory modulatory neurotransmitter found throughout the body. In the brain, serotonin works in concert with other neurotransmitters to play an important role in memory consolidation, mood regulation, feelings of well-being, sleep/wake cycle, appetite, concentration, and libido. 

Normal levels of serotonin allow us to feel emotionally stable, happier, and calmer. Low levels of serotonin are related to feelings of depression, anxiety, poor concentration, low libido, and headaches. Even suicidal behavior and obsessive-compulsive disorder have been linked to low serotonin. 

Serotonin is found throughout the digestive tract. Serotonin helps regulate digestion and bowel function. It reduces appetite to signal when we are full. Should we eat something toxic or irritating to the digestive system, increased levels of serotonin are released by neurons within the gut to cause nausea, vomiting, and/or diarrhea to expel the unwanted substance quickly.  

Serotonin is found in blood platelets and plays an important role in clotting and wound healing. Studies have also shown that serotonin may have a role in bone density and osteoporosis. 

There are two main reasons for low serotonin levels: 1) the body does not produce enough serotonin; 2) the body does not use serotonin efficiently. It seems obvious that balancing and maintaining normal serotonin levels is an important aspect of overall well-being. 

Although there are several drugs that help raise serotonin levels, they all come with serious side effects. Fortunately, non-medical remedies for increasing our serotonin levels exist. 

Two simple actions can increase serotonin levels: getting regular aerobic exercise and making changes in what we eat. The easiest and most important way to improve serotonin levels is through diet. Four key elements are essential for the body to manufacture serotonin: tryptophan; vitamin B6; vitamin D; and omega-3 fatty acids. 

The Importance of Vitamin D

Our bodies can actually create vitamin D through exposure to sunlight. The best-known benefit of sunlight is its ability to boost the body’s vitamin D supply; most cases of vitamin D deficiency are due to lack of outdoor sun exposure. 

Unfortunately, our bodies cannot create tryptophan, vitamin B6, or omega-3 fatty acid. They are the building blocks the body uses to produce serotonin and must be obtained through diet. Tryptophan, an amino acid, is found in protein-rich foods, fish, nuts, seeds, whole grains, and beans. 

Dietary Guidelines

A high-fiber diet rich in fresh vegetables, fruits, leafy greens, whole grains and legumes will supply necessary B vitamins and will keep your gut bacteria healthy. Healthy gut bacteria have been linked to improving serotonin production. 

Nature makes obtaining tryptophan, vitamin B6 and omega-3 easy, because they are often found within the same foods. Two simple actions can increase serotonin levels: getting regular aerobic exercise and making changes in what we eat. The easiest and most important way to improve serotonin levels is through diet. Four key elements are essential for the body to manufacture serotonin: tryptophan; vitamin B6; vitamin D; and omega-3 fatty acids: 

Foods with Tryptophan
Pinterest (Foods Rich in Tryptophan)

Foods high in B Vitamins

Pinterest (Foods rich in Vitamin B)

Vegan sources for B Vitamins

Sources for Omega-3 Oil
Pinterest (Foods rich in Omega-3)

Regular exercise and exposure to sunlight are important for serotonin production. Massage and meditation release serotonin and have a relaxing and restorative effect on the body.

Serotonin is a key essential neurotransmitter for maintaining optimal mental and physical well-being. A well-rounded diet supplies the crucial nutrients required for creating this miracle of life. Healthy eating, exercise, sunlight, and spending time to relax and renew our minds and bodies increase serotonin levels and reduce feelings of depression and anxiety. 

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