Seretonin, Digestion and Your Mood ~ Is Your Gut A Second Brain?

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Some people may say you are what you eat.  Some can look at your face and make a good guess as to what you’re eating.  One  reason for this is because our emotions are closely related to the serotonin levels we are able to produce.  A person may wonder what does serotonin have to do with digestion and our intestines?

A vital aspect of our digestive system is its role in the production of serotonin – the body’s natural “Feel Good Hormone”. Over ninety-five percent of the body’s serotonin is found in the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which has been called the body’s “second brain” because of its role in serotonin production and so many of the body’s vital functions. In fact, serotonin levels have been linked to everything from autism to constipation.

Serotonin is a key player in the functioning of GI tract muscles, causing the contraction of our intestines, and triggering the gut nerves which signal pain, nausea, and other GI problems. As well, it influences the functioning of the cardiovascular, immune, and renal systems. This amazing hormone also regulates aggression, appetite, cognition, mood, sexual behavior, and even sleep.

A neurotransmitter (chemical by which nerve cells communicate with each other or with muscles), serotonin is manufactured in our bodies from the amino acid tryptophan, which is derived from the food we eat. Diet, then, influences not only the state of our digestive system and overall physical health, it also has a profound impact on memory, mental clarity, mood, and even the foods we crave; these functions are all regulated by serotonin.

  • The Mayo Clinic found that serotonin plays a key role in controlling depression.
  • The Brain, Behavior, and Immunity journal reports that tryptophan, the amino acid from which serotonin is manufactured, assists in memory retention as well as maintaining a good mood, especially among people with a family history of depression.
  • University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center research sheds light on how serotonin works to suppress appetite.

Optimal nutrition and digestion is crucial to the production and function of serotonin and that, in turn, plays a vital role in everything from our mental health to our ability to get a good night’s sleep.  (Healthy Digestion & The Secret Life of Serotonin, Jo Jordan and Jim Danna, M.A. 2014)

The American Pain Society along with the University of Wisconsin report “Narcotic pain medicine causes constipation in most people.  This medicine slows down bowel movements moving through the intestine.  This causes the stool to become hard.  If you have hard bowel movements, have trouble passing bowel movements, and the movements are not often enough, then you have constipation.” The Harvard Medical School Family Health Guide describes “But even short-term use of the opioids poses problems. One of the major ones is the mundane but essential matter of having regular bowel movements.” This interferes with serotonin development which is linked together with mood issues.  This may be an important consideration for those in recovery from substance abuse, as well as, those being treated for chronic painful conditions.

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