Low serotonin levels may lead to anxiety, depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, tension headaches, and overeating. Serotonin is a hormone that is produced in the brain. Serotonin, like dopamine and norepinephrine, is a neurotransmitter. Serotonin helps the body maintain a happy feeling, controls mood, aids in sleep, and reduces anxiety. While serotonin is associated with the brain, roughly 90 percent of the serotonin in the body is located in the blood platelets and the digestive tract.
Serotonin and other neurotransmitters move signals from one part of the brain to another, and influence bodily functions. Serotonin affects behavior, memory, temperature, sleep, appetite, sexual desire, and mood. Low serotonin levels can have a negative effect on the amount of milk a new mother produces, and may even be a contributing factor to Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Serotonin has an impact on the endocrine and cardiovascular system and the way that muscles function.
Low levels of serotonin may also increase an individual's risk of addiction. Mild to moderate caases of depression are often blamed on low serotonin levels, and most antidepressants target serotonin or norepinephrine. Low grade ailments such as fatigue, insomnia, and general feelings of worthlessness can all be caused by low serotonin levels. Estrogen and progesterone may react with serotonin, effecting serotonin levels and worsening premenstrual symptoms.
There is no way to test levels of serotonin in a living person's brain. Blood serum tests can determine serum levels in the blood, and those levels are often low in people with depression. Serotonin levels may be low because the brain cells responsible for producing the chemical do not make a sufficient amount, the individual has low levels of tryptophan, which is used to manufacture serotonin, the existing serotonin cannot reach receptor sites where it is needed, or the body lacks sufficient receptor sites.
It may be possible to increase serotonin levels through diet. Some evidence suggests that a diet low in protein and high in carbohydrates may increase serotonin levels naturally. Tryptophan rich foods, such as chicken, turkey, nuts, or dairy, provide the building blocks for serotonin. The vitamin B-6 may help the body's conversion of tryptophan to serotonin.
It is possible to have too much serotonin in the body, as well. Combining serotonin-raising antidepressants with 5-HTP or St Johns Wort can lead to serotonin syndrome. Symptoms of serotonin syndrome include uncontrollable muscle spasms, confusion, sweating, and agitation. Serotonin syndrome requires immediate medical attention.