You don’t always have to ingest or inject some substance to take medicine. Your body, wonderful living “machine” that it is, is like a compounding pharmacist—it makes a lot of its own.
People don’t think of their body making medicine, but it does every hour of every day of every year. Your body produces a variety of compounds. They’re like the ones you ingest or inject when you take medicine. No pills, needles, pharmacy bills or cups of water needed!
The medicine your body makes for itself is the best there is. It’s top quality. It’s very likely to be just the right amount unless you’re abusing it in some way. You’re less likely to make too much or too little for yourself if everything is working right and you’re treating your body well. The key is to help your body function as well as it can.
So, what you’re saying is that to get the best drugs possible you need to take care of your body?
That’s exactly what I’m saying. Drugs are compounds and whether you ingest them in pill form or just feel the effects of what your body is making for itself, it’s still a drug. To get the best stuff possible, you need to do all of those things your coaches and teachers taught you about back in elementary school and junior high. You need to take care of yourself. Treat your body like it’s the most valuable possession you own. It is. If your body isn’t working right, it’s going to affect your enjoyment of whatever it is you actually own. Have you ever seen what a kidney goes for on the black market? The thing is, is that you’re more than your kidneys. You’re, like, a lot of organs.
The mystery of serotonin
The action of some of these substances that the body makes for itself is complicated. Like testosterone, serotonin is a great example. For centuries, science didn’t know anything at all about it. In hundreds of years of studying the body, we didn’t find it until 1952, not so long ago in the overall span of medical science.
Science still doesn’t seem to have the full picture of how serotonin works. Many of the observations we’ve made about it over the years are contradictory. Too much serotonin is found in some conditions. Too little in others. It’s a substance of which concentrations go up and down. It should be something you’d want to be careful about adding or taking away. Sometimes you need more, other times you need less. Were you to supplement, how could you be sure of getting the level right?
Serotonin levels play a key role in the treatment of several mental health conditions. One of the main classes of drugs to treat depression is a class commonly known as SSRIs, Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. The drug class includes medications like citalopram, Lexapro, paroxetine, and fluoxetine.
The drugs work the way the name says. They lessen the ability of the body to uptake serotonin. This leads to higher levels of serotonin.
They link a deficiency in serotonin to mood and depression. Serotonin is elevated in some illnesses and depressed in others. Being ill is likely to make any normal person moody and depressed. It’s reasonable to say depression isn’t always correlated with low serotonin levels. It only correlates sometimes. An SSRI isn’t going to help all of the time when it comes to depression. In treatment, a lab will test the serotonin level in blood.
What serotonin does
The central nervous system seems to be involved in some way with everything that happens in the body. Serotonin mediates a lot of these transactions.
Smooth muscle allows the body to digest food. When we digest something that doesn’t agree with the body, serotonin levels spike and the offending substance is expelled as diarrhea.
It also plays a role in muscle growth.
Science used to think serotonin was only responsible for initiating sleep. Its role is more nuanced than that. It also plays a role in keeping you awake. It depends on how the molecule is used by the body.
It does something when it comes to pain too. The amount of pain experienced can depend on things like mood and anxiety.
There’s a part in the equation for serotonin. Exactly what that part is, isn’t completely clear.
It has a role when it comes to mineralizing bones, healing wounds, and sexual function. Low serotonin correlates with high libido and vice versa. Nausea correlates with high serotonin as nausea is often caused by the ingestion of a toxic substance and the serotonin spike is protective.
This makes sense. Feeling like you have to vomit doesn’t make you feel horny!
Too much serotonin is good sometimes, bad others.
The converse is true. Too little is good sometimes, bad others.
What to do?
Confused about serotonin?
Join the club.
Knowledge is generally a good thing. When it comes to serotonin and some other things like that it’s easy to get it wrong, to mess up. Parts of its actions are puzzling to professionals, people who have studied the body for years, people who get paid to worry about these things full time, year-round.
What chance does the regular person have who just wants to make his or her body work better? It can be confusing, with no clear answer sometimes.
Some article about what food to eat that will cause your body to make serotonin isn’t going to change your life. Your body is still going make serotonin even if you eat a hamburger or pepperoni pizza or something else that’s not on that list.
Yet the article is essentially correct. You do need serotonin. Eggs, pineapple, and other foods it mentions will help your body make it by supplying the raw material.
Key in on having a healthy diet as defined by eating enough fruits and vegetables.
You should also key in on having a healthy weight and getting regular exercise.
The trouble is saying those things are about as interesting as watching someone beat a dead horse. We’ve all heard that stuff before. It’s nothing new.
Another trouble is that it’s true. Exercise fights depression. One of the ways it does this is by helping it work better by releasing the correct amount of serotonin.
Even if we’re making it for ourselves, serotonin in the body is a drug like anything else.
The mind craves novelty. Magazine and book publishers need to sell magazines and books. Websites need visitors. If you tell readers and viewers the same old thing over and over, they’re not going to visit your site.
Yet too-low or too-high levels of this compound can be a problem. It makes sense you want your body to work as well as possible so it can take care of the issue itself. You want to emphasize the fundamentals of health. Exercise. Get enough sleep. Develop good habits. Unless you’re studying for a career as a medical researcher, a wannabe doctor or practitioner, or a complete science geek, the talk about serotonin is nothing but a distraction.
If you are a medical professional or a wannabe, then you need to know all about serotonin and the rest of the body.
Maybe it’s good to have a passing familiarity with the name, but for the nonprofessional, it’s hard to use much more information.
You don’t want too much or too little serotonin. You want your body to respond by releasing the correct amount. The way you support that is by helping your body work correctly. The best way to do this is by following a healthy lifestyle.
James Cobb, RN, MSN, is an emergency department nurse and the founder of the Dream Recovery System. His goal is to provide his readers with simple, actionable ways to improve their health and maximize their quality of life.
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