Serotonin – the ‘happy’ brain chemical!

Serotonin is probably the most talked-about neurotransmitter – the ‘happy’ brain chemical! Deficits in serotonin can lead to depression, aggressiveness, anxiety, panic attacks, food and alcohol cravings, irritability, and insomnia.

Your genes play a very important role in the conversion of amino acids to neurotransmitters. Amino acids are the raw materials for neurotransmitters and a range of vitamins and minerals are co-factors necessary for their production.

The TPH2 gene is responsible to convert tryptophan to 5-HTP, which gets converted to serotonin in the brain. TPH2 is the first and rate-limiting step in the biosynthesis of serotonin. Serotonin can only be made from tryptophan that has crossed the blood-brain barrier (BBB).

A mutation in the TPH2 gene will alter the amount of tryptophan being converted to serotonin. In other words, if TPH2 is not working, the body will produce less serotonin. Supplementation with 5-HTP, if recommended by your healthcare practitioner, can overcome this genetic deficiency.

If you do not carry mutations in the TPH2 gene, it means you CAN produce serotonin, but only IF you consume adequate amounts of tryptophan….

3. The “Receiver”: HTR1A

The last gene in the serotonin pathway is HTR1A or the serotonin receptor. When serotonin gets released by one neuron into the space (synapse), it has to bind to receptors on the next neuron, triggering a reaction that sends the signal along.

5HT1A receptors are found on both the receiving and releasing neurons of serotonin. Receptors that must release serotonin are called autoreceptors. Serotonin receiving neurons are called postsynaptic receptors. The 5HT1A receptors are also found on the same neuron that is releasing serotonin (called auto-receptors). 5HT1A receptors are both auto-receptors and postsynaptic receptors because they act as a negative feedback system. Thus, when serotonin levels rise too much in the postsynaptic gap between neurons, the releasing neuron is triggered to stop releasing more serotonin. At the site of 5HT1A postsynaptic receptors, serotonin acts as the key and the 5HT1A receptor acts as the lock.

For optimal serotonin function, less activation of the receptors on the releasing neuron (autoreceptors) and more activation on the receiving neuron (postsynaptic receptors), is required. To overly simplify it, autoreceptors have a negative influence and postsynaptic receptors are positive.

When you carry a mutation in the HTR1A gene, it upregulates 5-HT1A activity and increases auto-receptor expression. This is associated with increased negative feedback and reduced serotonin signaling at postsynaptic receptors. The goal is to make the auto-receptors that inhibit serotonin secretion become less sensitive to serotonin and activate the postsynaptic receptors and make them more sensitive.

How do you know what your neurotransmitter levels are?

Although there is no one test that is 100% accurate, measuring the metabolite levels from the neurotransmitters in your urine would be very beneficial:

  • 5-Hydroxyindoleacetate (5-HIAA) – serotonin metabolite (urinary / salivary)
  • Vanilmandelate (VMA) – norepinephrine/epinephrine metabolite
  • Cortisol (salivary cortisol)
  • HVA: dopaminemetabolite (urine)

How can you boost your serotonin levels?

Ensure you work with a qualified GENEWAY™ practitioner to interpret your genetic results and find the best way for YOU to boost serotonin levels.

  • Diet

Consume tryptophan.

Eating carbs along with foods high in tryptophan may help more tryptophan crossing the blood-brain-barrier. Foods high in tryptophan:

Seeds & Nuts Soy beans Cheese
Lamb, Beef, Pork & Game Chicken Fish & Shellfish
Beans & Lentils Eggs Turkey
  • Regular exercise can dramatically boost neurotransmitters production. Exercising triggers the release of tryptophan into the blood. Participating in relaxing and pleasurable activities and limiting alcohol intake are also all positive influences.
  • Sunshine
  • Prescription medication
  • Supplements

The use of specific supplements and herbs have been shown in a number of studies to be effective in increasing neurotransmitter levels and lifting one’s mood.

  • 5-HTP
  • SAMe (S-adenosyl-L-methionine)
  • St. John’s Wort

Before trying a new supplement, check in with your healthcare provider since it can interact with prescription medications.

– Massage

Massage therapy helps increase serotonin.

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