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Physician's Fact #10: Know Your Serotonin

Sarah who?

Serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters in the brain. A neurotransmitter is a chemical secreted by the nerve cell to allow that all important electric spark to jump from nerve cell to the next over the gap that is the synapse.

But, serotonin is far more than just a helper for the synapse. Imagine you are sitting in a concert hall waiting to hear the symphony orchestra deliver a stirring rendition of classical music. The musicians file in dressed in their finest tuxedos and dresses. They sit at their respective stations and remove their instruments. You sigh in eager anticipation of beautiful music and then suddenly frown. The musicians are playing their instruments but the cacophony that assaults your ears in anything but beautiful! It seems each person is playing their own song! Discordant notes clash against one another and you put your fingers in your ears. This is NOT what you paid to hear.

Then, a person walks up to the podium and lifts a baton into the air. Silence falls, a welcome respite from the noise. The conductor raps his baton and suddenly, each musician sits upright, head turned toward the conductor, instrument poised to play. With one down swoop, the conductor begins the concert and the hall fills with wonderful, harmonious music!

Our nervous system responds to all kinds of external stimuli. If each nerve system in our brain tried to pay attention to these noisy inputs, we would quickly lose our mind! What our nerve cells need is a conductor. Serotonin function in just this way to bring all of the different nerve systems of your brain and body into balance. We are able to filter out that repetitive noise in the background. We are able to ignore the touch of clothing on our skin. We are in harmony with our environment.

But, if serotonin levels are low, then the nerve cells are no longer co-ordinated. Neurotransmitter levels fall as the nerve cells fire off at irregular intervals. You feel anxious. Then, you feel “down”. Then, you don’t know what to feel! Soon, you are numb and you are depressed.

Today, learn about the role of serotonin in keeping your brain and your body in balance. Most anti-depressant medications work by restoring the normal levels of serotonin. Know your serotonin. It keeps you on an even keel.

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