Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT) is a monoamine neurotransmitter synthesized in the central nervous system.
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Serotonin is believed to play an important part of the biochemistry of depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety. It is also believed to be influential on sexuality.
Serotonin taken orally is not passed into the serotonin pathways of the brain. Since it is such an important regulating chemical, the blood-brain barrier prevents serotonin in the blood stream from directly affecting serotonin levels in the brain. However, the amino acid tryptophan and its metabolite 5-hydroxytryptophan — which serotonin is synthesized from — are capable of crossing the blood-brain barrier. These chemicals are readily available as dietary supplements and may be effective serotonergic agents.
Other ways of working around the blood-brain barrier include a variety of psychiatric medications that affect serotonin levels indirectly, including MAO inhibitors, and SSRIs which includes the well known antidepressant fluoxetine (trade name: Prozac®)
The MAO inhibitors prevent the breakdown of serotonin and therefore increase concentrations of the neurotransmitter in the brain. MAO inhibitors react negatively with many foods (which contain amines) and drugs and have a large list of side effects.
After serotonin is released by a neuron it activates receptors located on adjacent neurons. After activating these receptors serotonin is taken up by neurons, sometimes for reuse. More recent drugs inhibit the uptake of serotonin, again making it stay in the synapse longer. There are many classes of 5-HT receptors, all of which may be responsible for different things. These Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors (SSRI) have fewer (though still numerous) side effects and fewer interactions with other drugs. Deficient (and sometimes, excessive) intake of various dietary minerals and vitamins can lead to disturbed levels of serotonin via disrupting either the production or reuptake processes.
Care must be taken in any attempt to increase serotonin levels, as a dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome may result. This is especially a concern if multiple sertonergic drugs may interact. Serotonin is found extensively in the human gut, as well as in the blood stream.In our body, serotonin is synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan by various enzymes as shown in the formula below.