A graphic with people and a serotonin molecule

How Does Serotonin Work?


If you've ever struggled with depression or other emotional ailments due to hormonal imbalance, you might be wondering, how does serotonin work? There is a lot that serotonin does for you, impacting your whole body throughout every day. In this article, we'll cover what serotonin is, how it works, the role it plays in our body, and how you can increase your serotonin levels.

What is Serotonin?

The serotonin hormone is often called the "feel-good" hormone, not mistaken for the "happy" hormone, dopamine. Serotonin (also known as 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT) is a naturally occurring neurotransmitter that lets the body communicate via "messages" that travel from nerve cell to nerve cell.

Serotonin is the essential hormone responsible for mood stabilization and emotional well-being. It also contributes to many vital body functions, such as digestion and sleep. It is crucial to understand how the hormone works and watch out for the symptoms of improper levels – as consequences can be severe.

Where Does Serotonin Come From?

Serotonin is produced in the body's nerve cells to transport signals between them. It is transported through the bloodstream via platelets and can be found all through the central nervous system. The highest levels of serotonin are located in the digestive system.

Serotonin is produced from an essential amino acid - Tryptophan. Deficiencies of this amino acid (or the vitamins B6 or D) are directly linked to low serotonin levels and the negative symptoms it causes. Tryptophan should be taken in regularly and is dependent on a person's diet. You can ensure you are taking in Tryptophan by eating red meats, poultry, eggs, tofu, cheeses, and nuts.

How Does Serotonin Work?

Serotonin is both a neurotransmitter and a hormone. When it acts as a neurotransmitter, serotonin will hop from neuron to neuron to send messages. These messages alert and activate certain areas of the brain and nervous system, resulting in physical outcomes.

Serotonin also acts as a hormone. This means it is released into the bloodstream, specifically blood platelets and the gut. It will then move through the bloodstream and digestive system to communicate signals and stimulate physical reactions.

The cells of the body contain serotonin receptors, which are necessary to receive the messages that serotonin carries. Faulty receptors may lead to many of the same symptoms as serotonin deficiencies.

Serotonin is produced inside your body, mainly in the digestive tract. It is released during events that impact the systems it affects. For example, when you laugh – serotonin is released to stimulate happiness. When you eat something bad, serotonin is released to stimulate nausea and remove it from the body.

What Does Serotonin do in the Body?

Serotonin either directly or indirectly impacts many everyday functions of the human body. Here are just a few of those functions and a look into what might alert you to a serotonin imbalance in each of these areas.

A group of people holding cut out faces over their heads

Emotions and Mood

The brain needs serotonin to properly regulate your moods – maintaining proper amounts of things like happiness and anxiety. When serotonin levels are too low, it is common to experience depression. When serotonin levels are too high, excessive nerve cell activity leads to decreased arousal.

A woman holding her stomach gesturing with a thumbs


Serotonin is found not only in your brain but also in your stomach and digestive tract. Its purpose here is to help control digestive function - including bowel movements. Serotonin also enables you to eat correctly, reduce appetite as you consume food, and know that you are full.

A woman holding her chest in pain


When you feel like you might be sick, serotonin production is ramping up. Why? Serotonin production assists the body in rejecting and removing lousy food and unfriendly substances. You will also find serotonin in the bloodstream during nausea symptoms since blood signals to and stimulates the brain's nausea control center.

A man holding a pillow to his head

Rest and Sleep

Did you know that serotonin affects your body's ability to fall asleep and wake up by interacting with different nerves in different areas? This is why people with unbalanced serotonin levels often report oversleeping or tiredness based on a lack of sleep.

A person holding their hand that’s wrapped in surgical cloth

Wound Recovery

Serotonin travels in the blood and can transmit signals to arteries that it is time to narrow so clots can form. This blood clotting is key to the body's process of healing wounds.

A woman holding her knee in pain


Serotonin is found in the bones. However – too much serotonin in the bones causes weak bones, leading to fractures and even osteoporosis. 

A cut out of a head with a heart puzzle inside it

Mental Health and Emotions

Serotonin is responsible for natural mood regulation, controlling things like focus, happiness, and anxieties. The lack of serotonin is severe, with studies suggesting that low levels may cause depression, anxiety, insomnia, suicidal behavior, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and other behavioral disorders.

Red lines in the shape of two hearts

Sexual Health

Believe it or not, serotonin also plays a (significant) role in your sex life! When serotonin levels are lower, libido tends to be higher. When serotonin levels are too high, sexual libido becomes reduced.

A person holding a brain graphic


Serotonin is known to play a role in memory.

A close up graphic of a persons nerves

Nervous System

Need to activate fight or flight? Studies suggest that serotonin plays a role in this response from our autonomic nervous system.

How Can I Increase Serotonin?

There are a lot of ways you can increase serotonin levels. If you aren't having success, it is crucial to see a doctor to explore potential physical reasons for decreased serotonin – such as faulty inhibitors or lack of specific vitamins & amino acids.

A tree in grass

Go Outside

Nature lowers stress and enhances the overall mood for many people. Try taking a break and enjoying the natural world to stimulate serotonin in your body.

A tree in grass

Focus on Vitamin D

Vitamin D is a crucial building block of serotonin. Increase your intake by stepping out into the sunshine, or add a Vitamin D supplement to your daily routine. Another great option is to try light therapy via therapy lamps.

A light therapy lamp with a phone on its base

Light Therapy for a Boost of Serotonin


"This is so much better than I was expecting and it works great. It makes me feel like I am already in Florida on vacation... it really does cheer you up which is so strange. I leave it in my room for when I am getting ready to start the day off with sunshine- corny right?! But it works especially going into the fall and instant winter here in New England. 18 degrees in November .. so wrong. Anyway, this is great. You won't be disappointed and it charges your phone wirelessly at the same time. Awesome!" -Amazon Review

A couple running in a park

Get Moving

Exercise is well known to release the chemicals our body needs to feel happy. One of these is, of course, serotonin! Take a walk or a run to enjoy the effects for hours afterward.

A person eating a bowl of oatmeal

Eat Serotonin-Boosting Foods

Remember how 90% of serotonin comes from your own body? One source of that last 10% is complex carbohydrates. If you need a boost, try snacking on oats, whole grain, or sweet potatoes!

Understanding the impact of serotonin can help you take charge of your mental and physical health. For top-tier health and happiness – watch out for imbalance symptoms and take steps to prevent them via food and lifestyle. 

Additional Serotonin-Related REsources

A graphic of girl got idea that 22 Ways to Increase Serotonin

22 Ways to Increase Serotonin

Sun graphic with text, “The Ultimate Guide to Bright Light Therapy”

The Ultimate Guide to Bright Light Therapy

Sun and clouds graphic with text, “What Happens if You Don’t Get Enough Sunlight”

 What Happens if You Don't Get Enough Sunlight?

Cartoon man sitting in front of a therapy lamp. Text, “12 Benefits of Light Therapy”

12 Benefits of Light Therapy


About the Author

Head shot for Brandon Landgraf

Brandon Landgraf is the Digital Marketing Manager for Carex Health Brands. He finds passion and fulfillment in creating content that enhances, improves, and enlivens others' quality of life. All of his written work is formulated to not only offer essential advice and tips but back it with proven studies and experts. His mission is to connect with readers and provide steps to make their lives better.

You can connect with him on LinkedIn here.

About Carex Health Brands

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Carex is your one-stop shop for home medical equipment and for products that assist caregivers with providing the best possible support and care for their loved ones. Carex Health Brands has been the branded leader in in-home, self-care medical products for over 35 years. Our goal is to improve the lives of our customers by bring them quality products that bring dignity back to their lives. With our three nationally distributed brands, Carex Health Brands serves national, regional and independent food, drug and mass retailers along with wholesalers, distributors and medical dealers.

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