Feeling Out Of Sorts Mentally? You Might Be Experiencing This Type Of Imbalance

Serotonin and dopamine are often referred to as “happy hormones” because they both play a significant role in regulating mood and emotion, according to Hafeez. As mentioned, though serotonin and dopamine affect different parts of the brain, they often work in unison (meaning if serotonin levels go down, then dopamine levels go up). “Also, both serotonin and dopamine affect appetite and impulsivity while serotonin typically suppresses hunger, whereas dopamine stimulates it, and serotonin inhibits impulsivity, and dopamine enhances it,” she says.

Both serotonin and dopamine are highly impacted by sunlight. Horowitz says that 10 to 20% of our serotonin is made in the pineal gland, which is sensitive to sunlight. If daylight is scarce or we’re stuck indoors, she says the pineal gland will produce the hormone melanin, which suppresses the production of serotonin, thereby causing our mood to take a nosedive. This explains why we get the blues (or seasonal affective disorder) when it gets dark earlier in the fall and winter. Sunlight also triggers the release of dopamine. Horowitz explains that when exposed to outdoor light, specialized eye cells connect to other cells that release dopamine. Additionally, she says that when your skin absorbs sunlight and produces vitamin D, it creates a cycle that triggers the production of dopamine as well as serotonin. 

Finally, they also both play a profound role in digestion. The serotonin made in the gut plays a role in our intestines’ ability to contract, signals pain, prompts nausea, and other digestive issues, which explains why antidepressants can cause digestion-related side effects, according to Horowitz. Similarly, she says 50% of our dopamine is made in the gut, and while it sends signals from the brain, it acts as a messenger to help contract the colon muscles. And of course: food is very much thy medicine. “Our mood affects our nutrition choices just as much as the opposite is true,” says Horowitz. 

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