Over the past few years research has continued to flag up the importance of having a healthy, balanced gut. The latest study might be of interest for those who suffer with depression and constipation. While discussing depression might have become more socially acceptable, there is still a stigma attached to speaking freely about our bowel movements, or lack of.
Constipation and depression go hand-in-hand though. A third of people with depression also battle with chronic constipation. A recent study by Columbia University has pinpointed the potential reason: low serotonin levels. Researchers found that a shortage of serotonin in the gut can cause constipation, just as low levels of serotonin in the brain can lead to depression.
“The gut is often called the body’s ‘second brain,'” says Kara Gross Margolis, MD, associate professor of pediatrics at Columbia University and study leader. “It contains more neurons than the spinal cord and uses many of the same neurotransmitters as the brain. So it shouldn’t be surprising that the two conditions could be caused by the same process.”
Low levels of serotonin in the gut is thought to encourage the deterioration of the gut lining, which in turn slows down any movement in the GI tract. Researchers found that increasing the serotonin levels in the gut with slow-release 5-HTP, which is a precursor to serotonin, helped alleviate constipation.
So, what is serotonin?
Serotonin, also known as the happy hormone, is a chemical neurotransmitter that helps to elevate our mood. The scientific name is 5-hydroxytryptamine, or 5-HT, and it’s predominantly found in our brain and bowels. In fact, 95% of our serotonin receptors are found in our intestines where it regulates our bowel movement.
While much of the focus is often put on serotonin’s ability to boost our mood, it is also thought to impact our appetite and sleep pattern.
How can you boost your serotonin levels?
Numerous studies have linked exercise with higher serotonin levels, in particular aerobic exercise, including cycling and running. Regular exercise is thought to increase your levels of tryptophan, which is an amino acid needed to manufacturer serotonin.
Taking a good quality vitamin D supplement, such as Better You’s DLux 1000 Spray, could be beneficial as many studies have linked a deficiency in the sunshine vitamin with mental health issues. It’s thought that vitamin D helps to encourage your body’s natural serotonin production. Likewise, upping your in-take of omega 3, either through your diet with oily fish or by taking a supplement such as Power of Krill by Life-Flo, can also help raise serotonin.
It might also be worth considering taking an 5-HTP supplement, which help increase your levels and regulate your mood and sleep pattern. Although it is worth noting that this is a fast-release version of the drug used in the study mentioned above.