Serotonin is a neurotransmitter (meaning it is a chemical which helps transmit signals in the brain).

Serotonin plays several different roles in the brain. Firstly, it is higher during the day, in waking hours, and lower at night, meaning it may help to regulate sleep. It is also believed that higher serotonin levels elevate the mood, and lower levels are associated with depression. Serotonin also influences behaviour, and helps decrease the sensation of pain.

The majority of the body's serotonin actually originates in the gut, where it helps the intestines to contract around food. Serotonin may therefore play a role in IBS symptoms. And serotonin supplements may have bowel symptoms as a side effect.

Serotonin levels in the brain can be increased by the use of certain antidepressant drugs, in particular SSRIs (specific serotonin reuptake inhibitors) and MAOIs (mono-amine oxase inhibitors). As well as treating depression, these drugs can be used for mild, chronic pain relief, and for treating sleep problems.

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