What makes humans unique?
Although humans share DNA with other organisms and share similarities with other animals, we have developed many things that are unique to the human condition. Humans sleep, think, and communicate just like other animals. But some aspects of our humanity set us apart from the rest—most of which can be credited to the human brain’s cognitive capacity.
What Is Serotonin?
Serotonin is responsible for your mood and feelings. Also known as the “happy chemical,” this hormone stabilizes your mood and provides feelings of positivity, happiness, and wellbeing. Although serotonin is most known for its role in the central nervous system, it also has various functions across the body.
Serotonin is involved in different bodily functions, such as:
This brain chemical is known to regulate your mood, anxiety, and happiness, making it integral to your overall sense of wellbeing. Medications for depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders often target serotonin levels because it influences mood.
Found mainly in the stomach and intestines, serotonin helps your bowel function and reduces your appetite as you eat. This chemical moves any irritating or toxic food you’ve eaten along so that you can expel it from your body more quickly.
Serotonin is also responsible for stimulating the parts of your brain that control sleep and waking. Having enough of the neurotransmitter or too much of it can affect your sleep pattern and how well you sleep.
Serotonin and Your Mental Health
Although serotonin is supposed to make you feel calmer, happier, and more focused, not everyone has the right balance of serotonin levels—some experience a serotonin imbalance, which leads to depression and other mental disorders.
To alleviate the symptoms of clinical depression, psychiatrists may prescribe SSRIs. Also known as antidepressants, SSRIs prevent the body from reabsorbing serotonin neurotransmitters, increasing serotonin levels.
Some of the substances that provide serotonin and help treat depression include:
- Citalopram (Celexa)
- Escitalopram (Lexapro)
- Paroxetine (Paxil, Pexeva)
- Sertraline (Zoloft)
- Vilazodone (Viibryd)
Antidepressants are meant to help boost your mood or ease your anxiety, but you may experience a variety of symptoms, which include:
- Blurred vision
- Sleepiness or insomnia
- Weight or appetite loss
- Nausea and vomiting
- Restlessness and agitation
Even though antidepressants can make you feel better, it’s crucial to understand that you mustn’t take too much of it or stop taking it abruptly. Taking too much of a drug that boosts serotonin levels can cause serotonin syndrome, a potentially life-threatening condition that can lead to severe serotonin toxicity.
On the other hand, discontinuing treatment of antidepressants without tapering down from it gradually will cause your body to experience physical and emotional symptoms caused by the absence of increased serotonin levels, such as:
- Electric shock sensations
- Return of depression symptoms
What Is Dopamine?
Dopamine certainly lives up to its title as the “feel good” neurotransmitter. When your brain expects a reward, dopamine will be released—just associating an activity with pleasure can significantly raise your dopamine levels. Dopamine can help you strive for what you want, focus on working and studying towards a goal and find things interesting.
This chemical may be strongly associated with pleasure and reward, as it’s released into the bloodstream when you experience pleasurable sensations. Still, it’s also a contributing factor in motor function, mood, and decision making.
Dopamine affects various parts of your behavior and physical functions, some of which are:
- Heart and kidney function
- Memory and focus
- Pleasure and reward-seeking behavior
- Control of nausea and vomiting
- Blood flow
Dopamine and Your Mental Health
Finding a single cause for most mental disorders is impossible. However, some are linked to an imbalance in dopamine, whether too much or too little. People develop schizophrenia due to too much dopamine, and ADHD, because of a dopamine shortage, which can be increased with methylphenidate.
Aside from the medical conditions mentioned, dopamine is most known for its role in drug addiction. Since dopamine motivates people to act in a way that will bring them a dopamine boost, some resort to taking drugs like alcohol, heroin, nicotine, and cocaine to impact dopamine release.
Dopamine agonists are significantly helpful in treating conditions caused by dopamine loss—these prescriptions can address sleep disorders, pain, and emotional concerns. The side effects of DA medications are usually mild and go away after a few days. However, if you suddenly stop your medication, you may experience withdrawal symptoms or worsen the condition.
The Brain—Man’s Distinctive Trait
Our brains may be pretty small compared to other organs in the body, but their significance and impact on human life are immeasurable.
As a unique mammalian brain that defies evolutionary rules, the human brain provides humans’ superior cognitive abilities over other animals with even larger brains. Paradoxical, it may seem, the human brain that’s much smaller than others is considered the “crowning achievement of evolution.”
The human brain is a wonderful and complex organ, the one thing that separates us from other animal species. Monkeys and humans may have similar physical attributes, but our consciousness, language, mental imagery, and complex emotions significantly widen the gap between our nearest living relatives.
How Brain Chemicals Impact Your Life
The human brain is a highly sophisticated matter comprising chemicals or neurotransmitters influencing your feelings, decisions, and actions. Your brain chemicals are vital to your brain’s functioning and the communication between your nerve cells.
Depending on the foods, drinks, and drugs you consume, your brain could function and behave differently. When there’s too much or too little of a neurotransmitter, you could experience a chemical imbalance in the brain, leading to mental disorders. How you care for your brain health will have a significant impact on your overall well-being!
To put it simply, you should care about your neurotransmitters. The brain may be an extraordinary organ, but your actions and lifestyle are crucial and will affect how it communicates with itself.
When it comes to managing chemical balances in the brain, serotonin and dopamine are among the most important chemicals to mind.
How Are Serotonin and Dopamine Different and Similar?
Because of their roles in regulating mood and emotion, dopamine and serotonin are considered happy hormones. Although they have different functions, they are involved in similar bodily processes.
These two chemical messengers play a crucial role in several mental health conditions, such as depression and low mood. Both dopamine and serotonin can also affect sleep and memory, as well as emotional well-being and metabolism.
Since dopamine and serotonin affect mood, they are often thought to be the same, but this is not the case. These two neurotransmitters each have separate and distinct functions—imbalances of these chemicals will cause different medical conditions.
It’s important to understand that neurotransmitters interact with and affect each other to maintain a chemical balance. Even though they have different roles, serotonin and dopamine are strongly linked structurally and in function.
The human brain is a powerful organ, but it is also susceptible to various conditions when it experiences an imbalance in chemicals. Maintaining a good balance of serotonin and dopamine is crucial to your overall health. Make sure to consult your doctor about serotonin- and dopamine-related conditions so that you can have a treatment plan to help you live a functional life.