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Dopamine and serotonin are often called the ~happy chemicals~ in popular blogs and websites. But it is not that simple. Do you want to know what they really are? Find out in this lesson!

Dopamine and serotonin are bothneurotransmitters. They are chemicals that are released from the nerve cells and serve to transfer impulses from nerve cells to other body tissues like other nerve cells, muscles, and organs. These chemicals are very important in sensory perceptions and motoric action-reaction mechanisms.

Dopamineplays an important role in controlling motor behavior, the emotional reward, and behavior motivation mechanisms. It regulates emotional responses, hormone secretion, and motoric actions related to reward sensations. Most types of rewards increase dopamine levels in the brain and cause satisfied feelings, which serves as motivation to perform the behavior in the future.

Deficiency in dopamine leads to reduced motoric function, which can lead to Parkinsons disease and other conditions. Low dopamine levels are also associated with low motivation, vulnerability for addictions, and the addiction mechanism itself. The last has to do with the fact that many addictive substances and behaviors increase dopamine levels in the brain temporarily, stimulating the feeling of satisfaction. Substances with these traits include alcohol and drugs, while behaviors that are addictive include shopping and gambling.

This mechanism can force someone to use a substance again or repeat other addictive behavior in order to re-experience that emotionally positive sensation. This plays a huge role in the recurring drug use that leads to addiction. Very high dopamine levels are linked to mental disorders likeschizophrenia, which among other things is characterized by unrealistic perceptions of a situation and emotional arousal.

Serotoninregulates the functioning of the cardiovascular and endocrine systems and has an important role in regulating appetite, sleep, memory, mood, body temperature, and muscle contraction. About 90% of serotonin is found in the intestine, with the remaining 10% in the central nervous system. Low serotonin levels are associated with insomnia or sleeplessness, decreased empathy, anxiety disorders, memory and learning impairment, mood changes, and depression.

Abnormally high serotonin levels are not common, but do occur in people who are being treated for depression with medications likeselective serotonin reuptake inhibitors(SSRIs), which are commonly prescribed for mental illnesses like depression. SSRIs or supplements can increase serotonin levels. Common symptoms for high serotonin levels are sweating, elevated heartbeat, restlessness, mania, hot and cold flashes, and weight gain.

Both dopamine and serotonin play an important role in human behavior and emotions, but both affect people in different ways and through different physiological paths. In popular language and many blogs, those two chemical elements are often called the happy chemicals. But the reality is not that simple, because they function through different mechanisms and also because they can interact with each other and give mutually reinforcing or contradicting effects.

For example, whereas high serotonin levels can help to diminish appetite, high dopamine levels contrarily stimulate the desire to eat through the mechanism of achieving pleasure by consuming food. This is a good example of contradicting functions. But this does not necessarily mean that serotonin and dopamine always have contradicting function. A good example of mutual enforcement mechanism is the use of SSRIs. Recent studies show that SSRIs also seem to stimulate dopamine release, despite the fact that the physiological mechanisms for the release of serotonin and dopamine are different.

Low levels of both dopamine and serotonin are associated with severe changes in personality and emotion. In that sense, dopamine and serotonin both have huge effects on positive life perceptions and motivated behavior. The label happy chemicals in this context is true, but an imbalance in both serotonin and dopamine, as well as their contradictive functions, makes the reality more complex.

Dopamine and serotoninare both neurotransmitters that transfer impulses between cells and tissues. Both perform many regulating functions in our body. Dopamine largely regulates motivation through the rewarding mechanism, in this way affecting emotional responses. But it also stimulates hormone secretion and motoric actions. Serotonin regulates the functioning of the cardiovascular and endocrine systems and has an important role in regulating appetite, sleep, memory, mood, body temperature, and muscle contraction. Both neurotransmitters manage mental and physiological processes, and an imbalance in those chemicals can lead to mental and physical disorders. However, the interaction of those two is very complex. They can inhibit the release of one another but can also contradict in each others functions and effects.

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