Serotonin is manufactured through a series of conversion processes in the body. Tryptophan is an amino acid that occurs in proteins. Trytophan hydroxylase is taken up by cells responsible for manufacturing serotonin and is combined with tryptophan to form 5-hydoxytryptamine, commonly known as serotonin.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, which is a brain chemical that passes on signals from one area of the brain to another. It is synthesized in the brain, but more than three quarters of serotonin in the body is found in the gastrointestinal tract and blood platelets. As serotonergic cells are distributed widely, serotonin is believed to influence brain cells responsible for many psychological and physiological functions.
Despite this belief, there is no way that serotonin levels in the living brain can be measured. Because of this, there is a paucity of research to establish the link between serotonin levels in the brain with mental illnesses like depression. However, blood levels of certain neurotransmitters are available for measurement.
Like GABA (gamma aminobutyric acid), serotonin is an inhibitory neurotransmitter, which plays a vital role in mood swings and emotional wellness. It is also involved in temperature regulation, learning, sexuality, sleep, appetite and social behavior. Low levels of serotonin are believed to cause emotional distress, depression, food cravings, drug abuse and alcoholism.
Psychological disorders are hidden diseases that often manifest as vague symptoms that can be mistaken for many mild physical ailments, aging processes or symptoms related to the grief process. Traditionally, diagnosis is based on a detailed understanding of the emotions felt by a patient without any conclusive laboratory test. As levels of serotonin are known to be lower in people suffering from depression, it is believed to be a conclusive proof by many for diagnosing mental illnesses.
At the same time, there is a flip side, too. Researchers are still not very sure whether low levels of serotonin causes depression or depression causes the serotonin levels to drop. Moreover, measurement of serotonin levels is an expensive test that may be out of the reach of many people.
Mental illnesses are usually treated with antidepressants. However, the fact remains that irrespective of how safe the newly discovered anti-depression drugs may be, they are still prone to cause serious side effects. These can disturb serotonin levels in the brain. Any negligence in monitoring can cause complications that may be difficult to control. As there is still an element of doubt regarding blood levels of serotonin or other neurotransmitters being a conclusive proof of depression, a wrong diagnosis may prove to be disastrous. As definitive proof is not available at this time, serotonin levels can at best be treated as indicative.