Can You Have Too Much Serotonin?

Not having enough serotonin has been linked to conditions like depression, anxiety, and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Cleveland Clinic. But can you have too much serotonin?

Serotonin is an important chemical that naturally occurs in the body. Known as a neurotransmitter, serotonin works by delivering messages from the brain throughout the body. We often think about serotonin as the chemical that makes us feel happy, but it's also involved in important functions like regulating your body's temperature, speeding up digestion, helping you to sleep well, fueling your sexual desire, and healing wounds. It also plays a role in learning, memory, and hunger.

While it may sound like serotonin is produced in the brain since it's a neurotransmitter, 95% of the body's serotonin is actually produced in the gut, according to the American Psychological Association. Gut bacteria creates the majority of the chemical, which the brain then uses.

If your body isn't making enough serotonin or isn't using it properly, your levels can be low (via Cleveland Clinic). You might turn to medications to try to increase your levels, but this could actually cause you to have too much.

The dangers of high levels of serotonin

Serotonin syndrome is a condition caused by toxic levels of serotonin in the body (perĀ Mayo Clinic). If you start a medication that increases your serotonin like antidepressants or migraine medication, your levels could become too high. This could also happen if you increase your dosage or, more commonly, if you combine more than one drug that raises your serotonin levels. When levels become too high, you can quickly become agitated, feel confused, have a rapid heart rate, sweat heavily, lose muscle coordination, or develop a headache. When severe, serotonin syndrome can cause high fever, seizures, irregular heartbeat, and even death.

Mild cases of serotonin syndrome should improve once you stop taking the drug that's causing it (via Healthline). But in severe cases, you should go to the hospital right away. Doctors will discontinue the medication affecting you and may give you other medications that block serotonin, as well as intravenous fluids. It's important to seek treatment as soon as possible, as severe poisoning is possible if it's not caught in time. Be sure to always let your doctor know which medications you're taking before being prescribed something new in order to prevent serotonin syndrome.