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Serotonin and IBS

I’ve been doing a lot of deep dives lately into research about the mind-body connection, especially when it comes to disorders like IBS. I always knew there was some sort of link there because you cannot separate the two. What effects one inevitably affects the other. In my readings, I’ve become very interested in serotonin and the role it potentially plays in IBS and how it can be a key to treating the disorder as well.

What exactly is serotonin?

Serotonin is a chemical in the body that acts as a neurotransmitter in the body. Its formal scientific name is 5-hydroxytryptamine or 5-HT and it is known for playing a role in sleeping and appetite, as well as motor, cognitive, and autonomic functions. Finally, serotonin has also been known to help offer a sense of well-being, which is why it is referred to sometimes to as the “happy chemical.” As a neurotransmitter, serotonin plays a prominent role in bowel function. In fact, between 90 and 95 percent of serotonin is produced and can be found in the intestinal tract. Two integral serotonin receptors – 5HT3 and 5HT4 are important mediators in both motility and pain sensation.

How does serotonin affect IBS?

This is why some IBS patients find relief of their symptoms by taking a class of anti-depressants known as SSRIs – selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. SSRIs work by blocking the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available in the body. However, SSRIs seem to have mixed results for IBS patients. It works well for some, but not so well for others.

Researchers now seem to be investigating other ways to either block or stimulate certain serotonin receptors in the gut, as a potential way to treat symptoms in IBS, also with mixed results. For instance, one clinical trial of a drug called alosetron (which is a 5HT3 antagonist) was revealed to offer significant relief in the pain and discomfort associated with women who had IBS-D. However, the drug was withdrawn from the market when IBS patients taking it started developing ischemic colitis. Researchers are still trying to figure out whether the adverse impact of alosetron alone or something that unfortunately could be a feature of any 5HT3 antagonist.1

How to boost serotonin in the body naturally?

In the meantime, for those for whom SSRIs don’t work, other natural ways to boost or help promote healthy levels of serotonin in the body (and gut), include getting good sleep and adequate exercise, as well as going out in the daytime and being exposed to sunlight (and otherwise having healthy levels of Vitamin D), and trying to increase the level of tryptophan in one’s diet.

This article represents the opinions, thoughts, and experiences of the author; none of this content has been paid for by any advertiser. The IrritableBowelSyndrome.net team does not recommend or endorse any products or treatments discussed herein. Learn more about how we maintain editorial integrity here.

  1. Whorwell PJ. Serotonin receptor modulation in irritable bowel syndrome: one step forward and one step backwards. Gut. 2001;48:596-597. Available at: https://gut.bmj.com/content/48/5/596. Accessed: August 9, 2019.

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