OCD: What Does Serotonin Have To Do With It?


If you have symptoms of OCD, or other anxiety disorder, you have likely heard of the neurotransmitter (chemical messenger) called serotonin.

Although much about serotonin remains a mystery, researchers have noticed that serotonin plays a role in several mind-body functions affecting our mental health. Inadequate levels of this neurotransmitter can alter our mood, behavior, and memory.

Serotonin’s Six Roles

It might be that serotonin has more or less than six functions in our body, but currently science identifies this half dozen.

  1. Serotonin levels are correlated with our quality of mood. Higher amounts of it in the body are associated with an elevated, or happier mood. Lower serotonin levels often coincide with anxiety, and irritability. Those who have OCD with low serotonin may be more hyper-aware of their surroundings, and feel extra edgy, which can lead to an increase in obsessive thoughts and compulsive behaviors.
  2. Learning ability is influenced by serotonin. When serotonin levels are balanced, we seem to assimilate information faster and more effectively. If serotonin is out of balance, our concentration and information processing functions are fuzzier. Not only is this aggravating, but it can diminish school or work performance.
  3. Our level of irritability and aggression may be partly controlled by serotonin. Although people with OCD are not necessarily aggressive, a constant feeling of irritability may make us more prone to aggressive behavior.
  4. Serotonin, which works not only in our brain but in our gut, plays a part in appetite regulation. Elevated serotonin levels lower our appetite, while inadequate levels increase our urge to eat.
  5. Memory function seems to decline when our serotonin supply is low. This can cause performance disruption at work or in the classroom, increasing stress, frustration, and possibly relationship tensions.
  6. Our circadian, or daily rhythms of waking and sleeping are partly regulated by serotonin. People with OCD and anxiety disorders frequently have trouble getting consistently good sleep.

Though serotonin levels are strongly correlated with OCD, scientists are not sure whether serotonin is a cause or an effect in the disorder. The neurotransmitter may influence the presence or absence of negative thoughts and compulsions, but it is also possible that having OCD alters the production and release of serotonin.

Source: Calm Clinic
Photo credit: A Health Blog / flickr

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