What is the Relationship Between Serotonin and Eating Disorders?

eating meal

Are you currently struggling with an eating disorder and require eating disorder therapy in Princeton NJ? CTRLCare Behavioral Health educates ourselves on everything we can about eating disorders and their relationship to mental health. This article explores one of the latest findings: the connection between serotonin and eating disorders. 

What is Serotonin? 

Serotonin is a chemical messenger produced mostly in our digestive system. It can also be found in our blood platelets and throughout the central nervous system. Serotonin is made from tryptophan, an essential amino acid. Tryptophan gets into the body from eating foods like nuts, cheese and meat. Not having enough tryptophan can lead to low levels of serotonin.

When you’re low on serotonin, you can develop mood disorders like anxiety or depression. Serotonin also plays a role in digestion, appetite and cardiovascular health, which is where the relationship with eating disorders comes into play. Research suggests that people who binge eat may have low levels of serotonin, whereas people who restrict food may have high levels of serotonin.

Why Do People Have Different Serotonin Levels? 

Our bodies rely on serotonin to function optimally, as serotonin affects mood, digestion, appetite, stress, anxiety and more. However, not everyone produces the right balance of serotonin. Some produce too much, while others produce not enough. 

Some of the reasons for varying serotonin levels are out of our control. For example, your genes influence how much serotonin your body produces. This is why some people are naturally more resilient to certain disorders like depression. 

The environment also plays a role in your serotonin production. Who you spend time with, the foods you eat and how much sleep you get all influence serotonin levels. Additional factors that can cause you to produce more or less of the chemical messenger are age, exercise, stress levels and sunlight exposure. 

The Connection Between Serotonin and Eating Disorders

Researchers are still trying to understand the connection between serotonin and eating disorders. What we know today is that people who binge eat tend to have lower serotonin levels. This tells us that several characteristics of binge eating disorders – depression, impulsivity and recognizing fullness – may happen from low serotonin levels. 

In the case of food restriction disorders like anorexia, serotonin gets a little more confusing. Some studies show that people with anorexia have low serotonin levels, while others show high serotonin levels. It’s possible that people with anorexia actually do have higher-than-average serotonin levels but that starvation hides them.

High serotonin levels can also explain other symptoms of anorexia such as anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and perfectionism. While research is giving us insight into the relationship between serotonin and eating disorders, it’s still too soon to make definite conclusions. 

Eating Disorder Treatment in Princeton NJ

If you or a loved one is struggling with an eating disorder, contact CTRLCare Behavioral Health. We recognize that eating disorders are complex medical conditions that affect your physical, emotional and mental health. We have a well-rounded treatment program that addresses the underlying causes for the eating disorder, as well as healthy ways to cope. 

CTRLCare Behavioral Health is here for you. Learn more about our approach to eating disorder treatment in New Jersey and how we can get you on the path to healing.