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Dopamine and Serotonin: Our Own Happy Chemicals

Feb 28, 2023
children smiling in a circle

Dopamine and serotonin are molecules that send signals throughout the body; these chemicals affect how we feel. When dopamine is released in our brain, we feel a sense of temporary pleasure. Serotonin, while similar to dopamine, creates a long-lasting feeling of happiness or well-being. Both chemicals act as hormones that help coordinate different functions and processes in our bodies like growth, metabolism, emotions and even sleep!

What is Dopamine?

Dopamine is a chemical that communicates between nerve cells in our brain and body. It is known as the “pleasure hormone” because it is released when we are doing something that makes us feel good. This system is designed to reward us when we are doing things to take care of our bodies, like eating, drinking, competing to survive, and reproducing. This rush of excitement can make us feel motivated, yet it is only a temporary feeling of reward. Our bodies want more and more of this feeling: that is why eating cookies or drinking sugary drinks—things that boost our dopamine levels—can be so addictive. Once our bodies feel a rush of dopamine, we crave it again and again.

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is another chemical that sends messages in our bodies. It tells the body how to work and helps control our happiness, memory, sleep, body temperature and hunger. Most serotonin is produced in our guts while some is produced in our brains. When you have average levels of serotonin in your body, you might feel focused, happy or calm. Low levels of this chemical might negatively affect your mood, sleep or digestive tract. If your child is needing to boost their serotonin levels, have them go outside for a walk, get some sunshine, talk with friends or family, or eat foods high in tryptophan (an amino acid that is needed for making serotonin in the body) like milk, oats, cheese, and nuts.

Both dopamine and serotonin are essential for our bodies to function; they impact our mood and can help us live happy and stable lives. While diseases of dopamine or serotonin over or underproduction are rare, if you notice that your child is having trouble regulating their mood, they might have a hormone disorder involving these or other hormones. Endocrinologists at Nationwide Children’s Hospital study hormone imbalance and how it can affect your child’s health and wellbeing.

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Amit Lahoti
Amit Lahoti, MD

Amit Lahoti, MD, is an attending physician in the Division of Pediatric Endocrinology and an Associate Professor of Pediatrics at The Ohio State University. He is also the Program Director for Pediatric Endocrinology Fellowship program.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.