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Serotonin in Children

author image Tyson Alexander
Tyson Alexander has been writing professionally since 2007. He writes articles for various websites on topics of psychology, the brain and mental health. He holds a Master of Arts in psychology from Carleton University in Ottawa, Canada.
Serotonin in Children
Children's brains produce higher concentrations of serotonin than adults. Photo Credit: Rohappy/iStock/Getty Images

Serotonin is one of many neurotransmitters that your chlid's brain uses to maintain many aspects of his psychical and psychological health. Serotonin performs largely the same functions for both children and adults. Having healthy levels of serotonin is always vital to a healthy life. Understanding the importance of serotonin is especially important for children, since problems related to serotonin could shape the rest of your child's life.

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The brain uses serotonin as a chemical messenger to send messages between brain cells. In a March 1998 article in the "Journal of Psychopharmacology," Patrick Schloss and D. Clive Williams say that the brain uses serotonin to regulate mood, emotions, sleep schedule and appetite. Serotonin is closely tied with happiness, and most antidepressant drugs work by increasing serotonin levels. Therefore, children require healthy levels of serotonin for their psychological well-being and development.

Dietary Sources

In a May 1999 article in the journal "Public Health Nutrition," David Benton and Rachael T. Donohoe state that the brain produces serotonin from a chemical called tryptophan. Carbohydrates increase the concentration of tryptophan in your blood. Therefore, consuming foods high in carbohydrates makes it easier for your brain to maintain healthy levels of serotonin. Children should have enough healthy sources of carbohydrates, such as whole grain breads and pastas, to ensure their bodies produce enough serotonin.


Doctors prescribe selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, SSRIs, to people who suffer from psychiatric disorders such as depression or obsessive compulsive disorder. In an August 2002 article for the journal "Swiss Medical Weekly," R. S. Diler and A. Avci say that it is safe for children to take SSRIs if needed. SSRIs have minimal side effects and the side effects are not different for children than for adults. However, Diler and Avci do recommend proceeding cautiously with SSRIs, by starting at a very low dose and increasing it slowly.

Brain Development

In a November 2001 article in the journal "Brain Research Bulletin," P. M. Whitaker-Azmatia states that serotonin plays a key role in the development and maturation of children's brains. Serotonin levels are actually higher during infancy and childhood than during adulthood. Whitaker-Azmatia says that disruptions in serotonin levels may contribute to developmental disorders such as autism and Down syndrome. Autistic children have high amounts of serotonin in their blood, whereas children with Down syndrome have higher levels of serotonin in some parts of the brain, and lower amounts in other parts.

Psychological Well-being

Adolescents require healthy levels of serotonin for their psychological well-being. In a February 2008 article in the "Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology," Sheila Crowell and colleagues say that low levels of serotonin in adolescents may contribute to self-destructive behavior. Adolescents with higher levels of serotonin experience more positive emotions with their family members. Adolescents with lower than average levels of serotonin have a greater chance of responding to familial conflict and negative emotions with self-destructive behavior.

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