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California Dreamin': Sunlight, Serotonin & The Brain

Updated on May 25, 2020
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BA, Social Psychology, MA Psychology, AA Latin American Studies, Behavioral Health Researcher & Advocate

author's own photo. copyrighted. ©2020janemcrae. all rights reserved.

The Sun: Friend or Foe

Sunlight has its action on brain the neurotransmitter---serotonin. Illicit drug use also has a similar action on serotonin. Neurological and behavioral health disorders have been implicated in too much or lack of sunlight, thereby affecting serotonin, according to research.

Mental Health Problems & Serotonin

Physical and mental health maladies surrounding serotonin in nurses, are the subject of many studies involving sunlight. Nurses typically must remain inside for their workday, each day. This mitigates chances for proper sunlight exposure, which can alter serotonin.

The Unborn

Additionally, amongst psychological and medical research teams, deep concern exists centering on developing fetal brains. In utero, a neonate is highly vulnerable to the effects of too much, or too little serotonin. Both can negatively affect the fetus. The pregnant mother may not be receiving enough sunlight each day. Some studies using mice, do in fact, support this theory.

Serotonin and Neonates

Scholarly research data provides much needed investigation concerning frequency and duration of sunlight - as a serotonin boost. Of late, serotonin {over and under production}, has been implicated in hindering brain development, in unborn children. Could it be that serotonin has been de-throned as the king of neurotransmitters, and its once believed, healthful role in brain function?

The 5HT-6 Response

When too much serotonin is produced, studies indicate that it tends to suppress the serotonin transporter or (SERT), in human fetuses. When SERT is damaged, the 5HT-6 receptor activation associated with a fetus’s brain development, may be interrupted or stopped altogether.

When A Fetus's Brain Stops Growing

These neonatal studies have profound implications for expectant mothers, who, by various means during pregnancy -- change serotonin's action.

Adults and Serotonin
Neonatal brain development issues, with regard to malfunctioning serotonin levels, is not the only concern. The role of serotonin in adults is also relevant. Studies show vulnerabilities can develop in adults, if the cortical brain circuitry has been affected by serotonin problems. This may be associated with nervous system disorders, and impose life-long, stress-related susceptibility to mental health disorders.

Autism, Depression, & Serotonin

Based on the above named research, faulty serotonin levels at any stage of life, may critically impair the formation of neuronal circuits, pre-disposing an individual to a broad range of disorders, which include depression and autism.

Feeling Good On Such A Fine Day

Serotonin is the feel-good neurotransmitter, responsible for its uplifting effects in humans. However, its role in brain health is much larger. Chemical imbalances involving serotonin are shown in studies to be positively affected by Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors, or SSRI's - as well as sunlight. SSRI's help make serotonin more available in the brain. Illicit drugs act on serotonin as well. The response can cause someone to feel really good, which plays a role in devastating addiction cycles. Clinical research indicates individuals withdrawing from illicit drugs, often experience severe depression, in the absence of the serotonin lift.

The Short Course

Studies investigating sunlight and its association with the decrease [or increase] of serotonin production, find notable implications in human brain function. ~


Helpful References:

Excess of serotonin affects neocortical pyramidal neuron migration. Trans- Psychiatry. 2011 Oct; 1(10): e47. Published online 2011 Oct 11. doi: 10.1038/tp.2011.49. PMCID: PMC3309486. PMID: 22833193.

Gaspar P, Cases O, Maroteaux L. The developmental role of serotonin: news from mouse molecular genetics. Nat Rev Neuroscience. 2003;4:1002–1012. [PubMed].


Rana Sagha Zadeh, Mardelle McCuskey Shepley, G., et al. The impact of windows and daylight on acute-care nurses' physiological, psychological, and behavioral health. HERD: Health Environments Research & Design Journal 7 (4), 35-61, 2014.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and does not substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, and/or dietary advice from a licensed health professional. Drugs, supplements, and natural remedies may have dangerous side effects. If pregnant or nursing, consult with a qualified provider on an individual basis. Seek immediate help if you are experiencing a medical emergency.

© 2020 J McRae BA MA Psy

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