Serotonin is one of the most widely recognized of all neurotransmitters. It is intricately involved in numerous core physical processes such as the regulation of sleep, appetite, and aggression. Serotonin is also a key player in mood, anxiety, fear and a general sense of well-being. Imbalances in serotonin, particularly relative to norepinephrine and dopamine, are common causes of certain types of depression. Antidepressants that block serotonin’s re-uptake back into serotonin neurons are among the most common of all classes of medications prescribed.
Serotonin deficiency is a common contributor to mood problems. Some feel it is an epidemic in the United States. Serotonin is key to our feelings of happiness and very important for our emotions because it helps defend against both anxiety and depression. Many of the current biochemical theories of depression focus on the biogenic amines, which are a group of chemical compounds important in neurotransmission—most importantly norepinephrine, serotonin and, to a lesser extent, dopamine, acetylcholine and epinephrine.
WHAT CAUSES OR CONTRIBUTES TO SEROTONIN DEFICIENCY?
Many life stressors can lead to low serotonin:
- Prolonged periods of stress can deplete serotonin levels. Our fast-paced, fast food society greatly contributes to these imbalances.
- Genetic factors, faulty metabolism, and digestive issues can impair the absorption and breakdown of our food which reduces our ability to build serotonin.
- Poor Diet. Neurotransmitters are made in the body from proteins. Also required are certain vitamins and minerals called “co-factors”. If your nutrition is poor and you do not take in enough protein, vitamins, or minerals to build the neurotransmitters, a neurotransmitter imbalance develops. We really do think and feel what we eat.
- Toxic substances like heavy metals, pesticides, drug use, and some prescription drugs can cause permanent damage to the nerve cells that make serotonin and other neurotransmitters.
- Certain drugs and substances such as caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, NutraSweet, antidepressants, and some cholesterol-lowering medications deplete serotonin and other neurotransmitter levels.
- Hormone changes cause low levels of serotonin and neurotransmitter imbalances.
- Lack of sunlight contributes to low serotonin levels.
You may have a shortage of serotonin if you have a sad depressed mood, low energy, negative thoughts, feel tense and irritable, crave sweets, and have a reduced interest in sex. Other serotonin-related disorders include:
- Panic Attacks
- Irritable bowel
- PMS/ Hormone dysfunction
- Eating disorders
- Obsessions and Compulsions
- Muscle pain
- Chronic Pain
- Alcohol abuse
- Migraine Headaches
HOW DO I KNOW IF SEROTONIN IS DEFICIENT?
Neurotransmitter testing, Questionnaires, and blood testing can help determine if you might have a serotonin deficiency. Certain tests can determine if you have normal levels of the precursors and co-factor vitamins and minerals needed for the brain to produce serotonin. Additionally, hormones such as Adrenal, Thyroid, and Estrogen levels can affect serotonin levels, and may explain why some women have premenstrual and menopausal mood problems.
HOW TO RAISE SEROTONIN LEVELS NATURALLY
Prescription drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, Paxil, and Lexapro are classified as serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or (SSRIs). They help to keep more of the serotonin your brain is making in circulation. They do not, however, increase your brain’s supply of serotonin. Some studies, in fact, indicate that over time they may actually accelerate your turnover of serotonin, thereby making your serotonin deficiency worse. They are used for a wide variety of symptoms such as depression, panic attacks, anxiety, PTSD, obsessions, and compulsions. There are also serotonin/norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs) such as Effexor and Cymbalta that keep more serotonin and norepinephrine in circulation. Again, such agents do not help you build more neurotransmitters.
Nutrient therapies such as Targeted Amino Acid Therapy naturally increase the levels of neurotransmitters that a person has been found to be deficient in. 5-Hydroxytryptophan and Tryptophan are widely known for their ability to help depressive symptoms by raising serotonin levels in the brain. Numerous clinical trials have studied the efficacy of 5-HTP for treating depression. One compared 5-HTP to the antidepressant drug fluvoxamine, and found 5-HTP to be equally effective.
It can be used alone or in combination with medication to keep dosages low and to prevent the “poop out” many people experience with medication.
- tryptophan —> 5-HTP —> serotonin
Herbal remedies, such as St. John’s Wort, are available to alleviate symptoms of depression and anxiety. Some work in a similar way to the SSRI antidepressants.
THINGS YOU CAN DO TO INCREASE YOUR SEROTONIN LEVELS AND IMPROVE OVERALL HEALTH.
- Exercise at least 30 minutes three times a week
- Walking, yoga, stretching
- Get plenty of sunlight
- Drink 6-8 glasses of water daily
- Prayer and meditation
Eat at least three meals per day. Skipping meals promotes high stress and low energy. Eat protein with every meal. Eat complex carbohydrates such as brown rice. Avoid sugar, junk food, white pasta, white rice, white bread, cookies and cake. No caffeine, alcohol, or NutraSweet (aspartame). NutraSweet can be toxic to your brain. Alcohol can worsen depression, anxiety and sleep problems.