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Vitamin D and Fish Oil Improve Cognition and Mood by Supporting Serotonin

by Dr.Dave on Jul 17, 2016     

Vitamin D and Fish oil are among the supplements I recommend most often to my patients and clients. I take them myself. And I suspect you are aware of the many studies published over the past few years showing that fish oils and vitamin D can provide many brain benefits, particularly improvements in mood and cognition. Do you, however, know how this brain-enhancement actually occurs?

You Can’t Make Serotonin Without Adequate Levels of Vitamin D

As it turns out, the key brain chemical serotonin is likely the link. For example, an article recently published in FASEB Journal explains just why fish oil and Vitamin D may so dramatically improve cognition, not only in healthy individuals but also improve the brain fog commonly seen in those suffering from a wide range of conditions.

We know from previous research that Vitamin D is needed to convert tryptophan – an amino acid found in certain dietary proteins – to serotonin, the neurotransmitter that regulates a variety of cognitive functions, including mood, decision-making, social behavior, excessive worry and impulse control. Moreover, many brain disorders – insomnia, anxiety, autism spectrum disorder (ASD), ADHD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder and depression – have been associated with low brain serotonin.

Keep in mind that you cannot get serotonin or other neurotransmitters from food, or even from supplements or nutraceuticals; these important chemicals are simply far too big to be digested, absorbed, and transported to your brain. Rather, you must manufacture them from their basic building blocks: amino acids + vitamins + minerals. So in order to make serotonin, you need tryptophan (or in some circumstances 5-HTP) plus, among other ingredients, Vitamin D. This strategy – using supplements that provide the basic neurotransmitter building blocks – is a major theme in our approach to addressing neurotransmitter imbalances.

You Can’t Use Your Serotonin Without Omega-3 Fatty Acids (Fish Oil)

While Vitamin D helps you make serotonin, fish oils help your serotonin work better. More specifically, a key component of omega-3 fatty acids, eicosapentaenoic acid (EPA), by reducing brain inflammation, facilitates the release of serotonin from serotonin neurons. This is in keeping with earlier research showing that inflammation decreases serotonin activity, and EPA, by lowering inflammation, restores normal serotonin levels.

The other main component of fish oil, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA), likewise plays a critical role in the serotonin pathway. This essential fatty acid helps make several types of serotonin receptors more sensitive to serotonin by improving cell membrane structure and function in postsynaptic neurons.

Findings such as these loom even larger when you consider how commonly we see deficiencies of vitamin D and essential fatty acids here in the US. This article explains how low levels of these vital nutrients affect serotonin production and functioning. The serotonin pathway is essential for many of your core processes, including brain development, social behavior, cognition, mood, appetite, sleep and decision-making.

In summary, we assess and support your vitamin Dessential fatty acids and serotonin levels in order to prevent and alleviate some of the symptoms associated with these disorders, without harmful side effects.

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