Susan Merenstein, Pharmacist/Owner

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Serotonin Deficiency Symptoms and Causes

Research shows that impaired serotonin function has been associated with psychiatric disorders including depression, anxiety, compulsive behavior, aggression, substance abuse, seasonal affective disorder, bulimia, childhood hyperactivity, hypersexuality, mania, schizophrenia and behavioral disorders.

Low serotonin symptoms include the following:

  • Depressed mood
  • Anxiety
  • Panic attacks
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Appetite changes
  • Chronic pain
  • Poor memory
  • Digestion issues
  • Headaches

What causes low serotonin levels? Serotonin is part of a complex system of chemicals and receptors. If you have low serotonin levels, you may have deficiencies in other neurotransmitters, which is what causes such noticeable symptoms. Researchers don’t know for sure what causes serotonin deficiency, but it may be due to genetics, poor diet and lifestyle. If you deal with chronic stress or are exposed to toxic substances, like heavy metals or pesticides, you may be at a greater risk of low serotonin. Other causes may include a lack of sunlight and taking certain medications for a long period of time.

How to Treat Deficiency
There are natural serotonin foods and boosters that will increase levels of serotonin without the need for pharmaceutical drugs.

1. Anti-Inflammatory Foods
Do you know the health of your gut will alter your body’s ability to produce serotonin? It’s important you eat anti-inflammatory foods that will improve the health of your gut and promote the balance of good and bad bacteria. Some of the best foods include wild-caught salmon, eggs, leafy greens, nuts and fresh vegetables.

To maximize the good bacteria in the gut, probiotic foods are also beneficial. Eating or drinking kefir, kombucha, probiotic yogurt and apple cider vinegar will help to improve the health of your gut. Healthy fats like avocado, coconut oil, extra-virgin olive oil and ghee are also going to help reduce inflammation and promote the natural production of serotonin.

2. Exercise
Research shows that exercise has beneficial effects on brain function because it modulates neurotransmitters dopamine, serotonin and noradrenaline. These chemical messengers contribute to exercise, affecting brain function and even improving neurological disorders.

3. Get Enough Sunlight
The serotonin neurotransmitter will not be produced properly if you don’t get enough sunlight. Research suggests that there’s actually a direct relationship between sunlight and the production of serotonin. It’s believed that exposure to sunlight triggers the brain to release the chemical. This may explain, at least in part, why low levels of serotonin are associated with seasonal affective disorder 0r SAD.

4. Tryptophan
Research published in Nutrients shows that reduced intake of tryptophan can lead to significant reductions in certain brain activities that boost happiness. According to a study, patients are often successful at lowering negative symptoms related to mood disorders, addictions or hormonal problems when they take 6 grams of L-tryptophan per day. Taking this amount of tryptophan every day for several months has been shown to decrease mood swings, irritability, tension and restlessness.

5. 5-HTP
5-HTP, or 5-Hydroxytryptophan, is an amino acid that’s naturally produced by the body. It’s used to produce serotonin, which is why 5-HTP supplements are often used to improve mood and reduce symptoms of depression. You can find 5-HTP supplements online and in health food stores. Researchers recommend, however, that 5-HTP supplements be used carefully and under the care of a doctor in order to avoid an amino acid imbalance.

SSRIs Uses and Side Effects
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, or SSRIs, are used to improve symptoms of depression by increasing levels of serotonin in your brain. Some of the most common types of SSRIs include Prozac and Zoloft.

Neuropsychological studies show that in both healthy and depressed participants, administration of SSRIs led to positive shifts in the way the brain reacted to emotionally-driven information. But other studies report different results, suggesting that only 50 percent of patients respond to SSRIs and effective remission occurs less than 30 percent of the time, indicating that new antidepressant strategies are needed.

SSRIs are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant drugs in the world, but they don’t come without potential side effects. Some of the most common side effects include drowsiness, nausea, nervousness, dizziness, headaches, diarrhea, trouble sleeping, sexual problems and blurred vision.

SSRIs also interact with certain medications and can have dangerous effects when combined with some pharmaceutical drugs or herbal supplements. Be sure to consult your healthcare provider about possible interactions.

And there is the risk of experiencing withdrawal-like symptoms after stopping SSRIs. These symptoms may include a feeling of uneasiness, dizziness, nausea, flu-like symptoms and more.

In addition to SSRIs, another class of drugs that are used for depression are called serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors, or SNRIs. These drugs increase levels of both serotonin and norepinephrine, another neurotransmitter.

Serotonin Syndrome Causes and Treatment
Serotonin syndrome, which is a type of serotonin toxicity, is when high levels of the chemical accumulate in the body. This is sometimes caused by taking two or more medications that raise levels, or combining medications with some herbal supplements. Abuse of illegal drugs, like LSD, cocaine, ecstasy and amphetamines can also cause this condition.

The most common serotonin syndrome symptoms are anxiety, restlessness, agitation, sweating and confusion. In more serious cases, it can also lead to health issues like muscle twitching, muscle stiffness, irregular heartbeat, high blood pressure, high fever and seizures.

Research also suggests high serotonin levels increase the risk of osteoporosis due to its effects on our bones. If you notice these symptoms, consult your healthcare provider and talk to him/her about having your levels tested.

For people dealing with this condition, serotonin syndrome treatment involves withdrawal from the drugs or medications that are causing your chemical levels to be too high. There are also medications that are used to block production of the neurotransmitter, such as Periactin.

Precautions and Drug Interactions
If you are concerned about low or high serotonin levels, consult your healthcare provider. Before using serotonin pills or supplements to correct a deficiency, seek advice from your doctor, especially if you are already taking medications to avoid interactions.

There is not enough research to support the use of serotonin supplements during pregnancy or while nursing, so be sure to ask your healthcare provider before using them.

Final Thoughts

  • The serotonin definition is a neurotransmitter that’s produced within the brain and gut. It sends messages to receptors throughout the brain that allow for several body processes. Serotonin affects many parts of the body and allows for internal chemical balance.
  • Are dopamine and serotonin the same? No — they are both neurotransmitters that play a role in mood and emotions, but they are different. The serotonin molecule alters our emotional reactions to life events, while dopamine is influenced by pleasurable experiences.
  • How does serotonin make you feel? Normal serotonin levels make you feel, well, normal. But levels that are too high or too low can cause adverse effects. When your body produces the right amount of serotonin, you should experience regular sleep, but too much or too little of it can lead to sleep dysfunction.
  • What happens when your levels are too high? Serotonin syndrome, which occurs when too much of the chemical is being produced in the body, can lead to anxiety, restlessness, rapid heart rate and high fever.
  • For people with low levels, serotonin supplements, usually in the form of tryptophan or 5-HTP, may help to improve the deficiency. Research also suggests exercising, getting daily exposure to sunlight and eating a healthy, anti-inflammatory diet will help to increase levels naturally.

Ref: Dr. Josh Axe