Why is low serotonin an issue? What are the causes and symptoms of the low levels in your body? How can you increase it naturally? What foods and supplements can help in providing serotonin? What are the symptoms and effects if you take too much or overdose on serotonin? Read on find the answers
Why does Serotonin Imbalance Matter
- Why does Serotonin Imbalance Matter
- Importance/Benefits of Serotonin.
- Low Serotonin Symptoms
- What causes Low Serotonin-Lack & Deficiency Test
- How to Increase Low Serotonin Levels Naturally-Exercise & Herbs
- Serotonin foods-Diet/Foods that Boost Serotonin
- Excess/ Too Much-Serotonin syndrome symptoms, Side Effects & Treatment
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter produced in the brain. WebMD simply defines it as a chemical produced by the body that enables brain cells and other nervous system cells to communicate with one another. It is considered the “happy” neurotransmitter since a low level of deficiency manifests as depression and fear (covered in later sections). It is formed by the amino acid tryptophan which is derived from the diet.
If there is an increase in the amount of this amino acid in the blood, signals are sent to the brain to produce serotonin. This helps in the boost of the mood and wakefulness of the individual among other benefits covered in this section. Too much, however, can lead to excessive nerve cell activity, causing a potentially deadly collection of symptoms known as serotonin syndrome as you will learn shortly
Importance/Benefits of Serotonin.
This section covers with depth, the benefits of serotonin and its significance in your daily life.
This is certainly a benefit especially at night when it is required that you sleep. Of course when this happens during the day it becomes a demerit all the same. Serotonin plays an important role in sleep-wake cycle and is therefore associated with both sleepiness and wakefulness.
As melatonin, serotonin is also synthesized in the pineal gland. Serotonin produced in high amounts results in wakefulness while production of small amounts results in sleep. This pays credence to the advice that you should take some warm milk when you have insomnia. This is linked to the fact that milk contains the beneficial amino acid and the precursor of serotonin, tryptophan and therefore leads to serotonin synthesis.
This however, does not lead to an upsurge of serotonin and therefore causes a small rise that results in sleep. Serotonin functions similar to melatonin in that high amounts leads to a disturbance in the ability of sleep induction among other health issues (U.S. Department of Health and Human Services).
Serotonin production helps you feel relaxed and satisfies with your current situation. In clinical conditions such as depression. Serotonin is found to have been in very low amounts, below the threshold. Chronic anxiety is normally treated with drugs that actually boost the level of serotonin in the brain. Like in the regulation of sleep, normal amounts of serotonin boost the ‘feel-good’ state but in high amounts, will turn the tables against the desired state. According to Drs. Reginald Garrett and Charles Grisham, the brain stimulation to synthesize serotonin is triggered too by the foods that you eat. One of such includes carbohydrates and sugary foods. During depressed states, sleep, mood, appetite and libido are enhanced.
Boosts health state of the skin
When serotonin regulates the depressive and the feel-good states, it reduces anxiety and enables you to relax. There is a correlation between stress and the health of your skin. The skin could also be used as a window to the biology of the internal part of the body.
Relief from headaches
The production of serotonin is beneficial to the relief of headaches. Serotonin has an effect on the vasculature of the cranium and causes the constriction of blood vessels. Headaches are normally caused by an imbalance in the pressure between the intra-cranial and extra-cranial blood vessels. It is only after the balance of the two that headaches are alleviated. Migraines area also treated by the administration of drugs that increase the level of serotonin in the brain.
Development of the brain
Serotonin has been linked to the prevalence of autism and Down’s syndrome which are cases of brain mal-development.
Serotonin is an anti-aging chemical
Serotonin also works as an antioxidant promoting wound healing reducing the level of oxidant free radicals in the body. The radicals are linked to aging since they damage cells and lead to aging.
This material may not state all the benefits of serotonin but sure touches on the most critical and those backed up by studies.
Lack of Serotonin Risks/Effects
A deficiency or low levels of serotonin is mostly marked by loss of pleasure and occurrence of depression. However, there is a wide array of signs and symptoms that may be attributed to the misshapen of serotonin in the body. These may include:
- Low self esteem
- Reduced cognitive capability
- Binge eating
- A feeling of being overwhelmed
Low Serotonin Symptoms
SAD and Low Serotonin Levels
What is SAD? This is a disorder that affects the mood and behavior of a person. It manifests as depression and fatigue that occurs seasonally. It occurs especially during times when a day is shorter than normal and therefore dark. Its full of the abbreviation is Seasonal Affective Disorder. It is known to arise from lack of exposure to light therefore affecting the circadian rhythm and therefore the production of melatonin and serotonin.
Since the body has its own way to balance and regulate home-keeping mechanism, people with SAD normally and unintentionally find themselves eating more carbohydrates. This helps them boos the level of serotonin. This helps them reap from the benefits of serotonin most importantly boosting their mood and emotional Well-Being.
SAD can be managed by exposure to day light and utilizing light therapy box.
When Insomnia Is a Sign of Low Serotonin
Insomnia may be linked to low melatonin levels being produced from the pineal gland of the brain. The serotonin and melatonin relate in that melatonin is manufactured from serotonin. When the levels of serotonin are low then you should expect that the levels of the sleep hormone melatonin are low too. This leads to dysregulation of the circadian rhythm and makes your sleep initiation difficult. Sleep conditions of various types such as the inability to fall asleep, sleep deeply and stay asleep for the recommended time can be attribute to the low levels of serotonin.
Serotonin and Anxiety
Serotonin is necessary for the boost of moods and therefore can lead to a feeling of anxiety when in low levels. The anxiety may occur with depression or not. The depression may be the underlying condition and is also linked to low levels of serotonin. Care should be taken when determining whether the anxiety is caused by depression. Depression caused by say, low levels of dopamine is normally characterized by lethargy rather than anxiety.
Low Serotonin and Depression
Serotonin is recognized to be related to depression and this is widely accepted.
This is why most antidepressants are designed to increase serotonin levels. Serotonin is used in the treatment of depression as drugs known as SSRIs. These inhibit the reuptake of serotonin in the interneuron spaces. However, not all people will respond to this medication.
The reasons your brain serotonin can be low include:
- Low level of serotonin being synthesized.
- Few serotonin receptors
- Inhibition of serotonin formation
- The brain’s serotonin receptors are not sensitive to serotonin
What causes Low Serotonin-Lack & Deficiency Test
Causes of Deficiency
Vitamin B6 Deficiency
Since vitamin B6 is important in the synthesis of serotonin from tryptophan, its deficiency leads to low amounts of serotonin. It regulates the amount of serotonin that is synthesized and this accounts for much of the possible causes of low of serotonin (University of Manitoba)
Low Dietary Levels of L-Tryptophan
It has also been found that low levels of serotonin can be linked to low levels or total deficiency of the amino acid precursor tryptophan. When the level of the amino acid is low relative to the concentration of the amino acids leucine, isoleucine and valine, then there is little serotonin that is formed. Moreover, varying these amino acids has been observed to increase the entry of tryptophan into the brain. As study done by research scientists at McGill University has been able to shed a light on this. Also, one finding suggested that when your diet is high in protein and low in carbohydrates, the ration of the tryptophan to isoleucine, leucine and valine is reduced and further reduces the amount of tryptophan that enters the brain.
This is an amino acid that is present in green tea leaves. It has the ability to cross the blood-brain barrier and enter the brain. Its function is to inhibit the neurons in the brain from producing serotonin. This results in deficiency of serotonin.
This correlation is rather unheard of but has been backed up by studies. Some scientists at the New York State Psychiatric Institute provided that predisposing a child to psychological and physical harassment can lower serotonin levels and function. It was found that those adults who participate in the study were found to have lower brain serotonin transporter-binding potential than those who did not have a history of childhood abuse. This shows that child abuse leads to low serotonin levels and function and later depression in adulthood manifesting as anger, frustration and low self-esteem.
Some behavioral and dietary causes have also been linked to low serotonin. Such may include:
- Lack of exercises and physical activity
- Failure to effectively manage your stress
- Drug abuse
- Having insufficient sleep
There are environmental causes too including:
- Insufficient daylight exposure
- Chemical toxins such as bisphenol-A (BPA) and some pesticides
- Omega-3 deficiency
- Vitamin B6 deficiency
A malfunction of the body physiology and biochemistry could also serve detrimental to the deficiency of serotonin:
- Insufficient blood flow to the brain
- Congenital abnormalities in the serotonin receptors
- The inability to absorb nutrients from the diet such as in intestinal inflammatory diseases, celiac (gluten intolerance) and carcinoid tumors (this tumor has a high intake of tryptophan and hence serotonin is not produced in the brain)
How Serotonin Deficiency Test done
There is no single test that can confirm serotonin syndrome and therefore the diagnosis is based on elimination of other possibilities. There are however various lab test that can be done to add value to a diagnosis.
When you visit a physician, history will be taken about any medications you are on or the diet you are taking. The tests are done with the aim of:
- Determining the level of drugs you are on – before a test is done care should be taken to find out whether the patient is on any morphine, reserpine, methyldopa and lithium that interfere with the test.
- Checking for normal body function
- Checking for any infection
How is it used?
One metabolite of serotonin is normally present in urinalysis findings. This metabolite is none other but 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA). Its level is collected in a 24-hour urine test[i].
While the serotonin test is generally not meant for monitoring therapy, but can be used to detect the recurrence of carcinoid tumor. In the diagnosis of carcinoid tumor, slow-growing masses in the gut, moreso in the appendix and in the lungs, can also be conducted. The presence of carcinoid tumor is determined by testing for the presence of the 5-HIAA and another compound Chromogranin A.
When is it ordered?
It is ordered when there are symptoms suggestive of a possible carcinoid tumor. These signs may include gastrointestinal signs such as diarrhea and vomiting, cardiovascular signs such as a rapid heart rate, flushing of the face and respiratory signs of coughing and wheezing. The latter is suggestive of a carcinoid tumor in the lungs.
What does the test result mean?
When the level of serotonin in the blood is found to have increased beyond threshold. This suggests carcinoid tumor but then a definite diagnosis of the tumor must be made by locating, biopsying and examined. This is important as someone may have a tumor but which is not serotonin secreting.
How to Increase Low Serotonin Levels Naturally-Exercise & Herbs
Exercises stimulate the production of ‘happy’ hormones such as endorphins and including serotonin. This boosts your mood and mental ability after a workout as you might have noticed.
St. John’s Wort; Hypericum perforatum is one herb that is common in Europe and Southern Asia. Its contituents, hypercin and pseudohypericin are key in treating mild to moderate depression. This is due to its effect on the level of serotonin in the brain which it boosts explaining its role in depression.
5-HTP, 5-Hydroxytryptophan is a chemical by-product of the L-tryptophan. It is also present in the seeds of Griffonia simpicifolia and is indicated for insomnia, depression, migraine and anxiety. All these are linked to serotonin levels. It is also used in premenstrual syndrome (PMS) and premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD). The advantage with this chemical, is it is able to cross the blood brain barrier.
Serotonin foods-Diet/Foods that Boost Serotonin
Foods that contain serotonin itself or its precursor, tryptophan can be taken to boost your body but not brain serotonin. Care should be taken to avert myths. Such foods include:
- Hickory nuts
Note that serotonin in blood does not cross the blood brain barrier and so does dietary sources. This means that the dietary sources of serotonin are not indicated for booting your mood. You could get drugs that are designed to cross into the brain[ii]
Foods that boost your insulin levels such as carbohydrates can result in inhibition of serotonin. Such foods include white rice and bread, foods that raise the blood sugar and stimulate insulin production.
Always consult your pharmacist or physician before you put yourself on any supplements as some of them might be contraindicated in your case. Some of the supplement include:
- IntraNaturals 5-HTP
- 5-HTP BodyVega
- Serotune Amino Balance
Visit the pharmacy to get more brands with serotonin. Good thing, they have wither serotonin, dopamine or its precursor amino acid.
Excess/ Too Much-Serotonin syndrome symptoms, Side Effects & Treatment
Taking too much or excess serotonin results to serotonin syndrome. Continue reading to find out the causes, signs (both severe and mild), when it happens and how to treat this condition
- Taking medications, especially antidepressants, that influence the body’s level of serotonin.
- The greatest risk of serotonin syndrome occurs if you are taking two or more drugs and/or supplements together that influence serotonin.
- The condition is more likely to occur when you first start a medicine or increase the dose.
Symptoms/Signs and Side Effects
Mild Symptoms & Side Effects
If you have taken too much serotonin, you may experience a variety of mild symptoms which include;
Agitation or restlessness
- Shivering and goose bumps
- Changes in blood pressure and/or temperature
- Dilated pupils
- Loss of muscle coordination or twitching muscles
- Nausea and/or vomiting
- Rapid heart rate
- Heavy sweating
- High fever
- Irregular heartbeat
When do you start experiencing the symptoms of excess serotonin?
Signs and effects of too much serotonin often come on within a few minutes to a few hours of taking the responsible medication. As you’ve already learnt the medication might be a drug for the first time or at the same time it might one or two combined drugs or supplements in excess.
For the mild effects and symptoms of too much serotonin, the treatment is simply by stopping the medication that is causing the problem. For severe reactions, seek immediate medical intervention
Sources and References
- [i] www.labtestsonline.org
- Pharmacol Biochem Behavior: The Role of Serotonin in Human Mood and Social Interaction. Insight From Altered Tryptophan Levels; Young, S.N. and M. Leyton; Apr 2002
- “Prog Neuropsychopharmacol Biol Psychiatry”; Consequences of Decreased Brain Serotonin in the Pyridoxine-Deficient Young Rat; Dakshinamurti, K. and C.S. Paulose; 1983
- “Biosci Biotechnol Biochem”; Theanine-Induced Reduction of Brain Serotonin Concentration in Rats; Yokogoshi, H., M. Mochizuki, et al.; Apr 1986
- “Synapse”; Reported Childhood Abuse Is Associated With Low Serotonin Transporter Binding In Vivo in Major Depressive Disorder; Miller, J.M., E.L. Kinnally, et al.; Jul 2009
- [ii] www.ncbi.nih.nlm.org