Do You Have Low Serotonin Levels?
It is all too common in our society to deal with a serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps us to feel good. It has been called by many the “happy molecule” for its role in helping to create a positive mood. This article will help you discover if you have lower serotonin levels and natural strategies to boost your serotonin levels naturally.
Serotonin is also an inhibitory neurotransmitter that helps us with impulse control and pain relief. It also is a precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin and plays a very important role in good sleep (1). Although serotonin plays a very important role in the brain, 95% of the serotonin in the body is produced in the intestines, which are called the second brain (2).
Many experts consider serotonin more of a hormone than a neurotransmitter because its effects impact the entire body. Low serotonin levels have been shown to increase the risk of heart disease, Alzheimer’s and dementia (3, 4).
In addition, low serotonin can increase the severity of other health problems such as migraine headaches, asthma and fibromyalgia (5, 6, 7). When its production in the gut drops, it can be a major contributor to the development of irritable bowel syndrome (8). Do you have any of the following symptoms of low serotonin levels?
Which Neurotransmitter is to Blame?
Both serotonin and the neurotransmitter dopamine as well as endorphins play a role in mood and overall sense of well-being. When dopamine is low, the individual will have slower movements and low overall drive toward goals. They can also develop Parkinson’s like symptoms.
When individuals are not producing endorphins, they will have chronic pain and lack of pleasure in anything they do. Individuals with low endorphins will also have trouble controlling their emotions and will tear up very quickly.
When an individual is deficient in both dopamine and serotonin they will often experience a combination of depression, slowness of movement, lack of drive, compulsive behaviors and cravings. These individuals will commonly turn to sugar, smoking, drugs, sex and other vice’s in order to cope with stress.
Individuals with fibromyalgia are often marked by a deficiency in dopamine, serotonin and endorphins.
Men who are low in serotonin are more likely to experience problems with ADHD, addictions (such as alcoholism, sex and pornography, smoking, or food addictions) and trouble with impulse control that can express itself with uncontrollable anger, rudeness or other socially unacceptable behaviors.
Response to Anti-Depressants:
The response to anti-depressants is often good as most of these are selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors which act to increase serotonin activity in the brain. This NEVER gets to the cause of the low serotonin, but can improve symptoms for a period of time.
When clients tell me they started on an SSRI and saw improvement in their symptoms, I begin to consider low serotonin production and utilization efficiency as a major factor in their health condition.
Individuals who struggle with low serotonin and normalized levels of other major neurotransmitters should respond favorably when trying SSRI’s. Individuals who don’t respond to SSRI’s typically have issues with low dopamine and endorphins.
I do want to strongly caution against using SSRI’s as a long-term health strategy as these have tremendous side effects and can be addictive and hard to wean off of.
Response to Melatonin:
Serotonin is the precursor to the sleep hormone melatonin. Individuals who struggle with insomnia but see improvement when they take melatonin are most likely deficient in serotonin (10). Taking a melatonin supplement can be extremely helpful, but the long-term solution is to improve natural serotonin production as described further in this article.
What Reduces Serotonin Levels:
Here are the biggest lifestyle factors involved in reducing serotonin levels in both the gut and the brain. In order to optimize your serotonin levels, you want to address these major issues.
Testing For Serotonin Deficiency
The way that I and many functional health practitioners look at serotonin levels is through symptom questionnaire’s and an organic acid test. If a client is demonstrating many of the symptoms listed above that are associated with low serotonin than the organic acid test would be warranted.
The organic acid test is a urine test that will look at a biomarker called 5-HIAA (5-Hydroxyindoleacetic Acid). This is the metabolite of the neurotransmitter serotonin. High levels can result with serotonin supplements (5-HTP) and low levels can indicate a need for more serotonin production.
Natural Strategies to Boost Serotonin Levels
- Healthy Sun Exposure: The sunlight stimulates serotonin production. The best time for this is in the morning and around the middle of the day. Seasonal affective disorder (SAD) is due to a lack of sunlight exposure that dramatically lowers serotonin production (12).
- Get in the Dirt: Microbes in the soil have been shown to increase serotonin levels. This is why gardening is one of the best hobbies for your mood. Going to the beach and getting in the sand works great too! (13)
- Regular Exercise: Get moving! Walking, running and resistance training all help to boost up serotonin levels. Exercise beats anti-depressant meds in every clinical trial.
- Cultivate Gratitude: Focusing on positive thoughts has been shown to increase the brain’s serotonin levels. Decide to stay upbeat in spite of your circumstances.
- Prayer and Meditation: Focused breathing, empathy and the ability to control your thoughts through meditation and prayer will help you make life so much more enjoyable.
Best Serotonin Boosting Foods
There is a lot of information on the web about foods that boost serotonin, however, we want to avoid foods that are high in carbohydates that throw off our blood sugar. The best foods for optimizing serotonin levels include:
Best Supplements For Boosting Serotonin
There are many herbs that naturally boost serotonin, but
- 5-HTP: This is the best molecule for boosting serotonin levels naturally. It is easy for the body to convert 5-HTP into serotonin.
- Omega 3 Fatty Acids: These are anti-inflammatory and have a positive effect on boosting serotonin levels. The best choice is a purified fish oil that is high in the fatty acids EPA and DHA.
- Magnesium: This helps to modulate stress hormone levels in the brain, which can have a direct impact on serotonin levels. The best choice is a magnesium that crosses the blood barrier. The best is magnesium malate, glycinate and threonate. We recommend brain calm magnesium
- B Complex: Getting a pre-activated form of B vitamins can be extremely effective. We recommend B Strong.
- L-Theanine: L-Theanine is a naturally occurring, biologically active, free-form amino acid that provides relaxation support by supporting serotonin levels.
- Rhodiola: This adaptogenic herb acts as a monoamine oxidase inhibitor in that it blocks the enzymes in the body that break down serotonin. This keeps more serotonin acting in the brain and body. Begin with 100 mg – 1x per day and if you feel good than go up to 100-200 mg – 2x per day.
- SAM-e: The supplement (S-adenosyl methionine) is commonly purchased at health food stores as a means to treat depression. This can be dangerous! Before taking SAM-e, you should know whether you have unique single nucleotide polymorphisms leading to under or overmethylation. Undermethylators will have lower SAM-e levels and will benefit from supplementing while overmethylators can cause more harm. Be sure you are working with a physician trained in proper SAM-e supplementation if you plan on using.
- St Johns Wort: St John’s wort acts to block the reuptake of serotonin and increases the amount of serotonin receptors. Proper dosage: 300 mg – 3x daily
Dr Jockers Supplement Recommendations:
The most common neurotransmitter deficiency I find is a lack of serotonin production. I see this on organic acid tests all the time. I think this has to do with the level of stress we are under and the epidemic of leaky gut syndrome.
I recommend following a number of the strategies, including healing the gut, balancing blood sugar and reducing stress. My main supplement I use to improve Serotonin levels is Mood Protect, however, I will usually combine it with a blend of other supplements including the following.
Brain Calm Magnesium:
This is a specific form of magnesium is the only form of magnesium proven in animal studies to cross the blood-brain barrier. Boosting the brain’s magnesium level is vital to healthy cognition, which includes long- and short-term memory, learning, stress management and sleep.
Normal Dosage: 1 scoop – 1x daily
Advanced Dosage: 2 scoop – 2-3x daily
This formula provides clinical dosages of vitamin B6, rhodiola and cordyceps. This formula provides useful support for both hyper and hypofunction of the adrenals. Hyperfunction is when the adrenals are overproducing hormones, such as cortisol, and hypofunction is the opposite, when the adrenals are under producing.
Normal Dosage: Take 1 cap – 2x daily
Advanced Dosage: Take 2 caps – 2x daily
Combination of herbs, nutrients and compounds that promote serotonin and GABA production to ease anxiety and improve overall mood and sleep. This product has clinical dosages of GABA, taurine, L-theanine and 5-HTP. This also contains small amounts of zinc, B6 and magnesium to improve natural serotonin production.
Normal Dosage: Take 1 cap – 2 times daily (away from meals)
Advanced Dosage: Take 2 caps – 2 times daily (away from meals)
Sources For This Article Include:
- Frazer A, Hensler JG. Serotonin Involvement in Physiological Function and Behavior. In: Siegel GJ, Agranoff BW, Albers RW, et al., editors. Basic Neurochemistry: Molecular, Cellular and Medical Aspects. 6th edition. Philadelphia: Lippincott-Raven; 1999.
- Camilleri M. Serotonin in the Gastrointestinal Tract. Current opinion in endocrinology, diabetes, and obesity. 2009;16(1):53-59.
- Carolyn Cidis Meltzer MD, Gwenn Smith Ph.D, Steven T DeKosky MD, Bruce G Pollock MD, Ph.D, Chester A Mathis Ph.D, Robert Y Moore MD, Ph.D, David J Kupfer MD and Charles F Reynolds III MD Serotonin in Aging, Late-Life Depression, and Alzheimer’s Disease: The Emerging Role of Functional Imaging. Link Here
- Serotonin in aging, late-life depression, and Alzheimer’s disease: the emerging role of functional imaging.
- Meltzer CC, Smith G, DeKosky ST, Pollock BG, Mathis CA, Moore RY, Kupfer DJ, Reynolds CF 3rd. Neuropsychopharmacology. 1998 Jun;18(6):407-30. PMID: 9571651
- Ménard G, Turmel V, Bissonnette EY. Serotonin modulates the cytokine network in the lung: involvement of prostaglandin E2. Clinical and Experimental Immunology. 2007;150(2):340-348.
- Juhl JH. Fibromyalgia and the serotonin pathway. Altern Med Rev. 1998 Oct;3(5):367-75. PMID: 9802912
- Garvin B, Wiley JW. The role of serotonin in irritable bowel syndrome: implications for management. Curr Gastroenterol Aug;10(4):363-8. PMID: 18627647.
- Nishizawa S, Benkelfat C, Young SN, et al. Differences between males and females in rates of serotonin synthesis in human brain. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America. 1997;94(10):5308-5313.
- Portas CM, Bjorvatn B, Ursin R. Serotonin and the sleep/wake cycle: special
- emphasis on microdialysis studies. Prog Neurobiol. PMID: 10622375
- Lambert GW, Reid C, Kaye DM, Jennings GL, Esler MD. Effect of sunlight and season on serotonin turnover in the brain. Lancet. PMID: 12480364.
- Young SN. How to increase serotonin in the human brain without drugs. Journal of Psychiatry & Neuroscience : JPN. 2007;32(6):394-399.