Natural Serotonin Support
Natural Serotonin Support
I just finished an article on violence in our schools and Streets. The article focused on a group of drugs used to increase available serotonin, called selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors. These drugs are often one of the factors associated with the individuals who are school shooters. Therefore, I thought it would be beneficial to provide information regarding natural methods to support healthy serotonin levels. If we are to stop using these SSRI drugs it will help practitioners to know that there are alternative methods to support healthy levels of serotonin, and learn to integrate them into their practice. That is what this article is about. Serotonin has been called the feel good neurotransmitter, but I would point out that it is not the only neurotransmitter, or substance in our body that works as part of the orchestra of chemicals that makes us feel like all is right in our world. Luckily, many of the lifestyle, dietary changes, herbs and other treatments for supporting serotonin below, also supports other bodily functions that help an individual achieve a sense of well being. So, even though this article is focusing on serotonin, the treatment options are able to be much more encompassing for someone who is feeling depressed, and really address the issue in a more comprehensive way than the title of this article suggests.
Short Introduction To Serotonin
Serotonin is important as a central nervous system neurotransmitter, but it is also vastly important for other things such as healing wounds and our gut function. Without adequate serotonin we end up with digestive issues that can then create many additional health problems.
Low serotonin is an issue for some individuals due to genetics, environmental toxins, dysbiosis, poor diet and lack of nutrients, lack of adequate sunlight or other issues. However, another issue may be that serotonin is normal, but there is a lack of enough serotonin receptors, or the receptors are not working as well as they should be.
Below are a few symptoms of low serotonin. Additionally, there is a second list of serotonin syndrome symptoms which takes place from excessive use of SSRIs or MAOs or mixes of the two and theoretically could take place from too much 5HTP perhaps, but I personally have yet to see that. However, I do watch out for it. Following that are a few ideas or methods a practitioner could consider when indicated, to support normal serotonin levels through diet, lifestyle, herbs and supplements.
Some of the benefits from supporting healthy serotonin levels
- Increases mental attention/alertness
- Increases a sense of well being
- It is easier to fall asleep and have more restful sleep
- It helps with mental alertness
- Decreases food intake
- Helps Keep the bowels moving
- Better able to socialize
Low Serotonin Symptoms
- Loss of pleasure in things that use to interest the individual
- Loss of joy
- Feeling depressed
- Depressed especially when cloudy or lack of sunlight
- Does not enjoy friendships or relationships
- Unable to fall asleep or have a deep restful sleep
- Obsessive compulsions
- Digestive problems
- Movement issues - balance, coordination
- Decreased wound repair
- Urinary incontinence
- Feeling anxiety and panic
- Increased pain
- Desire for social contact but afraid to initiate it
Comes on suddenly from too much serotonin and can cause:
- Nausea, vomiting
- Dilated pupils
- Agitation, restlessness
- Muscle spasms or, twitching, involuntary muscle contractions, muscle rigidity
- Sweating, shivering
- Abnormal (side-to-side) eye movements
- Confusion, disorientation, hallucinations
- Rapid heart rate
- High blood pressure
- Fever (greater than 101.3 F
- Abnormal heartbeat
- Passing out, fainting, coma
Some of these symptoms may be seen when taking excess SSRI's, or taking with MAO inhibitor drugs or taking an excess of MAO inhibitors, or certain herbs/supplements such as Saint John's wort, 5-hydroxytryptophan (5HTP), and tryptophan may theoretically add to serotonin syndrome when used wtih SSRI's or MAOs.
Suggestions For Therapists And Practitioners to Consider For Depression Therapies
- Cognitive Therapy or some other type of "Talk Therapy" Both cognitive therapy and interpersonal psychotherapy have proven to be as effective as medications in treating major depression. A book that you can suggest to patients is "Feeling Good" by David Burns.
- Examine genetic predispositions towards depression and use nutrigenomics to make changes. Serotonin is not the only neurotransmitter and there may be predispositions to instability of various other neurotransmitters.
- Sleep must be considered: Low serotonin, leads to low melatonin and sleep issues. Melatonin can be used for sleep. There are also peptides available that can help with low melatonin levels. Doing this also helps save the serotonin to be used for other things. However, additionally L-tryptophan or 5-HTP can be used as precursors to making serotonin and then melatonin. L-tryptophan is used to make 5-HTP and then 5-HTP is used to make serotonin and serotonin is used to make Melatonin. In some individuals one is better than the other for various reasons. Some people do better with both and I have even used small amounts of tryptophan, 5HTP and melatonin in certain cases. For more details on natural methods to support melatonin levels go to this link. Also, remember that there are other neurotransmitters involved with relaxation and restful sleep.
- Exercise is helpful. It has been shown to be as beneficial as Zoloft in Duke University Medical Center trials.
- Eat high nutrient, organic foods.
- Vitamin D regulates the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin. (Vitamin D levels should be measured before supplementing.)
- Omega-3-fatty acids: One type of fatty acid called ecosapentanoic acid, facilitates serotonin release from brain cells into synapses by reducing E2 series prostaglandins. These inflammatory prostaglandins can negatively impact the serotonin in the brain cells and block the release of serotonin into the synapses between the brain cells. The omega-3-fatty acid called docosahexanoic acid influences serotonin receptors by increasing cell membrane fluidity in postsynaptic neurons, which makes the receptors more accessible.
- Probiotics can be helpful as it is our friendly gut flora that modulate the amount of tryptophan we have available. Tryptophan is the sole precursor of serotonin.
- Feeding the colonic commensal microbes is also helpful by using water soluble fiber and resistant starch (cooled rice and potatoes), grains, seeds, beans, green bananas, oats. Cooking and cooling starchy foods increases their resistant starch.
- There are also herbs such as adaptogens, nootropics, and general nervines that may help these individuals. They should also have their biotransformation/detox system supported as needed and any other support specific to the individual. There is a lot that naturopathic medicine/functional medicine/herbalists can offer these individuals.
Easy, Inexpensive Ideas To Support Healthy Serotonin Levels
- Eating adequate protein as serotonin is made from the amino acid tryptophan. tryptophan --> 5HTP --> serotonin, The most common sources of tryptophan in the human diet are milk, fish, bananas, milk, oats, chicken, turkey, chocolate, and peanuts. Some fruits have a small amount of tryptophan also including bananas, apples and plums.
- Sunlight - prolonged lack of sunlight can lower serotonin levels, so getting sun, especially in the winter can be helpful
- Exercise for half an hour for a minimum of 30 minutes at least 3 times per week. Walking is sufficient to raise serotonin, so you don't need any exercise gear.
- Massage - exchange with a friend
- Practicing gratitude
- Stress decreases serotonin, so don't stress your body or mind excessively. Eating things that are stressful on the body or toxic emotional situations are problematic.
- Make sure you have a happy gut. Unhappy gut flora creates a depressed person. Don’t discount this bit of advice. It is the base for feeling good.
Choosing between L-tryptophan or 5HTP
- Supplementing with 5-HTP is preferable in some cases as, unlike L-tryptophan, 5-HTP cannot be shunted into production or kynurenic acid, quinolinic acid, and niacin, or be used to make protein. 5-HTP is committed to make serotonin.
- For some people they find L-tryptophan simply works better for them or they find using both 5-HTP and L-tryptophan is helpful for them.
- When using L-tryptophan it can be helpful to take it with a carbohydrate. The carbohydrate will cause the release of insulin into the blood stream and insulin removes the amino acids from the blood, except tryptophan, allowing tryptophan into the brain without competition from other amino acids. Once in the brain it will be made into serotonin.
Nutrients Needed In The Process of Serotonin Production
- B6 is necessary cofactor for production of serotonin
- Vitamin D regulates the conversion of tryptophan into serotonin.
- The omega-3-fatty acid called docosahexanoic acid influences serotonin receptors by increasing cell membrane fluidity in postsynaptic neurons, which makes the receptors more accessible.
- Methylation is necessary to make serotonin. Therefore key nutrients sometimes missing in people with MTHFR variants or other single nucleotide polymorphisms to make/recycle methionine are helpful such as folate, and B12. Sometimes methionine or more often SAMe are taken to help with methylation to make serotonin if the person has a genetic single nucleotide polymorphism pointing to this possible need with confirmation from lab tests.
- Fiber, especially water soluble fiber and resistant starch will feed colonic bacteria necessary to make serotonin.
- Commensal bacteria, especially spore-forming bacteria promote serotonin biosynthesis in the colonic enterochromaffin cells. Additionally, commensal microbes can directly use luminal tryptophan for serotonin synthesis. Lactococcus, Lactobacillus, Streptococcus, Escherichia coli, and Klebsiella have been reported to be able to produce serotonin by expressing tryptophan synthetase. Additionally, a small amount of serotonin is produced in the lumen of the gut by commensal microbes using a bacterial enzyme β-glucuronidase to deconjugate glucuronide-conjugated serotonin, which has been excreted into the gut via the bile duct. Bifidobacterium also has species that can transform tryptophan into serotonin.
- There is a need for normal levels of estrogen or testosterone to have appropriate sensitivity of serotonin receptor sites.
- The enzymes involved in breakdown of serotonin are 5-hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIAA) and monoamine oxidase (MAO). These enzymes need magnesium methyl donors and B vitamins. (too high of serotonin is also problematic)
- Peptides: Practitioners are now using peptides to modulate serotonin and other neurotransmitters to help people with a variety of mental/emotional issues including depression. Peptides may replace many of our current drugs in the future. Hopefully, they will not become illegal while the pharmaceutical companies manipulate them to make them patentable. This appears to possibly already be taking place and saddens me as they are immensely helpful and many appear to have low side effects when compared with drugs used otherwise. There are both natural and synthetic peptides being used currently. If you are curious about them, practitioners can learn more at various courses available such as this one taking place this year.
- Anything that harms or kills the colonic commensal microbes will also decrease serotonin production in the gut. Oral antibiotics are the most common reason for a decreased level of commensal microbes in the large intestine and a corresponding lowering of serotonin production.
- Intestinal dysbiosis must be attended to. Gram negative, "Bad" bacteria contain lipopolysacchride (LPS) in their outer membrane and LPS has been shown to decrease serotonin levels in the prefrontal cortices of mice. Researchers have theorized this may be due to LPS-induced immune response that activates indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase and supports the kynurenine pathway thereby decreasing serotonin synthesis. Stress also appears to shunt towards the kynurenine pathway and is probably why stress is related to lower serotonin levels.
Antidepressive Herbal Formula
This is an herbal formula found in both Dr. Sharol's kindle book on Amazon "Herbal Formulas" or her paperback book "Herbal Medicine From The Heart Of The Earth". It is is a well rounded formula used for appropriate individuals who are in a depressed state. It is used to support the person's nervous system as well as other organs that may be involved. (see contraindications and cautions below as not everyone should use this formula).
Herbs In The Formula
St. John’s wort - Hypericum perforatum 25-40%
Siberian ginseng - Eleutherococcus senticosus 15-20%
Skullcap - Scutellaria lateriflora 5-20%
Schisandra - Schisandra chinensis 10 -20%
Oats, milky green stage - Avena sativa 10 - 20%
Chamomile - Matricaria recutita 5-10%
Rosemary - Rosmarinus officinalis 5-10%
Lavender essential oil - Lavandula officinalis 1-2 drops per oz tincture
Orange essential Oil - Citrus aurantium 1-2 drops per oz tincture
Tip: Both Saint John’s wort and Oats need to be fresh with Oats in the milky green stage. Therefore, it is best to use a tincture for this formula.
This formula is a restorative tonic for the nervous system. It is an antidepressive formula that brings a sense of peace and relaxation through the olfactory action as well as the effect from internal consumption.
This formula is used for mild to moderate depression. It should be used long term for best results. It is also helpful for attention deficit disorder.
Tincture: 30-120 drops 3 times per day in a little water.
Contraindications, cautions and words of wisdom:
Mental/emotional disorders should be diagnosed and treated by a qualified mental health care practitioner. Some emotional disturbances can be indications of serious physiological disorders. This formula is contraindicated in pregnancy. Saint John’s wort can affect the level of some drugs in the body. If a person is using any drugs, it is important to check to see if Saint John’s wort may affect the level of that drug or drugs.
Adjunct Therapies To Consider in the book:
Serenity Inducing Tea
Valerian Compound Formula
See “Methods to support a healthy nervous system” also in the book.
Profiles of herbs used in this formula:
St. John’s wort, Hypericum perforatum is a nervine, anti-inflammatory, sedative and trophorestorative. It is used for depression, fear, insomnia, anorexia, anxiety or feelings of worthlessness, nerve pain and night terrors. You can find more expanded data on St. John's wort taken from Dr. Sharols most recent 3rd edition of "Herbal Medicine From The Heart of the Earth". This will give you more details on how this herb helps with depression.
Siberian ginseng, Eleutherococcus senticosus is an adaptogen. It helps the body adapt to stressful situations of many types whether from internal or external causes. It increases endurance, and concentration in part by enhancing oxygen metabolism in tissues and organs. This herb strengthens digestion, supports the kidneys and enhances overall resistance to disease. It is supportive to the adrenal system and other bodily functions.
Skullcap, Scutellaria lateriflora is a sedative, antispasmodic, hypotensive, nervous system trophorestorative and cerebral vasodilator. It is used for insomnia, restless sleep, agitation, nervous exhaustion and nervous system weakness after prolonged illness. Skullcap is indicated for nervous irritation of the cerebrospinal nervous system.
Chamomile, Matricaria recutita is anti-inflammatory, antispasmodic, analgesic, carminative, sedative and stomachic. It is a restorative tonic for the nervous system. Chamomile is used as a mild sedative for nervousness and nightmares and is especially nice for infants and elders that are restless when attempting to sleep.
Rosemary, Rosmarinus officinalis constituents rosmanol, cirsimaritin and salvigenin have shown biphasic modulation of GABA-A receptors in mice as well as antidepressant activity and anxiolytic (antianxiety) activity supporting its use for depression. Rosemary is known for helping with memory which might have to do with its antioxidant activity which helps decrease inflammation in the body, including the brain. Decreasing inflammation helps with anxiety and depression. Rosemary’s antimicrobial activity will help in the gut and we know a happy gut makes a happy mind.
Oat, Avena sativa is a slow-acting nourishing nervine. Oat has been used in breaking addictive habits with substances like morphine, opium, alcohol, nicotine and coffee. It is also used for insomnia, nervousness and an irritated nervous system caused by exhaustion or stress.
Schisandra, Schisandra chinensis has been shown to protect the body from neural dysfunction with its antioxidant effects. It is used as an anxiolytic where it might be acting by inducing a significant decrease of norepinephrine. It also has effects on gamma-aminobutyric acid, 5-hydroxytryptamine and dopamine which are thought to contribute to the anti-anxiety and antidepressive activity. Schisandra is hepatoprotective, an immunomodulator, adaptogen and a cholagogue. It increases brain efficiency, work capacity and builds strength. This herb is in this formula because of its multisystem support. It is also useful in insomnia, night sweats, prolonged diarrhea and immunodeficient states.
Lavender, Lavandula officinalis is a spasmolytic, anti-inflammatory and carminative. It is used for nervous excitement, exhaustion and insomnia.
Orange, Citrus aurantium has an aroma that is relaxing and uplifting. The aroma is taken into the body by the olfactory nerve and affects the limbic system of the brain.
Thanks for considering non-drug methods to support people with depression, as well as looking deeper into the drugs used for depression, and how they may be adding to violence in the USA.