By Josh Redd, DC on February 22, 2019
SSRI antidepressants are a popular medication for depression. Yet one should stop to ask why they are feeling depressed in the first place.
However, we also still need healthy serotonin activity, the target of SSRIs, to feel good.
Do you have these symptoms of low serotonin?
Light. The brain needs sufficient light to make serotonin, so staying inside all the time or living in chronically dark or grey weather can impact serotonin activity.
Estrogen. Low estrogen in women can lead to low serotonin. This is why some perimenopausal or post-menopausal women become depressed.
Functional medicine can often address causes of estrogen deficiency, including blood sugar or adrenal imbalances. However, some women who are perimenopausal or post-menopausal may still need bioidentical hormone replacement therapy (bio HRT). Bio HRT can deplete the methyl donors needed for serotonin synthesis, so it’s important to supplement with them: methyl B-12, SAMe, or MSM (methylsulfonylmethane).
Diet. Conventional nutritional advice says to eat foods high in tryptophan, a precursor amino acid, to boost serotonin. However, we really don’t see this work.
Instead, it’s better to eat a diet that stabilizes blood sugar and does not inflame the gut or the body. This includes abstaining from sugar and processed carbs, eliminating foods that trigger an inflammatory response, and consuming plenty of a diverse array of vegetables to promote healthy gut bacteria.
Blood sugar and gut inflammation. Blood sugar that is either too low or too high can profoundly affect serotonin activity, causing depression. This is also true for a diet that causes inflammation in the gut and the body.
Iron. An iron deficiency can hinder serotonin production. Causes of iron deficiency include iron anemia, celiac disease, leaky gut, heavy periods, parasites, over exercising, low stomach acid, hypothyroidism, and uterine fibroids.
A variety of vitamins are required to synthesize serotonin, including P-5-P (pyridoxal-5-phosphate), an active form of B-6, niacin, methyl B-12, folic acid, and magnesium.
Many people are deficient in these cofactors because of the nutrient-poor Americans diet.
Also, magnesium deficiencies can happen in those taking diuretics or in athletes who over train.
Methyl donors, such as methyl B-12, are necessary for the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin. Taking SSRI antidepressants for long periods of time depletes methyl donors and P-5-P.
People weaning off SSRIs may benefit from supplementing with these cofactors to recover from deficiencies caused by these medications.
5-HTP and tryptophan are precursors to serotonin. Tryptophan crosses the blood-brain barrier more easily than 5-HTP. However, 5-HTP is only one step away from being converted to serotonin compared to tryptophan, which is two steps away. This means 5-HTP has more serotonin-boosting potential. Taking both can cover your bases.
Studies show 5-HTP and tryptophan can help address depression, persistent nightmares, fibromyalgia, chronic headaches, migraines, and mood disorders.
Natural compounds that increase receptor site sensitivity, help the breakdown of used serotonin, and provide serotonin cofactors include St. John’s wort, SAMe, P-5-P (a form of B-6), niacinamide, magnesium citrate, methyl B-12, and folic acid.
Ask my office how we can help you support your brain’s serotonin so you feel happier and get better enjoyment out of life.