Serotonin Levels - Three Reasons More isn't Always Better
Commentators on natural health often describe depression as a disease caused by low serotonin levels. While it is true that the neurochemical serotonin plays a very important role in how strong and how fast impulses travel between neurons in the brain, and the speed of impulses relates to depression, higher serotonin levels are not necessarily better serotonin levels.
Modern medicine treats depression with medications known as selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs). These drugs are selective in that they act on the brain, rather than on other parts of the body that use serotonin. Inhibiting reuptake of serotonin in the platelets of the bloodstream, for instance, can cause a propensity for clots. Inhibiting reuptake of serotonin in the digestive tract can cause poor digestion and absorption of food and diarrhea.
A reuptake inhibitor keeps serotonin from going back inside a nerve cell, forcing it to stay in the gaps between nerve cells so it can act as an electrical conductor, making sure impulses travel from nerve to nerve in the peripheral nervous system and from neuron to neuron in the brain. Drugs in the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor class won't work if there is not enough serotonin to begin with, but they may cause serotonin syndrome if there is too much.
How can you work with your doctor to manage serotonin levels? Here are three essentials:
- Let your gut be your guide for distinguishing low serotonin levels and high serotonin levels. Low serotonin levels symptoms include constipation, abdominal distention, and depression, serotonin being important to both the brain and the gut. High serotonin levels symptoms are those of serotonin syndrome.
- Work on one aspect of serotonin management at a time. If you are taking a prescription SSRI, don't take supplements such as tryptophan or 5-HTP to raise serotonin levels. Stop taking supplements, including St. John's wort, before you start taking a prescription antidepressant.
- Be careful about foods that raise serotonin levels, such as walnuts, bananas, plums, avocados, tomatoes, and tropical fruits. They do not contain enough serotonin to cause serotonin syndrome, but they can cause severe stomach upset if you are on antidepressant medication.
If you follow these basic guidelines, then don't worry about serotonin levels. Just be aware of serotonin syndrome, and focus on life decisions that help you get better, taking either a supplement or a prescription medication, but not both, and not two of each, unless prescribed by your doctor.
Serotonin Deficiency and Emotions