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Low serotonin: the effects on mood and thought

Low serotonin: the effects on mood and thought

Could low serotonin be the cause of an irascible mood tone, more exposed to problems of anxiety, anger and above all to depression? Let’s see in detail what this molecule is and how it is implicated in mental disorders.

Contents hide 1 What is serotonin? 2 Low serotonin 3 Serotonin: depression and other disorders 3.1 The experiment 3.2 Clinical analyzes 4 How to produce it naturally 4.1 Serotonin-based supplements

What is Serotonin?

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter, that is, a chemical substance capable of transmitting information between cells of the nervous tissue. For the functions it performs, it has been renamed ” the good mood hormone ” or “the good mood molecule”.

The precursor of serotonin is the tryptophan amino acid. In the case of low serotonin , the first thing to do is to wonder about the diet and the foods that are ingested regularly. Tryptophan is an amino acid and, as such, it is contained in proteins. A low-protein diet could interfere with good serotonin production.

The good mood molecule is produced by the cells of the nervous system, mostly in the brain, but also by specialized cells present in the pulmonary bronchioles and in the digestive canal. More than 90% of the serotonin present in the bloodstream is contained in the platelets.

Low serotonin

Serotonin is able to transmit the information necessary for constricting the vessels, takes part in the process involved in regulating the sleep-wake cycle , and is able to strongly influence mood .

An excess of serotonin causes diarrhea, confusion, headache, dyspnoea, hallucinations, chills, tremors, sweating, tachycardia, nausea …

A low serotonin  condition  can trigger an increased sensitivity to cold (serotonin plays a role in regulating body temperature), it can cause:

  • Low mood tone
  • Apathy
  • anhedonia
  • Poor mood reactivity
  • Sleep disorders
  • Inclination to anxiety disorders
  • Obsessive thinking
  • brooding
  • Irritability
  • intolerance
  • Pessimism

A significant alteration of this molecule in the central nervous system is believed to be implicated in several mental disorders.

Serotonin: depression and other ailments

Alterations of the serotinergic system seem to be involved in several disorders:

  • depression ,
  • bipolar disorder,
  • nervous anorexia,
  • bulimia,
  • binge eating disorder,
  • post traumatic stress disorder,
  • anxiety,
  • obsessive compulsive disorder.

Low serotonin levels  have also been observed in patients with obsessive-compulsive disorder, so it has been linked by the psychiatrist to that particular “obsessive” way of thinking and  rumination .

When it comes to depression, research has focused on the sensitivity of serotonin receptors. In depression, in fact, there is not necessarily low serotonin levels.

In patients with major depression there may be an alteration of the receptor system such that even if the serotonin levels are not low, the neurotransmitter is unable to perform its functions.

The experiment

In one experiment the reduction of tryptophan was provoked (in a sample of subjects). Tryptophan is the amino acid implicated in the production of serotonin. In the absence of this amino acid our body cannot produce it.

The researchers observed that serotonin levels dropped for several hours within a few hours. Studies have shown that tryptophan depletion (and the consequent lowering of the serotonin level) causes  temporary depressive symptoms in subjects with a personal or family history of depression .

The same effect, however, is  not observed in subjects who do not have a personal or family history of depression . From this study (Neumeister, Konstantinidis, Stastny et al., 2002), it was deduced that subjects  vulnerable to depression  have hyposensitive serotonin receptors, so a  lowering of the neurotransmitter  causes a more intense response .

Something similar has also been observed in bipolar disorder. In patients diagnosed with  bipolar disorder , greater changes in mood were observed following the induced reduction of tryptophan compared to non-clinical subjects (Sobczak, Honig, Nicolson et al. 2002).

In summary, if on the one hand  low serotonin  can be implicated in certain mental disorders, it is also true that scientific evidence leads us to assume that a decrease in sensitivity of serotonin receptors is involved in mood disorders (depression and bipolar disorder)  .

Clinical analysis

Is there a test to measure serotonin levels?
Yes. Blood serotonin levels can be measured (blood test). These analyzes are also used to investigate some forms of cancer (carcinoid tumors). In some cases, urine tests can be performed to measure serotonin levels; in fact, serotonin is metabolized in the liver and its metabolites, mainly 5-HIAA (5-hydroxyindolacetic acid), are eliminated in the urine.

How to produce it naturally

In homeopathy and in portals, one often hears about “natural serotonin”. In reality there is no “serotonin” that is not natural! Even those who take antidepressants do not put the molecule directly into the circulation, but active ingredients designed to increase concentrations in the central nervous system.

To improve mood and help our body produce serotonin, we can take care of nutrition and our lifestyle.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid , it is called “essential” because our body is unable to produce it independently and needs to ingest it through food. Foods that contain tryptophan are:

  • Soya beans
  • Cod
  • Parmigiano
  • Egg (especially in egg white)
  • Wheat germ
  • Sunflower seeds
  • Meats
  • Salmon
  • Dark chocolate
  • Milk

You will be pleased to know that tryptophan is the precursor not only of serotonin but also of  melatonin , the neurormone involved in the sleep-wake cycle.

Even certain activities can increase the production of “natural serotonin”. Among the most effective we point out:

  • Psychotherapy
  • Outdoor life and sun exposure
  • Physical exercise

Can psychotherapy improve neurotransmitter production?
Yes. An external situation has been shown to rapidly alter neurotransmitter production. “Mental training” in cognitive processes can increase serotonin production and  improve mood self-regulation  (J. Psychiatry Neurosci, 2007).

Serotonin based supplements

In reality they do not exist. It is possible to buy tryptophan supplements sold to promote sleep, to improve the production of the good mood molecule and melatonin.

Research has shown that a good intake of tryptophan can improve sleep quality and even mood, but only in non-clinical subjects (i.e. only in patients who do not have a history of shoulder depression or other mental disorders).

Tryptophan supplements should not be taken concomitantly with MAOI or SSRI class antidepressant medications.