How to increase serotonin
by Nathan Wei, MD, FACP, FACR
Nathan Wei is a nationally-known board-certified rheumatologist and author of the Second Opinion Arthritis Treatment Kit. It's available exclusively at this website... not available in stores.
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Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for many functions in the brain.
The dietary supplement 5-hydroxy-L-tryptophan (5-HTP) is present in foods such as beef, chicken, fish, dairy products and other high protein foods.
In the brain 5-HTP is converted into the neurotransmitter serotonin, which helps regulate mood, sleep and appetite. Reduced levels of serotonin are associated with depression, obsessive compulsive disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder and migraine.
Antidepressant drugs like Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil work by increasing serotonin levels in the brain and are also used to treat other disorders linked to low serotonin including migraine.
The 5-HTP supplements on the market today are made from the seeds of an African plant, Griffonia simplicifolia and have been available in the U.S. since 1994.
Anyone taking any type of anti-depressant medication should avoid 5-HTP, except under a physician’s advice. Side effects include nausea, constipation, flatulence, drowsiness and reduced sex drive. In high doses, 5-HTP may cause liver problems and aggravate asthma. Women who are pregnant or planning to become pregnant shouldn’t take it.
High carbohydrate meals may increase serotonin levels. Dietary methods for increasing serotonin are not long-lasting. The impact of more complex carbohydrates is less clear.
One recent study examined whether alpha-lactalbumin-a major subfraction found in whey that has an especially high tryptophan content-would increase plasma tryptophan levels.
The protein alpha-lactalbumin increases the plasma ratio of tryptophan to the other large neutral amino acids, and in some people raises brain serotonin activity, reduces cortisol concentration, and improves mood under stress.
Care must be taken in any attempt to increase serotonin levels, as a dangerous condition known as serotonin syndrome may result. This is especially a concern if multiple serotonergic agents interact to increase 5-HT levels - such as can happen when St Johns Wort is taken in combination with an SSRI.
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