Beating The Blues
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter or chemical messenger involved with a number of major, regulatory processes in the body. These include sleep, mood, libido (sexual interest) and body temperature.
Serotonin is a word often associated with the use of substances like E, P and BZP, as taking these depleted this vital brain chemical. Prolonged stress, as well as a high protein, very low carb diet will also contribute to low brain levels. In the winter months, many people suffer with seasonal affective disorder (SAD), also called the Winter Blues, which is linked to light deprivation. Studies show that the seasonal variations in natural light alter levels of the hormone melatonin, which subsequently causes reduced levels of serotonin. Working in enclosed spaces without natural light can cause the same kind of problem, creating a wide range of serotonin deficiency symptoms.
The most common symptoms relating to low serotonin are: depression, carbohydrate craving and binging, sleeping problems and insomnia, compulsive obsessive disorder, anxiety and appetite changes, to name a few.
When serotonin levels drop, you can start to experience problems with concentration and routine responsibilities can start to become quite overwhelming. As depression skins in, it can seem hard to get enthusiastic about anything. Emotional sadness, low self confidence and social withdrawal are common.
At this stage, those bodily functions that are regulated by serotonin can experience some major changes. Alternations in sleep pattern is a common serotonin deficiency symptom, as this chemical is involved with determining the sleep and wake cycle. As well as this, when serotonin levels are low, you can find it hard to get into a deep sleep, yet are exhausted and usually wake feeling tired, no matter how many hours you did get.
Many people experience mild to moderate depression at some stage in their life nd they seem to cope, leading a "normal" lifestyle. But a serotonin deficiency can be different, as you feel really withdrawn, lose your sense of humour and start to take everything personally. You are "in your head" with thoughts racing at a million miles an hour. Comments, glances and situations are viewed personally and negatively. If someone speaks to you, it irritates you. If they don't speak, you become angry and feel ignored.
Once at this stage, work colleagues and family members may start commenting about your behaviour and notice that you are "not yourself". The common suggestion would be to go to the GP, who would prescribe a medication such as Prozac or Zoloft - drugs that attempt to specifically target and increase serotonin. Known as Selective Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs), these medications are felt to work by making more serotonin available in the brain. These come with a whole host of side effects though, such as dizziness, decreased libido, insomnia, agitation, dry mouth and weight gain. Often a sleeping pill is recommended as well, but again, side effects are common.
From the natural health point of view, there are a number of options available that I believe should be considered before taking pharmaceuticals such as these. One of the most important things to work on is increasing serotonin levels in your body. You can do this in a number of ways.
Consider taking 5-HTP (5-Hydroxy L-Tryptophan), as extract from a plant seed called Griffonia. 5-HTP is the next step in tryptophan metabolism and is converted to serotonin in the brain. 5-HTP is the immediate precursor to serotonin (5-Hydroxy-tryptamine or 5-HT). Your GP will not recommend 5-HTP to you. This is because drug companies have no interest in supplying this compound to the public, as 5-HTP cannot be patented. This is a real shame, as researchers have clinically investigated 5-HTP in comparison to antidepressant drugs and the results of the studies were astounding. Using the standard depression scale, both the drug and 5-HTP groups displayed identical reduction in depression.
Depressed patients who received 100g of 5-HTP three times daily, showed at least a 50% improvement in their symptoms, without any reported side effects. Subsequent studies were performed using 5-HTP for anxiety, panic disorders, sleep difficulties and obesity. An obvious decline was also noticed in anxiety symptoms and patients with panic disorder noticed a feeling of relief after receiving 5-HTP. Always seek professional advise before self-prescribing.
Getting out in the sunlight for 20 minutes a day is an easy way to help boost serotonin levels. This may also help to reduce stress levels - another important factor involved in helping with serotonin. If you are going to take stimulants and part pills, ensure you pre-load with the correct amino acids and nutrients before and afterwards.
Written by Leanne James. Originally published in M2 Magazine. Men's Issue M2.13