The Best Serotonin Supplements
If you are feeling constantly down in the dumps, moody and pessimistic, you may be suffering from a deficiency in serotonin. Many people trying to combat depression, are prescribed selective serotonin uptake inhibitors such as Zoloft or Prozac. However, these prescription medications are not without their problems. They can cause some nasty side effects and also bring with them a risk of dependency.
Fortunately, there are some effective alternatives to powerful pharmaceutical SSRIs. There are several more natural serotonin supplements that have showed promise in treating the symptoms of serotonin deficiency including depression and insomnia.
What is Serotonin?
Serotonin, is a very powerful chemical in the brain linked closely to emotional well-being and mental health. This ‘happy neurotransmitter’ helps us feel calm, level headed, optimistic and generally improves our feeling of well-being. Insufficient serotonin levels have the exact opposite effect and a deficiency is linked with a number of mental health and behavioral issues including depression, bipolar disorder, insomnia, ADHD and autism.
Low levels of serotonin or the abnormal function of the chemical is one of the major underlying causes of depression. A host of studies have demonstrated that imbalances in serotonin can cause not only the classic symptoms of depression like sadness but also other symptoms such as sleep disruption, aggression, panic and food cravings.
If you or a member of your family is suffering as a result of serotonin deficiency, there is some light at the end of the tunnel. Certain supplements are widely used to help boost serotonin levels and research into their effects has been largely positive. The most popular serotonin supplements on the market today are L-tryptophan SAM-E and 5-HTP.
There are also certain herbs that can help boost your serotonin levels while certain minerals and vitamins may also help.
The first supplement that we will look at fell from favor back in the 1980s when a batch of the supplements from Japan was contaminated causing many thousands of people to fall ill. These days however, it is widely regarded to be a safe supplement that can effectively boost your serotonin levels.
So what is L-tryptophan and how does it work?
It is actually an essential form of amino acid which the body needs to synthesize its serotonin. L-tryptophan is found in certain protein rich food especially animal products. Unfortunately however that does not mean that eating plenty of animal products will boost your serotonin. Serotonin synthesis is blocked by protein so eating a protein heavy meal will actually cause a drop in both serotonin and L-tryptophan levels.
L-tryptophan is a precursor to serotonin. The conversion from tryptohan to serotonin takes two steps with the first step being the synthesis to 5-HTP. Studies have showed that L-tryptophan taken as a supplement can increase your serotonin levels. (1)
It is regarded as especially useful for people suffering from mild depression and insomnia. It is also considered useful for those that can not tolerate 5-HTP because its effects are more gentle. As well as helping to treat people with mental health problems, there is evidence from research that L-Tryptohan can help boost the emotions of healthy people. (2)
2) 5-HTP (5-hydroxy tryptophan)
5-HTP is another popular serotonin supplement. It is derived from an African shrub called Griffonia simplicifolia.
Your body actually produces 5-HTP from L-tryptophan before converting it to serotonin. When it is taken in supplementary form, the body absorbs 5-HTP very well and it is able to cross over the blood brain barrier where it is converted into serotonin.
When it comes to boosting serotonin levels, 5-HTP is considered to be stronger than L-Tryptohan. A number of clinical trials have confirmed that 5-HTP supplements were effective for various emotional problems including depression, insomnia, binge eating and even certain panic disorders. (3, 4)
5-HTP is sold as an over the counter supplement in various countries including Canada, the U.S and the U.K. Elsewhere in Europe it is sold as a prescription treatment for depression, anxiety, ADHD migraine, fibromyalgia and sleep disorders.
While there have been many positive studies, its ability to fight depression is still in dispute. One review that looked at the results of 108 studies into depresion and 5-HTP revealed that there was no concrete evidence that it was effective. (5)
5-HTP or L-Tryptophan?
Being as the two supplements are so closely linked to each other, there is plenty of ongoing debate regarding which is best for increasing your serotonin levels.
L-Tryptophan enters into the brain more easily however 5-HTP requires one step fewer beofore converting to serotonin. Unlike L-Tryptophan, 5-HTP is not intended to be used long term. 5-HTP increases serotonin but it may also deplete other important neurotransmitters such as dopamine. This can cause inevitable unwanted side effects in the long term and is the reason why many people prefer L-Tryptophan. As we have already mentioned, the effects of L-Tryptophan are also considered to be milder.
3) SAM-E (S-adenosyl methionine)
SAM-e is a naturally occurring compound which is present in every single one of the body’s cells. Produced from an amino acid called methionine, SAM-e is required by the body for at least one hundred different metabolic reactions including the proper synthesis of its serotonin.
Synthetic SAM-e is sold as a supplement in the U.S while in Europe, it is prescribed by doctors for depression as well many other illnesses such as osteoarthritis and liver disease.
Several well designed studies have demonstrated that SAM-e is effective as a treatment for depression. Some studies have showed that it compares favorably with popular antidepressant medication. It helps to increase serotonin levels but also helps boost other important brain chemicals such as dopamine and acetylcholine. (6) One study found that it was especially helpful for patients with schizophrenia and Parkinson’s disease who also suffered with depression. (7)
Herbal Supplements to Boost Serotonin
As well as the amino acid based supplements mentioned above, there are several herbal remedies that can help boost serotonin levels and treat the various symptoms of deficiency.
1) St. John’s Wort
According to research, herbal extracts made from St. John’s wort is effective in boosting your level of serotonin. It can inhibit the re-uptake of serotonin and other brain chemicals like dopamine and norepinephrene. This means more of these important neurotransmitters are available for the brain.
Studies show that St. John’s wort is especially effective for people who are suffering with mild or moderate forms of depression. One study found that the herbal extract was just as effective as a prescription antidepressant while it was much better tolerated. (8)
2) Garcinia Cambogia
You may not be familiar with this tropical fruit but Garcinia cambogia is a popular fruit in Asian cuisine. An extract made from the fruit is extremely popular as a supplement for weight loss because of its reputed ability to suppress the appetite and burn fat.
While studies are inconclusive about its ability to burn fat, they do show that it can suppress the appetite by increasing levels of serotonin.
3) Rhodiola Rosea
Rhodiola rosea which is also known as golden root, Aaron’s rod and Arctic root has a host of different medicinal uses. It has been widely used since ancient Greece to boost both mental and physical vitality.
It is considered to be an excellent natural remedy for mild depression, poor concentration and low energy levels. Studies show that Rhodolia is a powerful adaptogen that can increase a person’s resistance to anxiety and stress. It can also help to boost serotonin naturally and decrease cortisol – the human stress hormone. (10)
Curcumin, the major active ingredient in turmeric has a variety of properties that can help boost the brain’s health. According to research, it can help to increase the brain’s levels of both dopamine and serotonin. (11)
According to research, curcumin supplements were just as effective in treating depression as the anti-depressant medication – Prozac. (12)
There are many types of curcumin supplement with different levels of bioavailability, For a full review on the best curcumin supplements, click on this link.
- While a deficiency in serotonin can lead to many mental health issues, an excess can also cause harm such as a condition known as serootonin syndrome.
- Take only one serotonin boosting supplement at any one time.
- Do not take supplements with prescription anti-depressants or anti anxiety medications.