Which nutrients are needed?
Serotonin regulates many of our neurotransmitters. It acts like the conductor of a orchestra. Serotonin deficiency can occur when there isn’t enough tryptophan, the amino acid that helps build it. Enough iron is needed to turn tryptophan into 5-HTP, the precursor of serotonin. Low iron is one of the most common conditions I see in clinic along with low mood.
Tryptophan comes from turkey and other animal proteins. When digestive health is compromised nutrients like iron and b vitamins may not be absorbed properly. B-vitamins and magnesium are required to convert 5-HTP to serotonin. Supplementing can help but we want to repair the gut. Keep in mind that the majority of our neurotransmitters are produced in the small intestine when it’s healthy.
Serotonin in Action
People with optimal serotonin are more able to feel calm, optimistic, creative, logical, patient, affectionate and focused. This neurotransmitter tells you body when it’s had enough food. Serotonin also stimulates your appetite and promotes peristalsis. Remember that the underlying cause of irritable bowel syndrome or SIBO is slow peristalsis. We can use 5-HTP to help depending on what else is presenting.
Low serotonin can present as righteousness, irritability, urgency, being distracted, anxious and reactive. The need to be in control and recurrent emotional outbursts indicate that stress tolerance is down. This is because serotonin really works with other chemicals in our body to handle normal, everyday stresses gracefully. Injuries can take longer to heal when we are low and pain will be perceived as high.
The Magic of Melatonin
Melatonin is really an incredible substance and serotonin is needed to produce it. Serotonin is melatonin’s precursor! Here’s some of the wonderful ways melatonin works in your body:
- suppresses adrenal activity so your metabolism can be directing towards rest & sleep
- coordinates your immune system by stimulating the thymus gland
- it is an antioxidant for your central nervous system and your digestive tract
- we have organ stores that get depleted as we age or with chronic stress
Melatonin is activated by low light levels. If you don’t wear blue blocker glasses and are on screens at night, your pineal gland will not know that it’s time to release melatonin. My 7 year old son was having trouble falling asleep last night. This is very unusual for him but I explained how watching a movie in the evening was probably the cause. It made me consider getting him glasses that are blue light blockers especially because he doesn’t enjoy bright lights when he has been on stage for music. Your brain can relax when the light is right.
Gut Health, Liver & Insulin
So tryptophan produces serotonin and serotonin produces melatonin. What gets in the way of tryptophan production other than low protein intake is a disrupted gut microbiome. Certain microorganisms in your gut love to consume both tryptophan and B12. If your immunity and digestion are compromised so will your ability to produce serotonin.
Tryptophan is also essential for your liver to function optimally. If your liver is under extra pressure then your tryptophan will be low. Alcohol and caffeine alter your liver’s ability to produce 5-HTP. This is because tryptophan will be used to help break down these stimulants instead of building serotonin. If you are curious about how the gut and liver work together check out this article.
Low insulin also leads to serotonin deficiency. Adequate carbohydrates help serotonin pass the blood, brain barrier. If you are low carb for too long without doing any carb cycling this also puts you at risk. There are lots of reasons to carb cycle. Diversity of your gut microbes is one. Serotonin deficiency makes it harder to change habits. A healthy lifestyle is a lot easier to create when your serotonin levels are adequate.