Supplements that boost Serotonin Levels

Today’s article is brought to you by a new AG contributor named CJ.

– Paul Dooley

Effects of Serotonin

Serotonin, or 5-hydroxytryptamine, is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating several important bodily functions, but its popular implications today are its effects on mood and anxiety.  Modern day antidepressants of the class SSRI (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor) cause serotonin to be removed from the bloodstream and brain more slowly, allowing more to be available for the brain to use.

This excess of serotonin boosts mood, induces relaxation, and can also boost confidence.  Unfortunately, SSRIs have many negative side effects, and require a doctor’s prescription to use.  SSRIs can cause sexual dysfunction, mania, paradoxical anxiety, hallucinations, and other mental problems.  Luckily for the general population, you don’t need to take SSRIs to boost your serotonin levels.

Vitamins for anxiety are widely available in health food stores and pharmacies.  It is important to differentiate, however, vitamins from inducers.  Anti-anxiety vitamins contain the amino acids required to build more serotonin in a person’s body, allowing the body to naturally form the serotonin.

Many products are available to relieve anxiety that are not vitamins but rather inducers, that is, natural drugs.  St. John’s Wort is an herb available for purchase in health food stores that inhibits the breakdown of serotonin almost exactly like an SSRI.  L-theanine (also called levotheanine or theanine) is becoming very popular as an anti-anxiety chemical, but it does not act on the serotonin system at all, rather acting on dopamine and GABA channels.

Because of its action on these pathways, l-theanine is addictive and should be avoided for long term use.  The same goes for Valerian root, which acts exclusively on the GABA complex and is also addictive (its action is much like that of diazepam).  How will you know if you should be taking serotonin-boosting remedies?

Stress symptoms vary widely, but can manifest as insomnia, irritability, and lack of focus, depression, chest pains, increased blood pressure, increased cortisol levels, and an overall dysphoria.  If you experience any of these problems it is important that you talk to a doctor, and if the doctor determines you do not need any more serious medical help, then perhaps you should consider taking some vitamins for anxiety reduction.

Reduce your level of stress

If used properly these should reduce your level of stress overall in life.  The best way to use these supplements to their greatest effect is to know your anxiety.  Is it caused by previously existing trauma? Or do you get too little sleep every night? Do you have stressful relationships with family, friends, or co-workers?  Do you spend too much time at a stressful job?  Do you have a family history of psychiatric problems?

Depending on the answers to these questions, a doctor can adequately tell you whether supplements will help solve your problem, help deal with it, or be of no benefit at all.  If your anxiety has a root in reality, supplements may not be your best option, although they may help day to day.  In this case, you need to also be seeing a therapist to help you deal with your anxiety.  Another important thing to consider when discussing stress, anxiety, and supplemental vitamins used to alleviate them is whether conventional pharmaceuticals are a better or worse choice.

The aforementioned selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor drugs are in use for a reason.  In general, if compared to something like St. John’s Wort which has a similar effect, an SSRI like the potent paroxetine has a significantly larger ability to increase serotonin levels.  This allows it to act faster and more powerfully than a supplement might.  Use of supplements requires patience, a careful balance of diet and exercise, self-meditation, and the advice of a doctor.

SSRIs are all in one, and require only the recommendation of a doctor to use.  It is also important to note that SSRIs are not addictive, as some believe.  They are often confused with another drug type used to reduce stress levels, the benzodiazepines.  “Benzos” act on the GABA complex within the brain, causing a slow-down of impulse firing.

This produces a number of calming effects, but is also highly addictive.  This should be avoided unless you are dealing with extremely severe anxiety and a doctor recommends this course of treatment.  It is best to just go to the drug store and pick up a supplement, like 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan).  This substance is the basis for the serotonin molecule and unlike 5-HT, it can pass from the blood to the brain.

Vitamins and drugs

This is the primary concern with anxiety vitamins and drugs alike; serotonin can not simply be ingested or injected because the body will not let it access the brain.  In today’s society, people have become acutely aware of their stress and anxiety levels, as well as simpler, or more complex ways to treat them.  This is likely because of the level of comfort that has been afforded us by technology.

We are so used to things being done for us, and exercise not being necessary that we become anxious.  This is one of the keys to relaxation: exercise.  When you exercise, your body releases natural dopamine and endorphin, reward and pleasure chemicals.  Dopamine relieves stress and provides energy, while endorphin, a chemical similar to the painkiller morphine, provides pleasure as well as slowing activity in the GABA complex.  All of this is natural, so it is only addictive in the context that food or sleep is addictive.  All this, and it’s free and easy.

Exercise can be done anywhere, at any time.  Combining exercise with supplements can help reduce anxiety and stress levels and make you a significantly healthier person for very little money.  It requires some effort to maintain exercise and continue taking supplements, but if you do, you will soon find you have a significantly improved quality of life.

The best way to boost the happiness and relaxation chemicals in your mind is to generate them naturally.  All of the previously mentioned things are important to consider in your life to determine whether vitamins, exercise, better eating, and mental wellness would improve your quality of life.  Take time to consider them.

Have you tried any of these supplements?

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Comments

  1. says

    The only one of these vitamins I’ve tried is GABA. But when it comes to supplements I usually only take fish oil, which is also supposed to enhance mood. It also has a bunch of other health benefits as well.

    Nice article CJ! If anyone else wants to submit their own article to help people in the AG community, just click on “submit an article” and send it my way.

  2. Bryan3000 says

    Nice article, CJ. I enjoyed reading it.

    I would only take slight exception to the notion that benzos are “very addictive” and “SSRI’s are not.” That is a very big can of worms. In fact, read “Surviving Panic Disorder” by Dr. Stuart Shipko. He’s one of the premiere authorities on the subject and does not subscribe to either notion. In fact, he recommends that if people must use medication… Xanax as a first line of defense, used responsibly and under doctor supervision and with a program. There IS long-term data on benzos, there is NOT long-term data on SSRI’s. He details this very specifically in his book. He’s dealt with thousands of panic disorder patients and formerly ran the Panic Disorder Institute in Pasadena California. As for SSRI’s, while they may not be addictive in the same way benzos are… they offer major challenges to get off of. Some people just can’t get off them at all. Those who do, almost all experience moderate to severe side effects. Now, to me… that is analogous to addiction, and potentially worse, considering the side effects of SSRIs are so extreme, while those of benzos are generally not. (When used correctly.) It’s also notable that one of the premiere side effects of SSRI’s is…. believe it or not… anxiety.
    But, patients are generally told this will go away. It may or may not. You’ll have to wait a month, and then hope it works… and then hope if not, you’re able to get yourself off of the drug without more major issues. Dr. Shipko also holds reports that side effects of SSRI’s can last a very long time, even if you’re able to discontinue… and even if you only took them for a small time period.

    You did make it clear that SSRI’s have negative effects, and I applaud you for that. A significant portion of the scientific population claim that there is actually no supportive data that proves SSRI’s work any better than placebo for anxiety. The FDA has also (finally) gotten involved with warnings:
    http://www.johnshopkinshealthalerts.com/reports/depression_anxiety/850-1.html

    Again, very good article. I found it educational and I hope you write more. I just wanted to offer some food for thought with regards to SSRI’s…. a topic I don’t think anyone should take lightly.

    Thanks CJ!

  3. says

    Bryan, love the passion. And I have to admit that I agree with you. And before other people start throwing verbal Molotov cocktails my way, you gotta know what I’ve always said about anti-depressants, but obviously you may not know what that is, so… I’ve always said that if they work for you awesome!

    Whatever is safe and effective for you is what you should do. However, no one should assume that because these drugs are widely available that they are the answer, or the only way to deal with, your anxiety issues. It’s just more complex than that. There are side-effects, and risks, but also benefits for some.

    Talk to your doctor. Great points Bryan.

  4. says

    great article! very good advice. I liked you mention the bad side of SSRI, I have used them and they are not always very effective and someone mention above that sometimes the side effects can last after you have discontinue (I discontinue around a year ago and anxiety is one of the side effects I still have. which I didn’t have before)
    excessive is the best way to have anxiety under control as well depression.

  5. Abby says

    I took 2 different SSRIs (Paxil, then Effexor) for about 8 years. While on these drugs, I felt pretty great. I was so much more relaxed, amazingly confident and overall much less depressed. The one side effect for me was weight gain, and a lot of it. Many people say they lose weight on SSRIs, not so for me! And it’s a b*tch getting it off now.
    Anyway, I needed to discontinue because I lost my job and no longer have medical insurance. Getting off Effexor was UNBEARABLE…I mean fetal position for 6 weeks…just terrible…something I wouldn’t wish on Osama Bin Laden. And now, about 1 year later, I am still dealing with the worst anxiety of my life. Granted, I actually have real life stresses right now (lack of job, fear of financial stability, and all sorts of “real” problems) but nevertheless while I would recommend Effexor as being a fabulous “cure” for anxiety and depression, I can’t underscore enough how awful the withdrawal process has been. I’m still struggling and it’s been 1 year.

  6. Much_Needed_Critic says

    L-Theanine is addictive, and SSRIs are not addictive?

    What a load of utter horse shit. Theanine is one of the safest substances around, with virtually no side effects or addiction potential whatsoever.

    SSRIs, on the other hand, make your brain dependent on them after as little as six months, and getting off of them brings horrid withdrawl symptoms that cannot be compared to anything else.

    This site is obviously made for the ad/referral revenue, but the least you could do is not spread wrong information.

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