I recently received the following series of questions/comments (all from the same person) on my blog Targeted Individual Amino Acids for Eliminating Anxiety: Practical Applications and would like to share some of what I shared, plus some additional information.
Do you believe in the serotonin hypothesis? And that low serotonin is a factor in anxiety and/or depression? The serotonin hypothesis is a sales pitch from the pharmaceutical industry to sell psychotropic drugs. It is therefore very worrying that nutritional therapists found a market for sufferers and medicine addicts!
There is no test you can take today that show low serotonin in the brain? So where is the evidence?
Please read the books by Robert Whitaker, Peter Breggin and David Healy. Please read this article Things your Doctor Should tell You About Antidepressants and watch this Peter Breggin video
I’m sharing my response because these questions do come up periodically and you may hear other practitioners make similar statements. This is my response:
Yes, I do believe that low serotonin MAY be a factor in anxiety and/or depression (and research shows this to be a fact). I say MAY because anxiety and/or depression could have one of many possible causes – low serotonin, blood sugar instability, poor diet, not eating enough protein, sugar, caffeine, gluten, low dopamine (for depression), pyroluria, inflammation etc.
There is much evidence supporting low serotonin and depression/anxiety. Here are a few recent papers published in 2015:
- “These findings suggest that the anxiolytic effect of dark cycle restraint is mediated by corticosterone, serotonin or γ-aminobutyric acid-independent mechanisms”
- “Our results demonstrate that 5-HT [serotonin] deficiency leads to increased susceptibility to social defeat stress (SDS), a model of psychosocial stress”
- “These findings link the serotonin transporter gene to affective circuitry findings in anxiety and depression psychopathology”
- “Serotonin, tryptophan metabolism and the brain-gut-microbiome axis”
In response to the question about testing serotonin levels: you can actually test serotonin levels via platelet testing. It’s the test that correlates most closely with CSF levels. A lab called European Laboratory of Nutrients (ELN)/formerly Vitamin Diagnostics offers this platelet serotonin test. It’s not a test that I use as I rely on the Amino Acid Questionnaire and response to the amino acids. I do not use Urinary Neurotransmitter testing.
With regards to the great article from Mad in America – I totally support these facts (for many individuals):
“antidepressant medications appear to do more harm than good as treatments for depression” and all the “harmful effects on other processes in the body” like digestion, sexual function, cognition etc.
I also respect Dr Peter Breggin’s concerns (in the youtube video) about biochemical imbalances in your brain being caused by the antidepressant drugs you are taking (such as Prozac or Paxil) and why we want to avoid them.
We know that anxiety and depression is not only caused by life stresses and trauma. There are physical biochemical imbalances, nutritional deficiencies, gut problems, food sensitivities, heavy metals and many more causes. I discussed 60+ Nutritional & Biochemical Causes of Anxiety during season 3 of the Anxiety Summit.
Low serotonin is just one of these possible contributing factors and we can address this with dietary and lifestyle changes:
- Dietary changes include real whole food, grass-fed red meat, no sugar, no gluten, oily fish, healthy fats etc
- Lifestyle changes include light therapy and exercise
Here are a few recent studies supporting the above:
- “The effects of dietary tryptophan on affective disorders”
- “Kefir protective effects against nicotine cessation-induced anxiety and cognition impairments in rats” (kefir is rich in tryptophan)
- “Stress-Induced Depression Is Alleviated by Aerobic Exercise Through Up-Regulation of 5-Hydroxytryptamine 1A Receptors in rats”
The amino acid supplements tryptophan and 5-HTP are very powerful for providing immediate results of improved mood and reduced anxiety while the other factors are being addressed. We really need more research on the supplements. Here are two papers:
- “The effect of raising and lowering tryptophan levels on human mood and social behavior”
- “5-Hydroxytryptophan: a clinically-effective serotonin precursor”
By boosting serotonin levels in my clients, I see incredible results on a daily basis. And with all this serotonin anxiety/depression research (literally thousands and thousands of papers), it just amazes me when I hear someone say that low serotonin is not a factor. It’s not THE ONLY factor, but is often one of any contributing factors.
If you are anxious or depressed and are still unconvinced, I encourage you to do the Amino Acid Questionnaire and a trial of tryptophan or 5-HTP and see how you respond. I’ve listed some brands I like on this blog: The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements.
If you don’t need convincing and have seen great results by boosting your serotonin levels please do share your experiences in the comments below so we can inspire others to look into this approach so they can feel wonderful too.