Low serotonin has a number of root causes which can be different for each person. If you do have low serotonin levels you always want to figure and address why it’s low. This can take time to figure out and resolve so you want to be using either tryptophan or 5-HTP (and sometimes both) to boost your serotonin levels and get symptom relief quickly. This helps with the worry, overwhelm, anxiety, insomnia, carb cravings, TMJ, irritability, PMS, anger, OCD, low mood and ruminations right away. It also helps with the worry and overwhelm triggered by sometimes complex and challenging root causes.
Here is a list of some of the many factors that may cause low serotonin for you:
- stress and adrenal dysfunction (high cortisol affects your sex hormone and neurotransmitter production, inlcuding serotonin)
- eating junk food and sugar (a Western diet “of processed or fried foods, refined grains, sugary products, and beer was associated with a higher odds of mood disorders”
- consuming caffeine (which reduces zinc and B vitamins, needed to make serotonin)
- not consuming enough quality animal protein (amino acids are the building blocks of our neurotransmitters, and grass fed red meat provides zinc, iron and omega-3s – all needed to make serotonin)
- low stomach acid (meaning you can’t digest the protein you’re consuming)
- gluten issues (leading to low serotonin and other nutritional deficiencies such as low iron, low vitamin D etc.)
- low vitamin D (“Brain serotonin is synthesized from tryptophan by tryptophan hydroxylase 2, which is activated by vitamin D hormone”)
- low iron/ferritin levels (iron is a cofactor for making serotonin)
- dysbiosis and microbiome imbalances (we make so much serotonin in the gut)
- candida (in one study short exposure to serotonin resulted in antifungal activity)
- liver issues (affecting how you process xenoestrogens)
- low bile production (affecting how you digest the healthy fats you’re eating)
- sex hormone imbalances (serotonin and estrogen are very closely linked and women make less serotonin than men. In one study, tryptophan improved the low serotonin PMS symptoms)
- thyroid imbalance (“it is postulated that one mechanism, among others, through which exogenous thyroid hormones may exert their modulatory effects in affective illness is via an increase in serotonergic neurotransmission”)
- histamine imbalances (in one study “Acute LPS-induced inflammation increases CNS histamine and decreases CNS serotonin)”
- the birth control pill (which lowers zinc and vitamin B6, both of which are needed for serotonin production)
- statins (leading to cholesterol that is too low)
- mold exposure/mycotoxins/mold poisoning
- heavy metal toxicity such as lead (and tryptophan and ascorbic acid can help ease the anxiety)
- Lyme disease and other co-infections (serotonin was found to be low in cerebrospinal fluid in patients with post-Lyme disease syndrome i.e. chronic Lyme)
- collagen consumption (in susceptible folks this can lower serotonin levels)
- seasonal allergies (“Cytokines may lead to a mood disturbance via the expression of the IDO enzyme, which shifts the synthesis of tryptophan from serotonin to kynurenine. The resultant acute tryptophan depletion results in decreased brain serotonin”)
- genetics (one example is the MTHFR polymorphism)
- low zinc, low vitamin B6 (and other B vitamins), low selenium, low magnesium etc. – all needed to make serotonin
- oxalates (which can bind to zinc and deplete it)
- a high copper diet (nut flours on Paleo diets can be problematic), copper IUD, copper pipes etc. (which can cause low zinc)
- lack of nature (forest bathing reduces cortisol which affects serotonin production)
- lack of exercise
- lack of sunshine (like in the winter when serotonin declines)
When I posted some of this list on Facebook earlier this week, there was a great deal of interest, hence this blog. I’ve included one relevant link for each one so you can read further on the topic.
When I posted it I also asked this: “Have you figured out your root cause/s that are contributing to your low serotonin levels? And has tryptophan or 5-HTP helped while you’re figuring it all out?”
Leanne has mold, dysbiosis, Lyme, low vitamin D, bile issues and more
Leanne responded and gave me the go ahead to share especially if this helps someone else (I appreciate that!) She shared she has identified these root causes:
Mold. Dysbiosis. Possible Lyme/co-infections. Low vitamin D. Bile and motility issues. Liver issues. Stress. Low HCL. Those are the ones I’m aware of. And taking each and every day to work on them. It takes time to heal
I agree it takes time to heal and can be a longer journey for some folks, especially when there are a number of underlying factors. She is in a good frame of mind, saying pragmatically, it takes time to heal. This confirms her serotonin levels are robust i.e. she is not in a state of overwhelm and worry. Sure enough, when I asked if tryptophan or 5-HTP has been helping this was her response:
5-HTP and GABA calm initially helped me in my first round of going through this back in 2015. Then I discovered l-tryptophan about a year ago and that seemed to be a better help over 5-HTP.
Since I’ve just identified that histamine is an issue and started a low histamine diet this past week I noticed less of a need for l-tryptophan as I did before. My body is calming down significantly. And my digestion is working a little better.
But I still have to address mold, SIBO, candida, parasites and possibly Lyme and underlying hidden viruses.
So I know these amino acids will play a key part in supporting me as I dive deeper into addressing them all.
It’s wonderful the amino acids have helped her so much and they will most likely continue to help. A quick comment on her preference for tryptophan over 5-HTP – some folks do better on one vs the other.
Regarding the histamine issues/root cause, it’s good that she is now addressing this. Already she needs less tryptophan (for now). Things may fluctuate in the future again as she peels away the onion layers of root causes. She may find she needs tryptophan again or a higher dose or needs to get back on the GABA.
As you can see she has been working on her health for some time. This is not unusual. Slow and steady is just fine, especially when there is so much going on.
The amino acids are intended for short-term use while diet and underlying root causes are addressed. But when the list is long this is a common reason for the ongoing need for serotonin support. Keep in mind, your list may be a short one and may be quick to resolve. And not everyone has the same root causes.
Resources if you are new to using tryptophan or 5-HTP as supplements
If you are new to using tryptophan or 5-HTP as supplements, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see all the low serotonin symptoms).
If you suspect low levels of serotonin or any of the neurotransmitters and do not yet have my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution – How the Foods You Eat Can Help You Calm Your Anxious Mind, Improve Your Mood, and End Cravings, I highly recommend getting it and reading it before jumping in and using amino acids on your own so you are knowledgeable. And be sure to share it with the team you or your loved one is working with.
There is an entire chapter on the amino acids and they are discussed throughout the book in the sections on gut health, blood sugar control, sugar cravings, self-medicating with alcohol and more.
The book doesn’t include product names (per the publisher’s request) so this blog, The Antianxiety Food Solution Amino Acid and Pyroluria Supplements, lists the amino acids that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
If you are a practitioner, join us in The Balancing Neurotransmitters: the Fundamentals program. This is also a paid online/virtual program with an opportunity to interact with me and other practitioners who are also using the amino acids.
Have you figured out your root cause/s that are contributing to your low serotonin levels? And does this give you a better understanding of your own issues?
Do you have any other root causes I may have missed? (when I posted this list on Facebook, a few people pointed out I had missed a few. I’ll update the list and continue to add as we discover new connections).
Has tryptophan and/or 5-HTP helped you feel less overwhelmed and worried while you’re figuring it all out?
Have you adjusted doses of tryptophan and/or 5-HTP as things change and root causes are addressed/resolved?
If you’re a practitioner, do you have anything to add and do your clients/patients find this useful?
If you have questions please share them here too.