A mom asks for advice for her teenage daughter who has anxiety, low self-esteem issues, insomnia, experiences negativity and has phobias. She wants to know if serotonin support may help and where to start. I share my feedback confirming that these are low serotonin symptoms and that I would do a trial of tryptophan. I go deeper in this blog and also go into detail about how I would do a one-off trial (or evaluation) of tryptophan if I was working with this family. I also share why I’d look into low GABA, seasonal allergies and the birth control pill. And I discuss the importance of being proactive given the increasing suicide and self-harm in this age-group, with the pandemic compounding the increase.
Here is the question that Maria asked about her daughter:
My 13-year-old teen has always suffered from insomnia, sometimes light, sometimes a bit heavier, depending on the period. She has suffered from asthma from a young age, even if this issue has improved enormously, it is sometimes present, specially during spring time as she is allergic to different plants. She would suffer from sugar cravings in the past as we were trying to change her diet. Things are going better in this respect as well; however, negativity, phobias, low self esteem and anxiety are always present for her.
Are these signs of low serotonin? How could we help her feel better? Should serotonin pills be applied directly? Would this make the system dependent on it? If amino acids should be supplemented, how should we do this, considering her age?
I responded that yes, negativity, phobias, low self esteem and anxiety (the worry type) are signs of low serotonin. Insomnia can also be caused by low serotonin especially if her daughter is lying awake, overthinking and worrying about things.
I shared that the body does not get dependent on the amino acids and I’d consider a trial of tryptophan to address her symptoms.
Doing a one-off trial/evaluation of tryptophan based on her symptoms
If I was working with this family, I would help this mom figure out for sure if her daughter has low serotonin by reviewing the low serotonin symptom list with her, and helping her rate them on a scale of 1-10 with 10 being the worst.
This can often be challenging for a 13-year old: giving the symptoms a severity rating and being able to identify exactly how she feels. Her ratings may also be reflective of where she is in her cycle at the time and may fluctuate more in the month if her cycle is not yet regular. Working together with mom we can hopefully figure this out. If not, we do the best we can with the information we have.
The next step is picking one or two symptoms that are easy to measure the day we do the initial trial or evaluation. For this young girl I’d pick anxiety/worry and negativity and ask her some questions that would help us assess before and after results of the one-off trial /evaluation of tryptophan:
- For anxiety and worry she may say it’s also a 9 and give me this example: “I’m really worried about performing in the concert – I keep thinking about it all day long and at night.”
- For negativity she may say it’s a 9 and give me this example: “I really don’t think I’m good enough to be in the dance class.”
Both tryptophan and 5-HTP can raise serotonin but I like to start with tryptophan. I typically start with 100mg Lidtke chewable tryptophan in children/teens so I’d have her chew one tablet and then check back in the next 2 to 5 minutes (or maybe a little longer for some folks).
This is the kind of feedback I’m looking for:
- With regards to anxiety and worry she may say: “Gosh, I completely stopped thinking about the concert. I’m not worrying about it at all. Now that you ask I’m thinking about it again but I think my worry/anxiety is about a 5 now.”
- With regards to negativity she may say: “I think I feel better about being in the dance class. I think I can do it. My negativity feels like it’s a 5 or 6”
Since this teen responded so well, I’d have her start taking tryptophan midafternoon and evening (away from protein) and we’d increase if needed, each week, and based on her symptoms.
I have everyone keep a food mood and supplements log and mom could help her do this too.
GABA, seasonal allergies and the birth control pill
I also always assess low GABA when someone is anxious (especially if she also has physical anxiety, tension, stiff muscles) and has insomnia. We’d do the same one-off trial with a product like GABA Calm (or similar) once we’ve established a good dose of tryptophan for easing her symptoms.
This mom also mentioned Spring time allergies so I also shared this blog with her: 5-HTP and/or tryptophan to help with increased anxiety, panic attacks and depression caused by spring allergies. Depending on the season, her daughter may score higher on some of the low serotonin symptoms.
I’d also want to know if her daughter is on a birth control pill (often prescribed at this age for acne) because it can contribute to anxiety and depression.
Being proactive is wise given the rise in suicide and self-harm in this age group
Being proactive about addressing low serotonin symptoms quickly is wise given the rise in suicide and self-harm in this age group. This 2021 Italian study discusses the role of emotional dysregulation when it comes to and self-injurious thoughts and behaviours in high-school students:
Overall, 11.1% of adolescents reported self-harming behaviours without suicide ideation or attempts, 6.4% declared having thought to suicide without acting a suicide attempt or self-harm, 1.4% declared having attempted suicide and really thought to take away their life.
Unfortunately, the pandemic has also made things worse for many adolescents. This study reports that Canadian adolescents appear to be experiencing “higher rates of self-harm thoughts and behaviours relative to before the pandemic.”
It’s important to keep in mind that pre-teens and teens may not be willing to admit that they are engaging in self-harm like cutting or burning, or thinking about taking their lives.
Resources if you are new to using the amino acids as supplements
If you are new to using the amino acids tryptophan/5-HTP or GABA as supplements and want to know more in case you need them in a future situation, here is the Amino Acids Mood Questionnaire from The Antianxiety Food Solution (you can see all the low serotonin and low GABA symptoms here) and a brief overview here, Anxiety and targeted individual amino acid supplements: a summary.
If you suspect low serotonin or low levels of 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 so you are knowledgeable.
It also covers all the basics of a healthy diet. It’s a comprehensive approach – amino acids AND diet. I’d also want to know what her diet is like right now – gluten-free, sugar-free, caffeine-free, eating protein at breakfast for blood sugar control, real whole foods, grass-fed red meat, wild fish, fermented foods etc?
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 acid products that I use with my individual clients and those in my group programs.
Thanks to this mom for asking the question and allowing me to use it as a teaching tool for my community. Let’s get her daughter and all teens feeling their best again.
Can you relate to the question this mom asked? Does it sound similar to what your daughter is experiencing right now or a client/patient?
Do you do a one-off trial /evaluation like this to find out if serotonin support is needed? Or have you done this in the past with your daughter, family member or yourself?
What are the before and after questions (and symptom ratings) and did tryptophan help?
Feel free to post any questions here too.