Many of my clients experience increased anxiety, more severe panic attacks and worse depression when their spring allergies are flaring up. Do they feel like this simply because they feel so bad physically or could there be some underlying biochemistry that triggers their worsening mental health symptoms? I explain below how low serotonin is one possible root cause that can be addressed nutritionally with tryptophan and/or 5-HTP. Other factors to consider are the impact on the adrenals and GABA levels.
Today’s blog is inspired by Unten, who is part of my Facebook community. She asked this question:
I find that always during spring my anxiety and panic attacks get much worse when there’s lots of pollen and dust and other allergens in the air (at least here in Finland)…could this be true and not just “in my head”?
And then someone else responded saying:
I have noticed the same for me as well here in the USA.
My response to both of them is that it is not just in your head. There is plenty of research supporting this connection and we see it clinically too.
This paper, Changes in Severity of Allergy and Anxiety Symptoms Are Positively Correlated in Patients with Recurrent Mood Disorders Who Are Exposed to Seasonal Peaks of Aeroallergens, confirmed a significant positive association between allergy scores and anxiety scores and reports some possible mechanisms:
- The psychological effects of being ill, as well as impairments of sleep secondary to nasal obstruction or inflammation may affect mood.
- Cytokines may lead to a mood disturbance via the expression of the enzyme indoleamine-2,3-dioxygenase, which shifts the synthesis of tryptophan from serotonin to kynurenine. The resultant acute tryptophan depletion results in decreased brain serotonin, which may contribute to both depression and anxiety.
- Cytokines released during allergic inflammation may affect the brain directly, via nerves, surrounding tissue, or via regions that do not have a blood brain barrier, such as the circumventricular organs.
- Cytokines may also be involved in changes in the hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis… A sustained increase in activity in the HPA axis is associated with severe anxiety.
- Cytokines might lead to a physiological change in GABAA receptor functioning
I’ll discuss some possible solutions below.
Tryptophan and/or 5-HTP for low serotonin support if needed
The second bullet above is a good reason to consider serotonin support with tryptophan or 5-HTP. If you have anxiety or panic attacks (and other low serotonin symptoms), we always want to figure out if low serotonin is a possible cause and address it, regardless of the circumstances/trigger (seasonal allergies in this instance).
Here are some useful blogs related to low serotonin and the amino acids:
- You can see all the low serotonin symptoms here.
- You can see the 5-HTP and tryptophan products I use with my clients here on the supplements blog.
Christine’s increased depression due to seasonal allergies improves a few days after starting 5-HTP and tryptophan
When I posted the above possible mechanisms on Facebook, Christine thanked me and shared her surprise:
I had no idea! This explains my increased depression lately. I didn’t know there was a correlation, but it makes complete sense now. I’m in the Midwest. I’ve always had issues in March and April because of my seasonal allergies.
When I asked if she has used tryptophan or 5-HTP and bumped up the dose when she is suffering during seasonal allergies, she responded:
I just learned about both of these [amino acids]. I just bought your book and I am starting to use them. I don’t know if they take a while to start working?
I responded saying the amino acids work very quickly if they are needed and serotonin is low. It was not surprising to me that Christine shared her great results a few days later:
I’ve been using 5-HTP and tryptophan. I’m feeling so much better now. Thank you!
If your anxiety or depression is caused by low serotonin, you can expect to feel some relief right away provided you find the ideal dose for your unique needs. For some it’s a solution right away and for others it can take some adjusting up and down and trialing with 5-HTP and/or tryptophan to find the right combination.
Adrenal support and/or Seriphos if needed
The fourth bullet under the possible mechanisms above, is a good reason to also consider adrenal support: herbal adaptogens such a rhodiola and licorice, B vitamins, extra pantothenic acid and vitamin C. I also recommend using something like Seriphos to lower high cortisol if needed. Another option is Relora®, a combination of Magnolia officinalis and Phellodendron amurense which lowers cortisol and reduces stress and anxiety.
Low GABA support if needed
The fifth bullet above is a good reason to consider GABA support with GABA or theanine if you have the low GABA type of physical tension that is made worse during your seasonal allergies. Just like with low serotonin we always want to figure out if low GABA is a possible cause of the anxiety and address it, even if it’s being made worse because of seasonal allergies.
Address all root cause of anxiety/depression and the seasonal allergies
As always, it’s not only the low serotonin and/or high cortisol we need to address. We must always do a full functional workup looking at diet, nutritional deficiencies, digestion, all hormones, toxins and infections (and so on) so we can address all possible root causes.
Of course, identifying and addressing the root causes of the seasonal allergies is important too. This blog, Hay Fever: 9 Natural Ways to Treat Seasonal Allergy Symptoms by Dr. Josh Axe, outlines many dietary and lifestyle changes that can have a big impact. You’ll notice that much of this is foundational to my work.
Stress reduction is key and serotonin/GABA support help so much in this regard. So does zinc which is needed for both the production of serotonin and GABA, and enhanced immunity.
The blog also states that quercetin helps with seasonal allergies because it “stops the production and release of histamine.” Interestingly, quercetin also protects against stress-induced anxiety and depression in animal studies (here is a link to one such study).
Thanks to these folks for asking good questions and for allowing me to share here.
My first take-away is not to ever tolerate not feeling your best (if that’s confusing – you deserve to feel your best always!) and always ask questions and look for connections. My second take-away is to encourage you and others in my community to be empowered and take action. So kudos to Christine for jumping and purchasing my book, The Antianxiety Food Solution, reading it and being smart about using the amino acids.
Have you found that higher doses of tryptophan or 5-HTP helps with reducing the more severe anxiety, the depression/low mood and/or the increased panic attacks you experience during allergy season?
What about other low serotonin symptoms such as insomnia, cravings and PMS? Are they worse during allergy season?
Have you found addressing low GABA anxiety with higher doses of GABA helps when you have seasonal allergies?
Have you tested your cortisol levels during allergy season and found that adrenal support helps too? Keep in mind it will take longer to see results if this is the case.
Feel free to post your questions and feedback in the comments below.