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Serotonin Supplements

Shrinivas Kanade Mar 4, 2020
Can the use of serotonin supplements really uplift one's spirits, and promote the sense of well-being? The following write-up provides information on the health benefits, and side effects associated with the use of these supplements.
Serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine, 5-HT) is a naturally-occurring neurotransmitter that is derived from 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), which is a compound synthesized from an amino acid called tryptophan. Serotonin plays a vital role in the regulation of sleep and appetite. It is also one of the neurotransmitters responsible for regulating mood.
About 90% of the serotonin is present in the enterochromaffin cells in the digestive tract. Low levels of serotonin could lead to conditions such as depression, anxiety, sleep disorders (hypersomnia or insomnia), and impaired cognitive function.
Though the use of 5-HTP supplements may help in alleviating the symptoms that arise due to a serotonin deficiency to some extent, there's a need to be aware of the associated safety concerns.

Mechanism of Action of 5-HTP Supplements

Commercially produced from the seeds of an African plant called Griffonia simplicifolia, 5-HTP is the precursor to serotonin. Though the blood-brain barrier prevents serotonin from entering the brain and the Central Nervous System (CNS), it allows 5-HTP along with other nutrients to enter the CNS, where it is used in the synthesis of serotonin.
In nerve tissues, combined action of enzyme aromatic-L-amino-acid decarboxylase and vitamin B6 converts (decarboxylation) tryptophan into serotonin. These chemicals are also responsible for producing serotonin in the aforementioned manner within the liver cells.

Uses of Serotonin Supplements

These supplements might be prescribed for depression, anxiety, migraine, fibromyalgia, etc. There's some evidence that suggests that 5-HTP supplementation may help alleviate the symptoms of depression and fibromyalgia to some extent.
According to the Natural Medicines Comprehensive Database, there's insufficient evidence to rate the effectiveness of this supplement for treating conditions such as:
Sleep disorders
Tension-type headaches
Weight loss
Premenstrual syndrome (PMS)
Premenstrual dysphoric disorder

Safety Concerns

First of all, these supplements must not be taken by pregnant women, breastfeeding mothers, and children affected by Down's Syndrome. Caution must be exercised while taking these supplements.
Peak X
There have been concerns regarding the presence of an unidentified contaminant called Peak X, which was believed to have caused eosinophilia-myalgia syndrome in 1989, in people who had taken preparations containing L-tryptophan. Since 5-HTP is synthesized from tryptophan, some medical experts advise against the use of these supplements.
Adverse Drug Interactions and Serotonin Syndrome
Another cause of concern could be serotonin syndrome, which is one of the side effects associated with abnormally high levels of serotonin in the body. However, this condition has not yet been observed due to consumption of supplements containing tryptophan.
It is believed that serotonin syndrome may occur if the supplements are taken along with other prescription medicines that affect serotonin levels.
Any drug interaction that causes large amounts of serotonin to be released in the brain can give rise to serotonin syndrome. This condition is characterized by symptoms such as restlessness, diarrhea, fast heartbeat, nausea, vomiting, coordination problems, sudden changes in the blood pressure levels, overactive reflexes, etc.
In case of a milder form of serotonin syndrome, the symptoms may resolve with discontinuation of medication, or by taking drugs that block serotonin.
Adverse drug interactions might be observed in people who have been taking these supplements with Carbidopa, Dextromethorphan, Dextromethorphan, Pentazocine, Tramadol, etc.
Triptans, which are drugs that are prescribed for the treatment of migraines, when taken along with 5-HTP supplements, could put a person at a risk of developing this syndrome. The same applies to herbal supplements that affect serotonin levels.
These include Hawaiian baby woodrose, L-tryptophan, S-adenosylmethionine (SAMe), and St. John's wort. Caution must also be exercised by people who have been taking antidepressants (Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft, Elavil, Anafranil, Tofranil, etc.), or Monoamine oxydase inhibitors (Nardil, Parnate).

Diet and Serotonin

Consumption of certain food items can indirectly help to increase the levels of serotonin. The human body uses L-tryptophan or tryptophan, commonly found in the dietary proteins to produce 5-HTP, which in turn, is used for synthesizing serotonin. Here are some food items that can be included to boost the serotonin levels.
➞ Milk, cheese, tofu, yogurt, chocolates, etc.
➞ Almonds, pistachio, pine nuts, pecan, Brazil nuts, peanuts, cashews, hazelnuts, walnuts, macadamia nuts, etc.
➞ Banana, kiwifruit, plums, avocado, pineapples, etc.
➞ Brown rice, whole grains, soy products, etc.
➞ Turkey, chicken, lamb, tuna, salmon, etc.
➞ Spinach, asparagus, beans, lentils, Brussels sprouts, potatoes, tomatoes, turnip, etc.
If the amount of 5-HTP produced, in this manner, is not sufficient, or serotonin levels are low due to prolonged stress, the use of supplements may be recommended.
On a concluding note, you have the option to include the dietary sources of tryptophan, and follow a diet that can improve the serotonin levels. However, people affected by certain medical conditions may need to take prescription drugs or dietary supplements to raise the serotonin levels.
There are many companies in the market offering 5-HTP supplements, and not all of them are reliable when it comes to its quality. It is advisable, if at all your doctor suggests serotonin supplementation, that you buy these supplements from a reliable source, and adhere to the guidelines given by your doctor regarding the dosage.
It would be best to consult a medical professional to learn about the companies that offer good-quality serotonin supplements.
Disclaimer: The information provided in this story is solely for educating the reader. It is not intended to be a substitute for the advice of a medical expert.