Fixing Your Brain: Serotonin
Feel Happy, Avoid Depression, and Enjoy Your Life
This writing is one in a series called “Fixing Your Brain.” For the full guide, check out Fixing Your Brain: A Guide to Balancing Neurotransmitters
Neurotransmitters are signaling chemicals in our brains. They are responsible for our moods, motivation, energy, learning ability, and much, much more. When our neurotransmitters become unbalanced, we experience some of the worst states of being known to man.
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter involved primarily with mood and perception. Low serotonin is associated with depression and anxiety disorders, mood swings, and unhappiness. It is also involved with our perception of reality, and psychedelic compounds operate primarily by activating serotonin pathways in the brain.
Identifying Symptoms of Low Serotonin
Serotonin is the neurotransmitter most commonly associated with emotion and mood. Low serotonin is considered to be the culprit in depression and social anxiety disorders. High serotonin is a condition known as serotonin syndrome which may be life-threatening, though it usually only occurs due to the consumption of serotonin-increasing supplements or drugs. Serotonin is also heavily involved with our perception of reality, and psychedelic drugs primarily operate on the serotonin pathways.
Symptoms of low serotonin are:
Feelings of unhappiness, dissatisfaction, apathy, frustration, or anger
Feelings of depression
Loss of pleasure towards things you once enjoyed
Difficulty staying positive or feeling joy
Low mood on cloudy days
No longer enjoying relationships, possibly isolating oneself by result
Difficulty falling asleep, staying asleep, and feeling well rested
Answers of “yes” to the following questions may indicate a serotonin deficiency
Do you wake up frequently at night, or find it difficult to stay asleep? Y / N
Do you have a tendency to eat despite not feeling hungry? Y / N
Have you lost interest in activities you used to deeply enjoy? Y / N
Do you feel that you used to be more adventurous? Y / N
Do you find it difficult to make decisions? and take a long time to make a move when faced with many different choices? Y / N
Do you notice that you are caught in a thought loop of negativity or notice that the same thoughts happen over and over again? Y / N
Do you have difficulty with conflicts or dealing with times of crisis? Y / N
Do small problems become big deals, and do you find you dwell on them? Y / N
Do you think or have you thought about suicide? Y / N
Have you been told that you are difficult to get along with, or that you are moody, now, or when you were a teen or young adult? Y / N
Do you feel like you are just surviving, but not thriving? Y / N
Like I said earlier, too high serotonin is rare, and manifests as a potentially life-threatening condition known as serotonin syndrome. However, knowing the symptoms of serotonin syndrome can prepare you in case you ever take too much of a serotonin-boosting supplement and worry that you may have the condition.
Symptoms of too high serotonin, or serotonin syndrome are:
Rapid heart rate and high blood pressure
Loss of coordination
Muscle twitching or spasms
Serotonin syndrome can be life threatening, so you should go to the ER if you think you may have triggered it with drugs or supplements.
Root Causes of Neurotransmitter Imbalances
Once we have identified potential neurotransmitter imbalances, it is time to treat them. However, you should know this needs to be a careful process, and if you suspect multiple neurotransmitter deficiencies, be sure to educate yourself thoroughly and if possible: work with a professional. That said, first we’ll discuss a few major causes of neurotransmitter imbalances that you should address right away, regardless of targeted neurotransmitter therapy.
Treat the gut.
You may not know this but your gut is actually a sort-of second brain. It contains over 300 million neurons, and affects our mood and behavior, and is considered to be the source of intuition (gut feelings are actually valuable input.) Furthermore, damage to our gut biomes: the colonies of bacteria that live inside us and keep us healthy, has been implicated in many mental diseases, including autism. Poor gut health is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances for two main reasons.
Neurotransmitters are made in the gut! Most of the serotonin in our bodies is made in the gut first, and the other neurotransmitters are no exception. If your gut health is poor, then your body is less capable of converting amino acids from food into the neurotransmitters in your brains.
Gut inflammation leads to brain inflammation. This bit is a little more nerdy. There is an epidemic condition called leaky gut, which occurs because the cell wall of our intestines begin to rip and allow foreign molecules into our bloodstream. This process is driven by inflammatory foods such as gluten, pesticides such as glyphosate, and environmental factors such as over-sterile birth environments, etc. As bad as leaky gut is, what is worse is that it directly contributes to leaky brains. Our brains are housed inside something called the blood-brain barrier, a membrane which keeps foreign molecules from causing inflammation. Glyphosate, which is a chemical in the pesticide round-up, is on many of the foods we eat and causes both leaky gut and leaky brain problems. The inflammation from this damage directly contributes to neurotransmitter programs.
So, what do we do? Well, gut health is a topic that is extensive and intricate and deserving of it’s own long article, but you can start by addressing gut dysbiosis and leaky gut. For the sake of keeping this article on-topic, I suggest strongly that you look into the product Restore by Biomic Sciences. Restore directly heals leaky gut and heals the tight junctions which are damaged in leaky gut and leaky brain. I’ve written about it more extensively in my article about glyphosate, but you should also check out the work of Dr. Zach Bush,who is a genius triple Ph.D who helped create the product.
I know it may seem hokey, but stress is a major factor in neurotransmitter imbalances that we can actually control for. Lack of sleep, over-working yourself, too much exercise, and negative relationships and thoughts all affect your neurotransmitters. As you continue to stress yourself and push towards burnout, the more you’ll gamble with creating neurotransmitter problems. Thankfully, there are great, free tools you can use to de-stress your life. Here are my number one methods for managing stress:
Prioritize quality sleep above everything else
Implement yoga, or meditation into your daily routine
Practice daily gratitude, preferable every morning before the day starts and every night before retiring
Read books about self improvement, such as Psycho-cybernetics by Maxwell Malts, Way of the Seal by Mark Divine(has several meditations too,) or 12 Rules for Life by Jordan Peterson
Implement saunas and cold exposure into your weekly routine. I recommend infrared or dry saunas, and the work of Wim Hof for the cold exposure therapy.
With all of that said, addressing your lifestyle can be a long road to fixing major neurotransmitter problems that are affecting you right now. This is why I want you to start on these lifestyle changes now, so that you can address the cause while we also work to address the symptoms. Now we can get into supplements that target specific neurotransmitters directly.
Serotonin Increasing Supplements, Drugs, and Hormones
Prozac (prescription drug)
Bioidentical testosterone (hormone)
Serotonin may also be increased by meditation practices. Furthermore, long term prozac use has been found to upregulate neurogenesis, a process by which the brain creates new neurons. It increases brain plasticity and has shown potential in reversing brain aging.
Additional Neurotransmitter Balancing Biohacks
These techniques work for helping balancing all of your neurotransmitters, including serotonin, and can be powerful methods to implement with your targeted methods.
So, there we have it. Now you have a long list of options to start working on your neurotransmitter imbalances. That said, where should you start? Well, one of the most popular methods is Amino Acid Therapy. Look through the above lists, and you’ll find amino acids among almost all of them. In particular, 5-htp and tryptophan for serotonin, GABA and L-glutamine for GABA, tyrosine for dopamine, and acetyl l-carnitine for acetyl-choline. Many of these directly raise their neurotransmitter when taken, and I have a few suggestions for you to use to educate yourself on amino acid therapy.
Check out the work of Dr. Daniel Kalish, creator of the Kalish Method for targeted amino acid therapy to balance neurotransmitters. His book is short and to the point, but covers all the bases of amino acid therapy.
Another amazing resource is the work of Trudy Scott at www.antianxietyfoodsolution.com. She has a method for targeted amino acid therapy which I personally love, and she goes over it on the wellness mama podcast and in her book which can be bought on her website.
Resources & Links
Due to the extensive nature of this post, I am not including the links that were listed as supplements under each neurotransmitter. Otherwise I’d just be repeating those lists here in an unorganized fashion. The resource list is a way to quickly find the links that were interspersed throughout the article, and since the neurotransmitter supplements are already organized into lists anyway, I do not see the need to add un-necessary clutter by having them again here.
Wellness Mama Interview of Trudy Scott on Amino Acid Therapy
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