In our brain, neurons communicate through molecules called neurotransmitters. There are lots of neurotransmitters and they have different functions – serotonin is one of them, and it’s called the feel-good neurotransmitter.
Serotonin influences mood, emotions, memory, sexual desire, behavior, appetite and sleep. Low serotonin levels are associated with anxiety, depression, mood swings, irritability, obsessive-compulsive behavior and sleep disorders.
How is serotonin produced?
Our organism synthesizes serotonin from an amino acid called tryptophan, which can be found in different foods. To be converted into serotonin, this amino acid first has to be transformed into 5-HTP (or 5-hydroxytryptophan). 5-HTP is then converted to serotonin. For all these conversions to take place, it is necessary to have adequate levels of different vitamins and minerals, namely magnesium, zinc, vitamin B3, vitamin B6, folic acid and vitamin C. When there are not adequate levels of these vitamins, the synthesis of serotonin is compromised .
How can I increase my serotonin levels?
If you need to increase your serotonin levels (which you shouldn’t do if you don’t have symptoms), you may increase your intake of precursor nutrients (such as tryptophan, 5-HTP, or the vitamins and minerals mentioned), or you may need to resort to a drug such as fluoxetine (like Prozac), sertraline (like Zoloft) or paroxetine (like Seroxat), only on medical advice.
Supplementation with L – tryptophan
Serotonin levels can be increased by supplementing with tryptophan, but it requires different care and higher doses. Furthermore, we always run the risk of this tryptophan being transformed into other compounds (other than serotonin), or even entering the central nervous system in much smaller quantities than expected (as it competes with other amino acids for this entry).
Nutritional supplementation with 5-HTP is more effective and faster at increasing serotonin levels than supplementing with L-Tryptophan. 5-HTP is converted directly into serotonin (it cannot be “shunted” and converted into another compound) and enters the central nervous system much more easily.5-
HTP supplements are obtained from the seeds of a plant called Griffonia simplicifolia, and they are available over the counter.The doses used can range from 50 – 150 mg/day, divided into 3 intakes/day.
If you are taking medication that influences serotonin levels (such as antidepressants), you should not supplement with 5-HTP due to the risk of an excess of available serotonin, which has different side effects, some of them serious. You should also avoid taking St. John’s wort (in the form of a supplement or an infusion).
You should also make sure you have adequate levels of other necessary nutrients, namely zinc and vitamin B6. We suggest that you consult a doctor or a nutritionist/dietician who is used to working with nutritional supplements.
When starting a 5-HTP supplementation (ideally with professional supervision), we recommend that you start with lower doses and increase gradually.
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