Serotonin is created from L-tryptophan, an amino acid that greatly influences mood. It’s a neurotransmitter that is found in the central nervous system, as well as the large blood vessels and intestinal walls. Studies conducted have shown that low levels of serotonin can contribute to everything from weight gain to depression. Boosting levels of this amino acid through natural means and supplementation can help many mood problems.
Symptoms of Low Serotonin
Constant feelings of fatigue, even after 8 hours of sleep or a nap are common in those with low levels of serotonin. Sleep disturbances such as insomnia, restlessness, racing thoughts, or trouble staying asleep have also been reported.
Chronic depression is the most common symptom, with many sufferers turning to alcohol or medication to help deal with their mood swings. Feelings of sadness, low self-esteem, low libido, or a lack of interest in hobbies or activities that one used to find enjoyable are symptoms of depleted levels of this neurotransmitter.
There may also be a craving for sweets or carbohydrates as the brain tries to make more serotonin to boost levels, resulting in weight gain.
Natural Sources of Tryptophan
Out of the ten essential amino acids the body needs, tryptophan is one of them. As just discussed, it plays a big role in supporting the nervous system and those who are low in serotonin could benefit from natural food sources of tryptophan and supplements to promote restful sleep and relaxation. The following foods have the highest levels of naturally occurring tryptophan.
- Cottage cheese
- Tuna and Salmon
- Lean red meats
- Chicken and Turkey
- Sesame seeds
Supplementation with 5HTP
5-HTP is a supplement made from the seeds of Griffonia simplififolia, a legume found in West Africa. Typical daily dosage is 50mg-900mg, depending on the person’s needs. It comes in both powder and capsule form and can be purchased at stores such as Walmart or Walgreens, or online from reputable companies like iHerb.com. It’s best when taken between meals to ensure effectiveness and prevent competition with other amino acids.
Some users have reported mild to moderate side effects that include digestive complaints, muscle pain, lethargy, headache, insomnia, and anxiety. It may help to start out at a lower dose.
Why 5HTP Instead of Tryptophan?
In the late 1980’s a Japanese company, Showa Denko K.K., wanted to increase and accelerate the efficiency of tryptophan and decided to use genetic engineering. The trytophan was immediately sent to the USA without testing the safety of it first. The tryptophan levels were far too high, resulting in a toxic disease known as eosinophilia myalgia syndrome or EMS. Because of this, there were 37 deaths and 1,500 others were permanently disabled. Although the toxin is not present in non-genetically engineered tryptophan, the FDA has restricted it and considers 5HTP to be much safer.