Depression, a Serotonin Deficiency Problem

When I meet a client for the first time, I am curious about the presenting problem, but from a “why” perspective. Our society is obsessed with labels and many of my clients want to know what is wrong with them and how I can fix it. Depression, Anxiety, Attention Deficit Hyper Activity Disorder (ADHD/ ADD) all have a function behind it. In some cases, the presentation of these problems are environmental, genetic or even family culture/ developmental. In this post, I will be looking at a common thread among the three, a deficiency of serotonin.

What is serotonin? Serotonin is a neurotransmitter responsible for regulating mood and can affect your sleep cycle, appetite and digestion. 95 percent of our serotonin is produced in our gastrointestinal (GI) tracts. The remaining percentage of serotonin is found in our brain stem. A deficiency occurs when your body does not have enough serotonin activity. It is not fully understood what serotonin’s role is in the symptomatology of physical and psychological symptoms associated with a deficiency. This becomes a major point that I share with my clients and one you have to understand when you go to your doctor and say you are depressed and you want a medication to not be depressed, it sometimes is not that easy. This is clearly observed when a client after seeing their doctor and getting a medication prescribed and taking it for x amount of time reports little to no change or on the other hand tells me that “medications don’t work”.

In the realm of mental health that I practice in, I embrace a concept known in medicine as integrative medicine. Here, rather than just treating the symptom, clinicians, doctors and practitioners address underlying causes of a problem. This means not only seeing your doctor, but also a therapist, a nutritionist, personal trainer, chiropractor, physical therapist or even a yoga instructor, reiki practitioner or massage therapist to address the whole mind and body connection.

Back to the idea of serotonin deficiency, here is a list of the most common experiences people have when this is a concern:

  • Anxiousness
  • Worry/fretfulness
  • Panic
  • Phobias
  • Mental obsessions
  • Behavioral compulsions
  • Pain
  • Depression
  • PMS
  • Post Menopausal symptoms
  • Sleep cycle disturbances
  • GI distress
  • Carb cravings (sweets, cookies, cakes, ice cream)
  • Stress, especially long periods of stress can lead to symptoms of deficiency. As mentioned above, genetic factors can also be a source, toxic metals, poor diet, certain drugs and substances (caffeine, alcohol and nicotine) and lack of sunlight are all contributors.
  • I am a huge fan of eating for positive health and in a previous post, I talked about eating to address health. To close this post, I want to offer some suggestions you can take to make non medication changes to address serotonin deficiency.

    Tryptophan (that stuff that makes you sleepy after eating a turkey dinner) and HTTP -5 are the precursors that create serotonin. Tryptophan converts to 5 HTTP which converts to serotonin. Food sources that promote some of this production include eggs, cheeses, pineapples, salmon, dark leafy greens (like spinach) nuts and seeds and of course turkey. Eating real, whole foods and staying away from ultra processed foods devoid of any real nutrition will encourage serotonin growth. Whole grains like whole wheat, whole grain oats and brown rice are excellent carbohydrates that aid in production. Exercising regularly, 40-45 minutes a day of walking can do the trick. 75 minutes of intense exercise two times a week can be very beneficial.

    As with any lifestyle change, please see your doctor and contract with a registered dietician who can walk you safely through a dietary protocol that will help you meet all your nutritional needs. For an extra layer of benefit, working with a personal trainer who can help you get your body moving in healthy, natural ways will allow you to address your serotonin deficiency from a wholistic perspective. Understand though, if the deficiency is severe enough, medications may be needed to bring serotonin levels up to a place where these natural approaches have efficacy.