Most of you know by now that serotonin is the “feel good” hormone secreted in the brain. It’s a neurotransmitter that helps to regulate sleep, digestion, mental clarity, mood, and pain. It raises the pain threshold so it’s easier to cope with inflammation and other pain symptoms. It regulates the sleep cycle in addition to reducing anxiety and depression. All around, serotonin is one of the most important chemicals the brain can produce, and sadly millions of people have levels low enough to cause symptoms, especially if you have fibromyalgia.
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Taking essential amino acids like tryptophan to raise serotonin levels essential to getting a better night’s sleep and reducing pain and depressive symptoms if you have low levels of this neurotransmitter.
You can take the Brain Function Questionnaire on my website to determine which brain chemical is responsible for your sleep and mood symptoms. The majority of time, however, serotonin is the major player in those who have trouble falling and staying asleep.
Before I get into the supplement that will help raise serotonin levels, it’s important to understand that there is no quick fix. I may take weeks to months for your body to normalize its sleeping patterns, especially if you have gone years with this problem. However, within a couple of weeks, you should start to feel good enough to notice that your body is changing and getting into a better routine.
So, how do you increase serotonin levels, or the essential amino acid, tryptophan (responsible for converting to serotonin)? It’s a supplement called 5-HTP, and you have probably heard about it or seen it in the vitamin section of your local grocery store. Tryptophan is actually 5-HTP on its way to becoming serotonin. It is a completely natural, legal, and inexpensive approach.
Multiple studies around the world have shown that 5-HTP is more effective than prescription SSRI antidepressants.
Best of all, there are very few, if any, side effects. Most notable is that higher doses may make you drowsy, which is why I recommend taking it at night before bedtime.
Why is 5-HTP so great? Several reasons, actually. Tryptophan needs help to travel past the blood-brain barrier, so it uses a transport molecule to do this. 5-HTP does not need this transport molecule to cross that barrier and it moves very easily into the brain for maximum effect. It doesn’t have to compete with other amino acids for the “molecule ride” and is admitted immediately. Additionally, 5-HTP is derived from a plant, whereas tryptophan is subject to contamination because it’s made from bacterial fermentation. Finally, 5-HTP is converted immediately into serotonin, whereas tryptophan needs to be broken down into 5-HTP first.
Keep this in mind before starting any supplement. Stress is a primary factor in depletion of multiple important chemicals that help the body function properly. It doesn’t just hurt sleep and mood, but can cause a variety of other health conditions as well, including exacerbating fibromyalgia symptoms. Additionally, excessive use of stimulants like caffeine, nicotine, and sugar release serotonin at rapid rates, which means it is very easy to “run low.” This is why after the stimulant, you feel great, but it is also why there is the inevitable crash that can lead to more stimulant use, dependency, and eventual ineffectiveness.
Generally speaking, healthy individuals get plenty of 5-HTP in their diet; however, those with fibromyalgia and even serotonin-derived depression have biochemical glitches that prevent them from being able to convert the tryptophan into serotonin.
If you are under a great deal of stress, experiencing sleep problems and having depression or anxiety, your primary doctor may be quick to prescribe an SSRI or other drug to help you relax and sleep. While these may be helpful at first, they usually come with severe side effects and only “gloss over” the primary problem. They don’t actually replenish and restore serotonin levels.
Prescription SSRI’s will only help you use your serotonin stores, so if you are already running on fumes, like most of my fibromyalgia patients, these drugs are not likely going to work!
When you are running on fumes and have no serotonin stores, a reuptake drug is not going to do anything for you, because there is nothing to reuptake.
Think of it this way, depending on which study you are looking at, anywhere from 19% to 70% of people taking an SSRI antidepressant would do just as well on a placebo. This is why I will always recommend 5-HTP to my fibromyalgia patients as the first line of treatment to restore those serotonin levels. Why would want to you put an additive into an empty tank, when you can do a fill-up with less damage to both your body and your bank account?
You can take the Brain Function Questionnaire here: https://yourfibrodoctor.com/brain-function/
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