Anxiety depression insomnia and headaches may be caused by a serotonin and tryptophan deficiency
The impact of nutrition on mental health has been the subject of numerous studies for several decades. We know that some foods help us, more than others, to improve our cognitive performance, preserve our neurological well-being and keep our mood up. And not only because, intuitively, eating is a pleasure, but above all because the nutrients that we introduce into the body with food contribute significantly to the production of endorphins, serotonin and all the other “hormones” of a good mood. Let’s stop on serotonin (5-hydroxytryptamine), for example. From a biochemical point of view it is a neurotransmitter synthesized by the nervous system, whose job is to act as a messenger between the brain neurons and the system of nerves scattered throughout the rest of the body. What “messages” does serotonin send? Almost all good, deals with:
- Regulate sleep
- Modulate sexual desire
- Promote skeletal strength
- Regulate vasodilation and vasoconstriction reactions
- Assist in the formation of thrombocytes for blood clotting
- Promote wound healing processes
- Stimulate the appetite at the right times
- Regulate intestinal peristalsis
- Let us feel the positive emotions
- Regulate body temperature
- Support memory and information processing processes
A good endogenous production of serotonin, therefore, is essential for our mental health and in general to make us feel good, balanced, serene and, perhaps, happy. Conversely, insufficient values of this neurotransmitter are associated with mild to severe neurological and mood disorders including: depression, anxiety and panic attacks, stress, mnemonic deficits, migraine, bipolar disorder. There is also an opposite problem, much rarer, linked to excessive levels of serotonin, mostly of an iatrogenic nature, i.e. induced by taking drugs. The resulting syndrome can manifest with moderate to dramatic symptoms including profuse sweating, agitation, high fever, diarrhea, seizures.
Yes, as specified, we are dealing with rare conditions, while serotonin insufficiency is much more common and statistically significant, with the consequences we have seen, which can also depend on a nutritional deficiency or an inability of the body to use correctly the food sources to synthesize it.
Do you know what is the main source of serotonin?
An amino acid called tryptophan. It is called essential, because it is obtained exclusively from food, and is present in all animals, not just humans. Tryptophan is involved in multiple physiological functions: from the “construction” of proteins (like all amino acids), to the synthesis of bioactive compounds including serotonin – which is the main one and which interests us here – but also melatonin, necessary for sleep-wake rhythm regulation. Its deficit is, in fact, connected to sleep disorders and insomnia.
What do we recommend in these cases?
To obtain information on what happens in your intestine-brain axis and specifically on how tryptophan metabolism takes place in your intestine, we recommend the analysis of organic acids which determines our nutritional and metabolic profile from a urine sample. This test allows our doctor/specialist to understand if we have enough serotonin for our needs and to find out if we “incubate” states of chronic sub-inflammation due to an altered tryptophan metabolism.