Natural Alternatives to Antidepressants to Boost Serotonin

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Information and natural remedies for the treatment of depression.

Tess Thompson



5-hydroxytryptamine or 5HT, widely known as serotonin, is a neurotransmitter that has a wide-ranging influence over emotional behavior. It also plays a role in metabolism and stimulating vomiting. There are also suggestions that indicate its role in inducing cell division. Although it is present in other areas in the body as well, its presence in the central nervous system and the influence it has on brain functions is the most widely researched.

Serotonin is known to be linked with emotional mood, loss of appetite, temperature regulation, memory, behavior, cardiovascular functioning and muscle contraction. Amongst neurotransmitters, serotonin is the most involved in mental disorders like depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder and schizophrenia. The most striking evidence is provided by a decreased concentration of 5-hydroxyindole acetic acid, a metabolite necessary for the production of serotonin in such conditions.

Medical science has been working overtime to find newer medicines to treat depression with drugs that have fewer side effects. The latest in this field are SSRIs or Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors. These drugs have limited action and work to reuptake only serotonin, thus making more serotonin available to act on receptors in the brain. The efficacy of these medicines has led to their recreational use and for addressing milder problems like lack of self-esteem, fear of rejection, inability to experience pleasure and unresolved emotional grief.

What is not known to all is that SSRIs can interact with other antidepressants like MAOIs, a group of antidepressant drugs that inhibit the action of monoamine oxidase in the brain. These allow monoamines to accumulate, aiding in increased production of serotonin, as it is synthesized from the monoamine L-tryptophan. Excess serotonin activity in the brain and interaction between SSRIs and MAOIs can lead to a potentially life-threatening condition known as serotonin syndrome.

There are safer ways to increase serotonin levels in the body. These not only help in treating behavioral disorders but also aid in maintaining general health. 5-hydroxytrytpophan (5-HTP) is a precursor of serotonin and can be used as a replacement for prescription antidepressants. Serotonin is also naturally found in many types of mushrooms and plant foods like fruits and vegetables. Daily exercise is another way of raising serotonin levels naturally. Vigorous exercise not only raises serotonin levels, but also increases production of the neurotransmitter for three to four days after it. The other health benefits of regular exercise hardly need to be mentioned here as they are fairly widely known.

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