Low serotonin fatigue: causes, symptoms and treatment
Low serotonin fatigue is characterised by feelings of tiredness, listlessness, anxiety and mild depression.
Serotonin is a word you have probably heard a lot when hearing or reading about mental health. But what exactly is it? What causes serotonin fatigue? And what are some other symptoms you need to look out for?
What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter in your brain that is responsible for your moods. It is also involved in regulating your circadian rhythm (sleep-wake cycle), digestive system, appetite and impulse control.
Serotonin helps you wake up in the morning feeling alert and like you have a fresh start. The neurotransmitter is important for helping you feel secure and for your body to rest, rebalance and regenerate.
You can become deficient in serotonin and in fact, many people are.
What causes low levels of serotonin?
Researchers are still trying to learn more about the causes of serotonin deficiency. Still, there are a few things that could potentially cause your serotonin levels to take a dip and fatigue to set in.
Producing less serotonin
You could produce less serotonin. Some people produce more serotonin than others, but the reason is not exactly known. Your diet and lifestyle, as well as genetics, can all play a role.
Fewer receptors in your brain
You might have fewer serotonin receptors in your brain, or your receptors might not receive serotonin effectively.
Your rate of serotonin breakdown
The serotonin in your brain can be broken down or reabsorbed too quickly, so you become depleted sooner.
You might have low vitamin B12 levels, which your body needs to make enough serotonin. You can find vitamin B12 in animal products like red meat, poultry, eggs and cheese.
If you follow a plant-based or vegetarian diet without supplementing with vitamin B12, chances are, your levels are quite low. Even if you do consume a lot of meat, you could still have a vitamin B12 deficiency due to poor digestion and nutrient absorption, as well as health conditions that are associated with low vitamin B12 levels like PCOS, Chron’s disease and autoimmune diseases.
You might also have low levels of other nutrients that are important for serotonin production like L-tryptophan, vitamin B6, vitamin D or omega-3.
Grief or stress
Grief and stress can use up a lot of your serotonin. You could be experiencing situational depression caused by a loss or traumatic event in life. Dealing with a lot of stress at work or in your personal life can also cause low levels of serotonin.
Not enough carbs
Low-carb diets can be beneficial for the body, but extremely low-carb diets are not ideal, as the body does need some glucose to help it produce serotonin. It helps the amino acid tryptophan reach your brain.
If you really want to stay away from carbs, increase your protein intake. Your body can turn excess protein into glucose through a process called gluconeogenesis.
Yes, even having too much fun can lead to a decrease in your serotonin levels. As your excitement increases, so do your serotonin levels, but your body will also burn through and deplete your serotonin faster, and you can end up feeling tired and drained.
Using recreational drugs like 3,4-Methylenedioxymethamphetamine (also known as ecstasy, Molly and MDMA) increase serotonin and dopamine in the brain and are associated with heightened pleasure and increased energy, but your serotonin levels become depleted at the end of the trip, and you can feel low and depressed when you sober up.
What symptoms do you need to look out for to see if you might have a serotonin deficiency?
Fatigue is a common symptom. If you have chronic fatigue, it could be an indication that your serotonin levels are chronically low. The neurotransmitter is important for energy regulation in the body.
If your levels are low, it can result in difficulty with focus and attention during the day. In this case, increasing serotonin levels naturally is a good fatigue treatment option.
Most of the symptoms of low serotonin involve your mental health. They include:
- Acute or chronic depression
- Anxiety and frequent worrying
- A lack of motivation and drive
- Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
- Struggling with addictions, including food, alcohol, substances, gambling, shopping… the list goes on
- Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
- Low self-esteem
- Poor memory and focus
- Impulsive behaviours like impulsive shopping, eating or risky behaviour
While serotonin levels are associated with mental health conditions like depression and anxiety, doctors and scientists are not exactly sure what the exact role is that serotonin plays in these conditions.
Physical health problems
Some of the more physical health problems you can experience are:
- Constant carbohydrate cravings that can lead to overeating, insulin resistance, weight gain, and as a result, other health problems like diabetes or Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS)
- Poor appetite leading to undereating and weight loss
- Digestive problems, such as irritable bowel syndrome and constipation
Natural ways to boost your serotonin levels
How can you increase your serotonin levels naturally?
- Exercise regularly to naturally boost your production of the neurotransmitters serotonin, dopamine and norepinephrine, and mood-boosting endorphins.
- Eat tryptophan-rich foods like eggs, fish, poultry and beef. Tryptophan is a precursor for serotonin, meaning your body uses it to make serotonin.
- Take an essential amino acid supplement that contains tryptophan if you want to make sure you are getting enough. You should especially consider supplementing with this amino acid if you are on a plant-based diet.
- Supplement with 5-HTP. It is a precursor to serotonin, and taking it can trigger your body to produce more of it. It is best to do this under medical supervision.
- Add light therapy to your daily schedule. Get enough sunlight exposure during the day to support serotonin production and try red light therapy in the evenings.
If your problem is severe, your doctor might recommend Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs). These can have negative side effects and inhibit your body’s natural ability to produce serotonin, which is why it’s best to first try to support your body’s natural ability to produce it.
If you have been feeling fatigued lately and are also showing any of the other symptoms mentioned, like feeling anxious or depressed, speak to your doctor about looking at low serotonin fatigue as a possible cause.
With the right lifestyle changes, a healthy diet and some help from your doctor, you could feel joyful and energetic sooner than you think.