Natural Serotonin: Alternatives to Anti-Depressant Drugs such as Prozac,
Effexor, Zoloft, etc.
One out of every 10 Americans has been on an SSRI drug (Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, Luvox and
Paxil to name a few) for depression. Serotonin, the primary neurotransmitter influenced by this class of drug,
has many influences on mood as well as pain, sleep and intensity of cravings. Deficiencies in serotonin can lead
to depression, anxiety, low pain thresholds, sleep disorders, sugar cravings and cause weight gain.
How does Serotonin affect the brain and prevent depression?
When you eat protein, an amino acid called tryptophan will absorb into the brain to be processed into serotonin.
If sufficient nutrients (Iron, SAMe, Magnesium, and certain B-vitamins) are available, tryptophan will be converted
into a substance called 5-HTP. If an activated form of vitamin B6 (P5P) is present, 5-HTP will be converted into
the feel good chemical known as serotonin.
Certain brain cells will release serotonin in order to communicate with a neighboring brain cell (target cell). When
the serotonin is released into the space between the cells (the synapse), some of it is bound to the target cell,
therefore transmitting the message. A small amount of serotonin is lost in the urine, and the rest (80%) is re-
absorbed by the original cell to be reused. When there is normal re-absorption (re-uptake) of the serotonin,
feedback will tell the first cell that appropriate amounts of serotonin has reached the target cell, and that no more
serotonin production is required. When plenty of serotonin is available, a small amount is converted into another
important chemical called melatonin, which helps one achieve deep, restful sleep.
How do Prozac-like drugs work?
SSRI (Selective Serotonin Reutake Inhibitor) drugs such as Prozac, Effexor, Zoloft, Celexa, Lexapro, etc. block
the re-absorption of the serotonin that does not bind to the target cell, forcing the serotonin to stay in the
synapse for a longer period of time in hopes that more serotonin may bind to the target cell. Some serotonin will
be bound but much more than normal will be eliminated through the urine.
Are there side effects of Prozac and other SSRI drugs?
There are some problems that are associated with the use of these drugs and if you read the first three
paragraphs again, you can probably figure them out.
- First, If the drug is blocking the re-uptake of serotonin, there is a larger amount being excreted in the
urine. This is very wasteful, especially if the person was low in serotonin to begin with. These drugs
actually deplete the body of it's own serotonin stores which can be very dangerous since those taking
the drug were often low in serotonin to begin with!
- Second, if the receptors on the target cell were resistant to serotonin to begin with, abnormally high
amounts of serotonin will only make the receptors more resistant to serotonin. Higher doses of the drug,
or a different drug may then be required to achieve the desired effect which means increased risk of side
- Third, since the feedback loop is blocked, the first cell thinks that the target cell did not receive enough
serotonin. The first cell must then try to release even more serotonin, further depleting its serotonin
reserves and increasing resistance of the target cell.
Eventually, the body becomes both serotonin depleted and serotonin resistant, meaning it doesn’t make much
serotonin and it does not respond well to what little serotonin it does make. Further, there is no excess serotonin
to be converted into melatonin which can lead to insomnia. Based on this knowledge, it is not surprising that
suicide rates are actually higher after a depressed person has been on SSRI medication.
These drugs were designed for short term use and were never tested for or intended to be used long term.
Sadly the long term use of SSRI type drugs has become common place. Unfortunately the long term side effects
are now being discovered in the large population of patients using them for extended lengths.
The side effects now attributed to these drugs include sexual dysfunction, tics, parkinsonian tremors, agitation,
muscle spasm, weight gain, insomnia and increased rates of suicide (especially in young people). Many of these
side effects are due to the long term depletion of serotonin and down regulation of another neurotransmitter
called dopamine. With extended usage, some of these side effects can become permanent even after SSRI use
has been ceased!
So what does natural therapy have to offer?
Serotonin and all other neurotransmitters are made from amino acids (in this case tryptophan) which are the
building blocks of protein. In order to produce enough serotonin in the cell, you must ingest enough tryptophan
in the diet. Poultry and vegetables are good sources. In order for tryptophan to be converted into serotonin,
there are some chemical conversions that need to occur which require a whole host of nutrient co-factors.
Tryptophan is first converted to 5-HTP before it is converted to Serotonin. We often use supplemental 5-HTP
and P5P with great success because it supplies the natural building blocks for serotonin production.
Amino acid status can be tested in the privacy of your own home using our Amino Acid Profile.
Another area that can be addressed naturally is the sensitivity of the serotonin receptors on the target cell. This
is rarely discussed but it is just as important as serotonin production. Combinations of PS, GPC, Inositol, Acetyl L-
Carnitine and Ginkgo (Brain Vitale) have been shown to be beneficial in making the receptors more responsive
by improving the structural and functional makeup of the target cell, improving its ability to accept serotonin.
These nutrients are the natural components of the cell and receptor itself so this type of therapy is very safe and
Omega 3's and 6's can also be very helpful for improving brain signalling. Always be careful when selecting an
Omega 3 supplement. I only use a blend of pharmaceutical grade fish, flax and borage oils which are proven to
be free of rancidity and pollutants such as mercury and PCB's. The Omega product is called OmegAvail
This natural approach supplies the raw material for appropriate serotonin production, allows for appropriate
feedback, allows for proper re-absorption of excess serotonin, and improves the sensitivity of the target cell
without any of the side effects of SSRI drugs.
In some cases SSRI drugs can be beneficial for people with severe mood disorders, but too often they can make
the problems worse. I believe natural supplementation, along with dietary changes and lifestyle modifications
should always be used first or in addition to medication. Your body was built to use natural substances so when
we appropriately replace them and remove any toxins that could be contributing to the problem, the body will
likely become healthy enough to function on its own. This method is a very safe, effective and low cost way of
giving you the best chance possible to overcome mood disturbances (like depression), cravings, sleep disorders
and pain syndromes over the long term.
Make an appointment with Dr. Webster today to discuss natural therapies for depression and
other mood disorders.
Complete Health and Weight Loss
5000 Legacy Dr. #240
Plano, TX 75024