Firstly, a little about antidepressants. *SSRIs (Selective Serotonin Re-uptake Inhibitors) affect the chemicals that nerves in the brain use to send messages to one another. These chemical messengers, called neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine, are released by one nerve and taken up by other nerves. Neurotransmitters that are not taken up by other nerves are taken up by the same nerves that released them. This process is termed ‘reuptake’.
*SSRIs work by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin, an action which allows more serotonin to be available to be taken up by other nerves.
*MAOIs (Monoamine Oxidase Inhibitors) relieve depression by preventing the enzyme monoamine oxidase from metabolizing the neurotransmitters norepinephrine, serotonin and dopamine in the brain. As a result, these levels remain high in the brain, boosting mood.
*Tricyclic antidepressants boost all three neurotransmitters (nor epinephrine, serotonin and dopamine). As all these types of drugs have similar effects on Serotonin it is definitely unadvisable to use them both at the same time or even close to one another.
*5HTP (5-hydroxy-tryptophan) is an amino acid made in the body from dietary L-tryptophan as an intermediate in the production of the neurotransmitter serotonin.
5-HTP can also be derived from the seeds of a West African plant Griffonia simplicifolia.
5HTP acts primarily to increase levels of serotonin in the central nervous system.
Serotonin increases feelings of optimism, well being, self esteem, the improves the ability to relax, sleep well and feel secure.
These are all feelings that doctors want to increase when they prescribe antidepressants to treat depression or a variety of other conditions, including poor sleep, anxiety, migraine headaches, PMT, various eating disorders, obesity, and some chronic pain conditions such as fibromyalgia.
Since 5-HTP elevates serotonin levels, taking it in conjunction with prescription drugs designed to do the same thing could lead to potentially toxic levels of serotonin (‘serotonin syndrome’). This could cause neuromuscular hyperactivity, muscle spasms, and rigidity, as well as agitation, emotional overexcitement (mania), confusion, excessive sweating, fever, shortness of breath, and rapid heart rates.
5HTP has been shown to be beneficial in treating insomnia and improving sleep quality.
Often I would be recommending 5HTP be used in conjunction with herbs such as perhaps Californian Poppy or Mexican Valerian, Hops and Passiflora which can support the body, help relaxation and aid the sleep process.
See page on ‘Sleep problems’.
Other ways of boosting Serotonin levels can be to listen to peaceful, soft music, undertake slow relaxing exercise and meditation, keeping your thoughts peaceful and quiet.
Up-dated Jan 2022