What does a low serotonin level mean?
The messenger substance serotonin fulfills many important functions in the human body - as long as it is present in sufficient quantities. If the serotonin level is too low, certain processes cannot be carried out or cannot be carried out properly, resulting in functional disorders and complaints.
Low serotonin level - the causes
Serotonin levels are too low when the concentration of the neurotransmitter serotonin in the body is significantly lower than usual. The concentration of serotonin in the body depends on numerous factors, and the causes of serotonin deficiency have not yet been conclusively determined. However, it can be assumed that there is no single cause for a low serotonin level, but rather that an interplay of various factors unbalances the serotonin balance.
One cause of low serotonin levels is that the substances needed for serotonin production are not present in sufficient quantities or their function is disturbed. This applies, for example, to vitamin B6 or L-tryptophan, both of which are essential for serotonin production. However, low serotonin levels can also be observed in chronic stress or in connection with certain diseases such as chronic infections, autoimmune diseases or cancer.
Whether the serotonin level is too low or too high can be measured. This is usually done by measuring the amount of hydroxyindoleacetic acid (5-HIES) in the urine, which is excreted by the kidneys as the main breakdown product of serotonin. A value of less than 9 mg/24 hours is considered the reference value here . However, these values do not necessarily allow precise conclusions to be drawn about the serotonin concentration in the brain. This would require an examination of the cerebrospinal fluid, which is associated with risks and is therefore only performed in exceptional cases. However, it is often sufficient to recognize the symptoms and interpret them correctly.
A low serotonin level can manifest itself - according to the functions that serotonin performs in the body - in various complaints. Possible symptoms include increased impulsivity, irritability and aggressiveness, listlessness, fatigue, increased anxiety and perception of pain, sleep disturbances, and changes in appetite and sexual desire. In addition, a serotonin deficiency can promote certain diseases such as irritable bowel syndrome or depression.
What can be done about low serotonin levels?
If serotonin levels are too low, they can be increased by various measures. Treatment with selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) is widely used. They actively intervene in neurotransmitter metabolism by preventing serotonin from being reabsorbed into the cells, as the name suggests. This increases the amount of freely available serotonin in the synaptic cleft between the cells, so that it can develop or maintain its effect there for longer.
In addition to drug treatment, there are other measures that can be taken to increase serotonin levels. These include, for example, a healthy diet with plenty of vitamin B6, L-tryptophan and omega-3 fatty acids, which can be supplied to the body through food or supplements. Vitamin D and exercise also appear to have a beneficial effect on serotonin levels. However, these measures - especially in the case of a severe physical or mental illness - are not a substitute, but merely a supplement or support for drug treatment.
Conclusion on low serotonin levels
If the serotonin level is low, various complaints can occur. Severe fatigue and listlessness, irritability as well as changes in pain perception, appetite or sexual behavior may be indications that the serotonin level is too low.