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How to Overcome Anxiety From Serotonin Deficiency

Faiq Shaikh, M.D.
How to Overcome Anxiety From Serotonin Deficiency

Anxiety can have a host of different causes. But no matter the cause, anxiety changes the chemistry of your brain. One of the issues that many people with anxiety have in common is that they tend to suffer from low levels of the neurotransmitter, serotonin. Some people have a genetic predisposition to this. Others have low serotonin due to diet and lifestyle changes. Still others have low serotonin because their own anxiety has changed the way their brain produces and uses the neurotransmitter.

Below, we'll explore the causes and medicine-free treatments for serotonin deficiency.

Anxiety and Serotonin Deficiency

Serotonin deficiency is generally not the only factor in the development of anxiety disorders, though some people do have a genetic predisposition to low serotonin levels. 

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that is known to improve mood and positive feelings. It also has an effect in others areas of the body, such as the gut.

The primary symptoms of Serotonin deficiency are the same as anxiety and depression, since they tend to be related. Remember, it's not always clear which came first. Studies have conclusively shown that some people are more prone to serotonin deficiency. Studies have also conclusively shown that low serotonin can also be genetic. Symptoms often include:

There are a host of different symptoms of serotonin deficiency, many of which are related to anxiety. Once again, it's rarely clear whether serotonin deficiency causes anxiety or vice versa - it's even possible for them to cause each other, because they create an anxiety that is self-sustaining.

How to Naturally Combat Serotonin Deficiency

There are a lot of myths about what improves serotonin levels in the brain. Some people eat bananas, since bananas have serotonin, but studies have shown that it is unable to cross the blood brain barrier so bananas - while healthy - are unlikely to have any effect in that regard. Other foods, like turkey, are not believed to have any effect either despite what some popular websites claim. 

According to an article by Dr. Simon Young, the following are some of the more successful medication-free methods of improving serotonin levels:


Exercise is not just for physical fitness, and it's not an old wives tale. There are countless clinical studies that prove that exercise naturally increases serotonin levels dramatically. Exercise has been compared in several clinical studies to major anxiety and depression medications, and compared extremely favorably indicating that exercise is actually a very powerful anxiety treatment and one that seems to genuinely improve mood on a chemical level. If you're not exercising, then you're not doing whatever it takes to improve serotonin.

Bright Lights

Studies of those with seasonal affective disorder have shown that exposure to light has a positive effect on mood at a chemical level. It's why those with the disorder are often given "light therapy," where a person is told to sit in front of a light box for several minutes every day to simulate sunlight. Studies have actually shown that light therapy can decrease seasonal depression at the same level as some antidepressants, and studies have also shown that it does appear to improve serotonin levels. 

It's not clear that it has any effect on anxiety (few studies have looked at anxiety and light therapy) but spending more time in the sun or in front of a bright light may be beneficial.


Tryptophan - an amino acid - is the precursor to serotonin and may help improve serotonin levels. More research is needed, however, because tryptophan from food and most supplements does not appear to be effective at increasing serotonin levels according to available evidence. But pure tryptophan has shown some success. It's simply rare to find the right type, as tryptophan is also a mild hypnotic. Most countries outside of the United States label tryptophan a drug that is only available with a prescription. Only the US allows tryptophan to be a dietary supplement, but unfortunately, it's not clear whether the type of tryptophan sold in health food stores is effective.

Psychotherapy and Mood Improvement Therapies

Finally, as hinted at several times above, serotonin can actually increase with a better mood. Even those with serotonin deficiency from genetics appear to have an improvement in their serotonin levels provided they receive some type of help in controlling their mood and thought.

Thoughts are incredibly powerful, and many studies have proven that the way you think affects your brain chemical levels. So interventions that help you learn how to cope with stress better, improve your mood, and help you maintain a more emotionally happy lifestyle should also increase serotonin levels.

Article Resources
  1. Neumeister, Alexander, et al. "Effects of tryptophan depletion on drug-free patients with seasonal affective disorder during a stable response to bright light therapy." Archives of general psychiatry 54.2 (1997): 133.
  2. Turner, Erick H., Jennifer M. Loftis, and Aaron D. Blackwell. Serotonin a la carte: supplementation with the serotonin precursor 5-hydroxytryptophan. Pharmacology & therapeutics 109.3 (2006): 325-338.
  3. Van Praag, H. M. Serotonin-related, anxiety/aggression-driven, stressor-precipitated depression. A psycho-biological hypothesis. European psychiatry 11.2 (1996): 57-67. 
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