In continuation of our previous discussion, I'd like to begin with the strong correlation between depression and serotonin levels.
Does that mean that everyone who is depressed needed to take medication to increase serotonin? No. However, as a naturopathic physician, I always want to look at all the variables that impact a health condition before I decide on a treatment plan.
While it is true that there are correlations between depression and serotonin, there are also correlations between insomnia and serotonin; fifty percent of people diagnosed with depression also have insomnia or sleep disturbance symptoms. Therefore, serotonin is an essential neurotransmitter in the sleep process as well.
Let’s look at how serotonin is related to the sleep process, as mentioned in my December 8, 2009 blog. I wrote about sleep and circadian rhythms. Circadian rhythms are cycles that directly impact our ability to sleep and the consequent quality.
Circadian rhythms are also known as our “internal body clock”. Circadian rhythm is responsible for our sleep and wake time. Other hormones are also required to fully wake us from our sleep cycle but serotonin is responsible for the arousal of our cerebral activity.
As I start to see patients that have several problems that can be linked to the same biological or chemical problem, I begin to create a holistic plan to revive their health. The first step in my treatment plan is eating healthy whole foods that contain all the ingredients required to create tryptophan in our bodies. We cannot get serotonin directly from our food so we have to produce it from its building blocks. The main building block for serotonin is an amino acid called L-tryptophan- found in high amounts in dairy products, nuts, chicken, turkey. It is also important to have appropriate levels of vitamin B-6, pyridoxine, to convert L-tryptophan to serotonin. All B vitamins are water-soluble and do not stay in our bodies for long so we must consume them daily.
Next we have to look at correcting any sleep problems, using sleep behavior techniques, exercise or supplementations.