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Adrienne Dellwo

What Does Low Serotonin Feel Like?

By July 27, 2008

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The symptoms of fibromyalgia (FMS) and chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS or ME/CFS) are all over the map. Why would one condition cause pain, fatigue, binge eating, self confidence, and abdominal problems? It's confusing and bewildering, not to mention way less than fun to live with!

But all of those seemingly random symptoms just might have something in common - some evidence suggests problems in how your body regulates serotonin. And they're not the only problems related to abnormalities this substance, which is both a neurotransmitter and a type of hormone.

Physical symptoms include:

  • Chronic fatigue, in spite of adequate rest
  • Disturbed sleep
  • Either loss of appetite or carb cravings, possibly due to the body's attempt to make more serotonin
  • Hot flushes and temperature changes
  • Headaches
  • Stomach pains

Emotional symptoms include:

  • Loss of interest in sex
  • Social withdrawal
  • Sadness and frequent crying spells
  • Low self-esteem and self-confidence
  • Loss of personality
  • Feeling emotionally sensitive and taking things personally
  • Irritability

Serotonin is a regulator, and when it's out of whack, our bodies just aren't regular! Doctors don't generally test you for abnormal serotonin activity (most labs don't offer it, and most insurance companies don't cover it), so it has to be diagnosed based on symptoms.

Probably the most common way to change your serotonin levels is through medication: selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin norepinephrine re-uptake inhibitors (SNRIs). Some supplements and your diet can influence serotonin as well. Morning sunlight can help, too. As always, you should work with your doctor to decide which method is best for you!

How do you try to influence your serotonin level? Leave your comments below!

Learn more or join the conversation!


August 1, 2008 at 6:14 pm
(1) VaBreeze says:

Zoloft. This is the best medication for me…and I can certainly tell the times I didn’t take it. I’ve been on some type of antidepressant most of my life, but this one has worked the best in treating the symptoms you’ve mentioned here.

August 1, 2008 at 10:39 pm
(2) Heather says:

I wonder if meditation or t’ai chi has an effect on serotonin. T’ai chi is especially helpful if I am disciplined enough to actually DO it! I just feel great… “renewed” after a session. I end up feeling very relaxed and sometimes I like to just go to bed after doing it, because I’m at ease and I sleep better.

I do take 10mg of flexeril and 25mg of trazodone at night but truthfully, anything that helps me get a good night’s sleep tends to help my mood & pain level!

June 15, 2010 at 8:54 am
(3) brian longhurst says:

I take Sertraline and could not believe how one tablet improved my depression greatly after over thirty years of terrible depression.

September 25, 2010 at 1:21 am
(4) Chris says:

This article is misleading in suggesting SSRI or SNRI boost serotonin. They do NOT. They allow existing serotonin to be used more optimally but do nothing to improve existing levels of the neurotransmitter. Diet and exercise changes are the best way to begin producing more serotonin. As levels begin to improve people will feel more optimistic, relaxed (meditation is good here!) and postive… this in turn will produce more serotonin.

Dietary sources of tryptophan such as avacado, turkey or salmon are good places to start. Supplements like L-tryptophan or 5 HTP are also helpful. This gives the body the building blocks to produce serotonin. Being up and physically active during the first 2 hours of daylight is good as this is the body’s key time for production of serotonin. There is a great book called The Diet and Exercise Solution that is a great resource for learning more about your brain chemistry and how you can change it.

September 17, 2011 at 1:04 am
(5) Joshua says:

I had a psychologist suggest I use that. After being on and off SSRI’s my entire life and all doctors using a similar route I thought he was crazy. I figured nothing he said was going to work. He laid out a very specific path for me to take with the 5-htp and some other supplements like D3; monitored the progress, adjusted the dose, taught me what he knew and how to do it; and I kid you not I can cure my depression in about a month or two. Saw him 6 times; never had to see him again. Yet, anyway, things can always change.

As for everything else they promise with 5-htp … No luck with; but with depression; if used right; great luck. Your reasons are spot on. If anyone lives in Indy; look up psychologists in the area on Google and he will be one of the highest rated.

I am not connected to any supplier. If you are not depressed don’t take it. I highly recommend seeking professional advise anytime; I am not a doctor; This is NOT professional advice; take what I saw as the words of a commoner writing about one experience. If I do have any interests whats so ever with the manufactures it would be buried deep in some mutual fund in my retirement account and I am unaware of it.

November 11, 2010 at 1:05 am
(6) Pete says:

It’s important to note that although 5-HTP turns almost completely into serotonin, it doesn’t cross the blood-brain barrier, so its not nearly as useful as L-Tryptophan (which does cross the barrier). I am basing this off of my Dr. word, but I can feel the difference too.

September 17, 2011 at 1:09 am
(7) Joshua says:

I’ve had great luck with 5-htp; Where can you get L-Tryptophan? I would be willing to try it next time my depression acts up. Preferably a brick and mortar store.

I should probably note I only have to use 5-htp for about a month before I not longer need it. Too much 5-HT has the same effects as too little. Its a tricky little substance. (5-HT is serotonin)

November 15, 2010 at 3:19 pm
(8) Blake W says:

Im 17 and have just been diagnosed with low serotonin levels. Lately I have kinda withdrawn myself from life because i haven’t felt like myself. I have been more depressed, fatigued, quick to anger and less hungry. Sometimes i can go a whole day not eat and still feel like normal (or as normal as i can be). The worst effect from all of this is the intense head pain I have been having, nothing like a headache it stays constant about all day. Some days its less and other the pain is more. i find that the only thing that helps me is reduction in electronic use, such as: computers, tv, and video games.

May 26, 2011 at 3:14 pm
(9) robert says:

blake w call me if u want a natural product for ur problem 610-333-0561 robert

March 21, 2011 at 1:26 pm
(10) Japz says:

Blake, I just wanted to drop a line about your headache.
Sometime when you spend too much time on TV, computer, or anything looking at screen for too long, you feel like you have a headache.

BUT IMO I think it’s just your eye being tired or fatigues from too much computing.

July 25, 2011 at 5:58 pm
(11) leorising says:

I’m unable to take SSRIs or SNRIs without intolerable side effects. I’ve been taking a “mood support” herbal supplement containing St. John’s Wort for two years with excellent results. Unfortunately, not everyone tolerates St. John’s Wort; SAM-e is also worth trying to boost serotonin levels.

You may or may not like him, but here is what Dr. Andrew Weil has to say on the subject: “Trying to increase your serotonin levels with 5-HTP or food is probably not the best approach.” From this article: http://www.drweil.com/drw/u/QAA76842/supplement-to-boost-serotonin.html .

As always, probably the best approach for us fibromites is to try different things until we find one that works for us.

September 17, 2011 at 1:13 am
(12) Joshua says:

Increasing my serotonin levels has done nothing for my fibro. Instead of a depressed person with fibro; I am just able to cope with it and see the silver lining more. (I will take the stair because I still can Might have helped with my sleep some ( I use 5-HTP as needed ) which has a minor impact. No sleep = Terrible Fibro without a doubt. Else its just a probably.

Gotta love the disease that doesn’t exist.

December 15, 2011 at 8:45 pm
(13) JanJ says:

Two packages of morning sunlight pleaseee !

January 29, 2012 at 1:59 pm
(14) Neeli says:


February 9, 2012 at 1:50 pm
(15) Brian D says:

5-HTP DOES cross the blood-brain barrier so long as it is taken with carbohydrates. If taken with protein and fat only, it doesn’t work.

Take it with juice in the AM and PM. Start with 50mg twice daily and work your way up. I’m a big guy and require 300mg/day.

If I stop taking it, my world shrinks around me, my muscles get tight and start twitching, my thoughts begin to feel like someone else’s. I become withdrawn and irritable, can’t sleep at night, and have sleep disturbances.

Unlike SSRI’s 5-HTP has ZERO side effects on me. Everyone is different, so just be careful. Also, DO NOT TAKE IT if you’re on SSRI’s as this may cause you to have too much serotonin. SSRI’s trap serotonin so adding too much can make you very sick.

March 6, 2012 at 4:41 pm
(16) NEIL says:


August 1, 2012 at 5:17 pm
(17) Susan says:

Question rather than comment… In a search to prohibit migraines the doc had me taking cymbalta and topomax at the same time resulting in major hair loss (due she said to SSRI’s) No impact on migraines whatsoever and I discontinued med use. Several years later the hair loss continues – though cyclic in nature. Ruling out iron deficiencies and hormone irregularities I’m back to the question what is causing the hair loss. Does too much serotonin or too little in one’s system cause the hair loss?…and is it too much or too little that impact miraines?

September 22, 2012 at 12:14 am
(18) jeff says:

I want to first make it clear that I am not trying to be funny or offensive here. I am a male and have suffered from depression for 25 years. I have been on celexa and welbutrin for a number of years now and find it relatively effective (not perfect but the best combination for me). My wife and I both notice a very significant difference in my mental state for almost two days every time I have a powerful orgasm (strong ejaculation) from her. I feel an enormous difference in my mind to. Everything is clearer, I’m more focused, I sleep better,and much more positive.

October 18, 2012 at 3:05 am
(19) Gern Blanston says:

Quit drinking diet soft drinks or anything with aspartame (Nutrasweet) in it. The NIH has conducted studies confirming it increases dopamine – and lowers serotonin. The stuff should come with a warning label, IMO – and you can’t convince me the rise in these fake sweeteners has nothing to do with the corresponding rise in antidepressants.

December 28, 2012 at 1:06 pm
(20) Lorraine says:

Several years ago I began to experience low mood which began in Early November and would lift as spring came. I thought it was holiday blues but an asute naturopath recognized this as low mood as a result of decrease in sunshine. Recommended Phillips “Go lite”. A small portable bluewave light which quickly raises seratonin. One takes a test on the Phillips site to see what time of morning to use the light. 15 minutes in am. Wow! How quickly my mood began to pick up.. I need to remind myself to put it on my calendar every year to begin in September as serotonin slowly drops. I don’t want to get to the place again that I say, Hey, what’s wrong with me? Why am I sad.. This is just my personal chemistry. I always try natural things.. And this has worked for me.. By the way, I used to have fibromyalgia. I believed it was tied into dietary issues.. I was so right.. Let me say this. Since I got serious about working with a Physican who works with natural bio-identical hormone and natropathic methods, she found systemic yeast, inflammation from sugar, bread, yeasts. I was always craving sugar and carbs to feed the yeast which was imflamming my whole system.. Yes, I needed to really get ready for many changes. But we either have to decide we want to change our quality of life or be part of the generation of the walking unwell. I face saying no everyday to sugary foods, and junk food when I visit others. I bring my own snacks and respectfully no longer am bothered to say no to grandmas homemade cookies. It has been extremely expensive to be sick with chronic fatigue, epstein barr virus, inflammation, fibromyalgia, and depression.. All of these are gone. Thirty five pounds lost, I lost that puffy look and now truly with daily discipline (which isn’t a dirty word) my symptoms are all gone.. We can’t eat and do anything we want and be healthy. We must choose.. You can do it too. It is very much worth reclaiming your life..

January 21, 2013 at 9:54 am
(21) Mom of 2 says:

5-HTP has been a life saver for my teenage daughter. Don’t put your child on drugs that do not produce serotonin. The 5-HTP is taken daily and my daughter is back to normal after having such anxiety and depression she could not function normally. The 5-HTP has been given to her by a naturopathic doctor after taking blood tests of her serotonin level which was low.

January 29, 2013 at 2:03 pm
(22) Sherrie says:

I just want to add some missing information about 5HTP. It needs an adequate supply of B6 to complete the conversion to serotonin. For chemicals to cross the blood brain barrier out bodies need fat molecules. This can easily be accomplished by taking a fish oil supplement and a B multi along with the 5HTP.

Tryptophan taken as a supplement is more hazardous as it has to be converted to 5HTP. In this process it creates metabolites that can have cardiac issues if taken long term. This is not the case with natural tryptophan from the diet as we absorb it slowly and throughout the day from our meals.

February 14, 2013 at 7:31 pm
(23) Vivian Parker says:

Why not just take serotonin. It’s in the health store.

March 25, 2013 at 3:48 pm
(24) Jeff says:

SSRI’s will, over time, deplete your serotonin levels. That’s why the drug feels like it’s not working anymore after a few years. The brain stops making it’s own b/c the drug is artificially creating more. The serotonin receptor site atrophies b/c of this producing less serotonin naturally. The drug companies designed them this way so you would be dependant on them so they get richer. Try natural alternatives instead like good ol’ L-tryptophan, the only substance your brain uses to make serotonin naturally. Take it w/a whole food b-complex vitamin that’s high in B6 and B3. Amino acids restore low neurotransmitter levels naturally.

April 16, 2013 at 10:47 pm
(25) sue says:

Pharmasan labs tests for serotonin among other neurotransmitters – no we aren’t just crazy and depressed, there’s a reason and help from neuro science labs.

May 14, 2013 at 5:18 pm
(26) samcokids says:

Have you ever heard of TracaCor.

Neurotransmitter Support with L-theanine, and Taurine? I have Sclerderma and Fibro as well as chronic fatigue. Think maybe the fibro and CF could be effected by my very low serotonin?? Any feedback would be so helpful??

June 15, 2013 at 6:45 pm
(27) tracy says:

I started having panic attacks so I figured I was stressed and depressed, add I was under extreme pressure at the time. I have taken prozac twice before and it worked well. I took it again and I started feeling crazy. I was sleeping ok bit one I started prozac my sleep was basically non existent. J was on it for two and a half months and it just made nee more anxious and the sleep was terrible. I went off it. sleep got minimally better. tried mirtazapine but that just have med horrible side effects. Its six months later and I still can not sleep. the doctor prescribed amitriptyline and it only worked for one night, brain will nor switch of. Its almost impossible to sleep. Nor on antI d longer but have to take a couple of sleeping pills to get a few hours sleep. Prozac was evil for me, why can I not sleep now. anyone else had the same props from ssri and what helped, I don’t feel depressed, I just want to sleep, cheers

July 17, 2013 at 10:53 am
(28) daniel kelly says:

Eat lots of spinach.

July 17, 2013 at 10:58 am
(29) daniel kelly says:

No Joke. Its working for me.

August 11, 2013 at 11:18 am
(30) Philip says:

You can’t just take seratonin since it doesn’t get into the brain. Only tryptophan and 5-HTP get through the blood brain barrier and teh brain then makes the seratonin there

September 1, 2013 at 2:28 am
(31) overthedge says:

To tracy have you tried eating trytophan rich foods,salmon,turkey,milk will all do the job good luck prayer will also

September 9, 2013 at 6:39 am
(32) tracy says:

hi, yes I have tried everything.Been to a psychiatrist and he only gave me more ssris, which created moreinsomnia. then I had to take more sleeping pills.taking ssris just makes me more anxious. it’s driving menuts. I don’t know what else to try. not taking anti ds I can drift ofbut wake up frequently. taking anti ds I can not sleep at all. it’s hell. which never took the damn prozac and tried to copewith anxiety and panic, at least it’d still be sleeping. haven’t had a panic attack for a long time and anxiety is minimal, it makes no sense. so does 5htp or tryptophan cause more insomnia? well have to source it on line.

October 24, 2013 at 3:49 pm
(33) Jeff says:

Be careful about getting too much serotonin. Many patients I see are taking serotonin boosting antidepressants, pain relievers (like Tramadol/Ultram), Trazadone for insomnia, and Imitrex type drugs for migraines. This practice can and does cause multiple problems, and can even lead to a life threatening condition called Serotonin Toxicity Syndrome.

April 10, 2014 at 4:13 pm
(34) Gary says:

I have been dealing with FMS symptoms for seven years due to a low serotonin level in the blood. Everything discussed here has been tried with no success. The reason being that multiple urine tests have shown that my body discharges 6-10 times the normal amount of serotonin for my age (60). The normal max amount is around a rating of 950. My first test showed being over 10,000! No amount of supplemental serotonin production will help anybody if it is all discharged before getting into the blood system. Nobody seems to know exactly were your serotonin is guided either into the blood or the urine. There is a theory called The Lumens Gate that controls both serotonin and dopemine. The kidneys are the logical guess. I have seen specialists at leading medical institutes that have no answer to this condition. I would urge everybody with FMS symptoms to first have a serotonin blood test and serotonin urine test. before having doctors with no lab work throwing dangerous drugs at you like a dart board just to see what might stick. Other posters are correct when they say that the re-uptake inhibitors are useless unless you have normal serotonin levels to start with.

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