If you are a woman of menopausal age, you may be suffering from symptoms, including depression, anxiety, mood swings, hair loss, lethargy, lack of libido and loss of clear thinking and coordination, that can be caused by a lack of serotonin. There are ways to increase or regulate your body's production of serotonin, which could help to relieve some of the symptoms associated with menopause.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that carries nerve impulses from your brain to your body. Low levels of serotonin can cause depression, low energy, a lack of libido and sleep disorders. Because high levels of serotonin create the sensation of pleasure, and the lack of serotonin can create a lack of pleasure, a serotonin imbalance may also be a contributing factor in addictive disorders.
Estrogen is the hormone responsible for female sexuality. There are three types of estrogen in the body--estrone, estradiol and estriol. During menopause, levels of estradiol decrease, contributing to symptoms such as hot flashes, depression, anxiety and fatigue.
Effects of Lack of Estrogen on Seratonin
Because estrogen is necessary in the production of serotonin in the brain, the decrease of estrogen that occurs during menopause causes lower levels of serotonin, as well as the symptoms associated with low serotonin levels. Thyroid levels in the body are also closely associated with estrogen and can be decreased during menopause. When thyroid levels are decreased, serotonin levels may plummet, causing symptoms which mimic depression and other neurological disorders.
If you are suffering from depression, anxiety, lack of libido, mood swings, sleep disorders or other physical conditions caused by lowered estrogen levels during menopause, your doctor may prescribe an antidepressant medication to increase the levels of serotonin production in your brain. Other treatments include light therapy, which can increase the amount of melatonin production in your brain. Melatonin is a hormone that helps to increase serotonin production. It is affected by exposure to light, so daily light box use can help to increase melatonin. Hormone replacement therapy (HRT) may also be prescribed by your doctor for short-term use to alleviate some of the symptoms of menopause, but because the therapy may increase the incidence of certain cancers of the reproductive system, its use must be carefully monitored by your doctor and is not suggested as a long-term therapy.
In addition to traditional medical therapies to increase serotonin during menopause, there are also herbal treatments that may work. St. John's wort is one of the more popular herbal remedies to increase levels of serotonin in the brain and help to alleviate symptoms of depression. A study in 2000 at St. John's Episcopal Hospital in Far Rockaway, New York, found that 47 percent of patients given the herb had an improvement of their symptoms of depression, compared to only 40 percent of those given an antidepressant medication. Tryptophan supplements also help to increase serotonin and melatonin levels in the brain, but you may also find tryptophan in foods, including soy, pumpkin seeds, walnuts, peas, sesame seeds, whole grains, fruits and low-fat dairy products. If you eat these foods with high-quality carbohydrate foods, the tryptophan consumption is increased.