Serotonin and Nutrient Availability
Copyright 2001. A New Idea to Reduce hyperness, anxiety, repetitive behaviors. This is a discussion only, by Kd. last updated 8.25.05
Repetitive behaviors (called 'stimming') and hyperness continues to be a main concern particularly among children with neurological conditions such as autism and ADHD spectrum, even with enzymes. Certain enzymes seem to help reduce stimming/hyperness more than others. There are several reasons this can occur. We see that the proteases tend to increase stimming/hyperness which may be due to:
- body is adjusting to more food being processed; detox
- gut cleansing and healing
- yeast/bacteria die-off
- magnesium deficiency – adding a soluble source of magnesium (not oxide
or carbonate) or Epsom salts may help. Also sulfate helps with the PST phenol/detox pathway. A main symptom of magnesium deficiency is hyperness and anxiety. A main source of magnesium in the diet is whole grains. So, if you remove gluten from the diet, you are also removing a prime source of magnesium. Since calcium competes with magnesium for uptake, adding in calcium supplements without sufficient magnesium further drives a magnesium deficiency.
I have been thinking about the stimming/hyperness issue and have a suggestion for those who are still looking for methods to reduce these behaviors if necessary.
It may be possible that a particular combination of enzymes and foods are depressing the levels of an amino acid called tryptophan. Trytophan an essential amino acid that is not made by the body and so must be acquired by food. It is the precursor that eventually turns into serotonin...a chemical in the brain which promotes calmness. It might be that the increase in protein breakdown by the protease enzymes may be affecting the tryptophan/serotonin levels of certain individuals and this is why the proteases cause hyperness (along with any of the reasons given above). At first, it seems like digesting more protein should also increase trytophan levels overall and decrease hyperness, but that is not what we see. Then after looking into it more, I found that trytophan competes with 5 other amino acids for active transport across the blood brain barrier. So increasing protein overall actually DECREASES trytophan levels because the tryptophan is outcompeted by the other amino acids. This is supported by several studies which show this is what actually happens. All meats contain the amino acid tryptophan, but they also contain much higher amounts of the competing amino acids. Turkey, milk, whole grains, bananas, eggs also contain tryptophan, but much lower amounts of the other competing amino acids. So foods in this last group have the net effect of increasing tryptophan levels and promoting more serotonin production. More serotonin would enhance calming. McDougle and colleagues (see The Serotonin System in Autism below) found exacerbation of behaviors such as whirling, flapping, pacing, banging and hitting self, rocking, toe walking and anxiety in more than 50% of adults with autism after tryptophan depletion.
It might also be that the amino acids in the protease enzymes themselves contribute to this issue along with the amino acids produced by food digestion. I have ask a couple enzyme supplement vendors what the percentage of proteases are in their products, and specifically what is the ratio of the amino acid tryptophan to other amino acids in the enzymes (have not heard back at this point). If the enzymes also have a low ratio of tryptophan to the other amino acids, and all those amino acids are added to the total amount of amino acids from the food, that would further deplete trytophan levels, making the problem worse.
To increase trytophan levels which increases serotonin and thereby decreases hyperness/stimming, you need to give carbohydrates and not animal meat (or not as much animal meat), to minimize competition by the other amino acids. Foods high which promote tryptophan are milk, whole grains, banana, eggs and turkey. Eating a food in complex starch along with the tryptophan promoting food helps tryptophan get to the brain. Good combinations are cheese on grain crackers, milk and cookies, or a turkey sandwich. It is no wonder these combinations are popular and helpf folks "relax." By giving proteases and proteins, although we are decreasing the opiate peptides, we are also decreasing tryptophan levels and hyperness can results. When people add a broad spectrum enzyme product, this increases the carbohydrates broken down, and then we increase tryptophan and the serotonin levels, and have the calm Happy Child Effect. This is probably not the entire reason, but a contributing factor.
So, if you are trying to increase tryptophan and want to see if this reduces the stimming/hyperness, here are some guidelines:
1. Give an broad-spectrum enzyme product and carbohydrates with animal meats such as beef, pork, and lamb (tryptophan reducers). Eggs, milk and turkey are all okay (tryptophan promoters).
2. When giving animal meats besides poultry and a strong protease product to balance it with carbs such as whole grains, banana, or milk or turkey.
3. Have one of the trytophan promoting foods when you take a strong protease enzyme product if hyperness/stimming is a problem.
Apparently, the serotonin level from food effects a person pretty rapidly, from immediately upon eating and lasting to two hours. This isn't like using the serotonin re-uptake drugs such as Prozac, Zoloft, or the tricyclics medications which influence set levels of tryptophan over a day or so. Food potentially provides 'new' serotonin into the body whereas the SSRIs reuse whatever amount is there.
Here is something else that is interesting. I looked into the high-protein diets and found that "hyperness" "anxiety" or "stressed out" were conditions that can occur when someone (anyone) goes on a high-protein, low-carb diet. These 'side-effects' of a high-protein diet occur for the same reasons given here: high-protein diets decrease serotonin levels and anxiety, hyperness, or jitters can result.
If you don't have a serotonin deficiency to begin with, you may never notice a slight decrease in levels. The research done in this area finds some people with autistic spectrum conditions have too little serotonin, some have too much, and the rest are reasonably balanced. Similar research has found similar results in related conditions. This idea or theory would apply mostly to the people who are seeing too much stimming or hyperness, and may be serotonin deficient.
Amino Acid Toxins
If amino acids are not digested readily, they convert to toxins in the gut... where a couple of them become phenols. This conversion to toxin/phenolic compounds may contribute to the phenol sensitivity condition that some people see with increased protein digestion. It could be that by taking enzymes to digest the meats, the production of toxins and more phenolic compounds will be reduced because the amino acids will be absorbed much sooner by the gut before they are converted to toxins. However at the same time, because more amino acids are absorbed, the tryptophan level decreases and serotonin levels drop (because the tryptophan gets out-competed by the other amino acids).
What about taking tryptophan supplements?
Trytophan used to be sold as an individual supplement until about a decade ago for sleep problems and migraines, etc. Then a batch came into the US that was contaminated and a bunch of people got really ill and a few died, so now then it was banned. It was then found that there was a contaminant in the formulation (called Peak X) and the problem was NOT the tryptophan itself, so tryptophan may be unbanned soon. [Note: two years after this was originally written, I heard one can now buy tryptophan once again.March 2004]
You can buy a supplement of the next precursor in the line on its way to becoming serotonin. It is called 5-HTP. The 5-HTP is supposed to work well and even performed equally to Prozac in one study. It doesn't have as many side effects that the prescription drugs do but some people do experience side-effects similar to SSRI medications. The main side effect, however, is listed as stomach irritation which is not good news for people who already have gastrointestinal problems. 1000 mg of tryptophan = 100 mg of 5-HTP. Doses of 25-50 mg 5-HTP/day are recommended and maybe up to 100 mg. A little B6 may be needed and taken the same day because it is necessary for the conversion of 5-HTP to serotonin. Hopefully, adjustments in menu will help considerably as well.
Be very careful about taking 5-HTP with any tricyclic antidepressant or SSRI (serotonin-reuptake inhibitor, such as Prozac, Zoloft, or Paxil). Some references say not to take them together at all. Both the SSRIs and tricyclic antidepressants function to increase serotonin by "reusing" any serotonin present. If you take one of the SSRIs with 5-HTP, you risk creating too much serotonin, and sometimes this can be a problem too. Remember how some people say their kids go bonkers on Zoloft? Same reason – too much serotonin.
Recent federal information says SSRIs may cause suidical thought in some children. Any supplement or medication acting on serotonin or related neurotransmitters with children should be under the supervision of a qualified medical professional.
The tryptophan or 5-HTP supplements usually won't produce these problems on their own because the brain self-regulates the natural precursors such as 5-HTP. Trytophan is also used to make vitamin B3 (niacin). There are other things the body can use 5-HTP for if it doesn't need any more serotonin. You have problems with the prescription medications because there is no way for the brain to self-regulate it, or divert and "extra". Also, prescription medications may be affecting other reactions besides just the serotonin in the brain, and cause some of the more unpleasant side-effects.
SSRI medications, 5-HTP, and tryptophan work similarly on serotonin - to increase it. But the SSRIs increase it by 'forcing' the serotonin your body produces to stay in the nerve synapse longer, so your body sees more serotonin in the nerves than was originally produced. 5-HTP and tryptophan help your body produce more serotonin to begin with. The nerves then see and work with this higher amount.
It could be that whatever is not functioning very well in some people is resolved by an SSRI medication and not affected by 5-HTP or tryptophan. In other people, 5-HTP or tryptophan might work as well as an SSRI or even better, depending on where the malfunction is.
In one study I saw, the researchers specifically used casein as the factor to increase tryptophan/serotonin and promote calming - like drinking a glass of warm milk before bed to help you sleep. That's why it works. So when people go on the gluten-free (whole grain-free), casein-free diet, you eliminate peptides along with a major source of tryptophan. And usually lots of meats are added into the diet.
This drift toward a high-protein diet further drives the effect of a decrease in tryptophan and net result of increased hyperness. Diets high in animal meats tend to create more toxins in the gut and some of those toxins are phenols. So the total phenolic load is increased. You are also removed a major source of magnesium which promotes calming. Thus, this correlates with the effect some people see of going on a GFCF diet and after awhile the person "becomes" reactive to phenols and "regresses". So you start removing phenols, probably more meats are introduced, and the cycle continues. By adding in enzymes and returning to a more balanced diet that includes whole-grains and possibly milk, you are correcting a magneisum deficiency, reducing the total phenolic load and favoring more serotonin production...all of these promote calming.
My reading indicates that 5-HTP allows more serotonin to be made and available to the body for use (if your body is actually not producing enough). The SSRIs force that serotonin that you do have present to be used longer. There is no additional 'new' serotonin produced. So even though both have the final goal of getting more serotonin used in the body, it is by different mechanisms. Perhaps some people have a faulty glitch in one part of the total pathway and others have a glitch somewhere else in the pathway. In autism, the research seems to indicate that some people run serotonin low and some run serotonin high. If you are too high already, an SSRI or 5-htp wouldn't be helpful (you wouldn't need more).
Two other points of interest are:
1. Most of the serotonin is produced and absorbed in the gut! The implication is that with any gut damage, a lot of the serotonin function is lost. Healing the gut should help restore this to some extent. See Michael Gershon's book 'The Second Brain."
2. All the neurotransmitters affect one another to some extent. . . like a seesaw or pulley system. So a problem with one affects levels of the others to some extent. Lots of detail on neurotransmitters here:
Some people have good results with the over-the-counter supplement melatonin to help with sleep. However, the following cautions are packaged with some products. If you have one of these conditions or a closely related condition, discuss this with a qualified healthy care practitioner. You can also contact the specific manufacturer on why they included these warning:
"It may not be good for you to take melatonin if you have an
autoimmune disorder, such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis, or an
immune system cancer, such as lymphoma or leukemia. If you are taking
melatonin for depression, make sure you do so under your health care
provider's care and advice. In some cases, melatonin can actually
worsen the symptoms of depression instead of making them better.
If you take corticosteroids for anti-inflammatory or immune
suppressive purposes (for example, you have had a transplant), use
melatonin cautiously, and always under the supervision of your health
care provider. Melatonin could interfere with fertility. Do not take
it if you are pregnant or nursing."
In addition, there is a concern by some on unknown long term effects of taking something that impacts hormones, particularly if your child is in approaching or in puberty.
Research on Tryptophan, Serotonin, and Autism Conditions: There is a TON of research on tryptophan in the body and as a supplement; how serotonin levels definitely affect mood, behavior and mental processing; and serotonin with autism, so this is a well inter- connected area.
Should anyone be interested in seeing if this strategy of watching the tryptophan load makes a difference, I would appreciate hearing from you – even if it doesn't work! It may lead to better guidelines for the hyperness/stimming seen by some. Thank you. Karen D.
L-Tryptophan - nature's answer to Prozac
Study on 5-HTP in comparison to tryptophan
The Serotonin System in Autism
More studies on tryptophan, serotonin and autism