Boosting Serotonin for Weight Loss

Juanita O. Enogieru MS, RD

When it comes to human body composition, there are multiple factors involved in weight loss, weight gain, weight management, and weight regain. And when it comes to nutrients for weight management, it is important to note that nutrients work on different pathways that may address dysfunction and promote weight loss. Let's explore:

Factors Involved in Weight Gain:

  • Slow metabolism
  • Underactive thyroid
  • Cravings/Increased appetite
  • Lack of exercise 
  • High blood glucose levels
  • Insulin resistance
  • Imbalanced sex hormones 
  • Depression

It can be overwhelming to select the best nutrients for your body type because there is no “universal” or “best product” for weight loss. Every person is biochemically unique and has distinct needs, and therefore, responds differently. So, it is essential first to pinpoint the cause(s) of your weight gain or difficulty losing weight, to create the best regimen. The best approach is to address the biochemical and behavioral factors that contribute to weight gain in your body. One common concern is emotional eating and a subsequent increase in weight. In this article, we will discuss how increasing serotonin levels, enhancing lean body mass and fat metabolism, and boosting insulin sensitivity are vital factors for promoting weight loss.

How Does Serotonin Influence Weight Loss?

Suboptimal levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin can lead to impulsive and emotional eating along with cravings for carbohydrates.

Neurotransmitters are brain-signaling chemicals that allow the brain and neurons to communicate throughout the body. Have you ever noticed that lack of sleep seems to lead to an increase in cravings? Interestingly, serotonin is eventually converted to melatonin, the sleep hormone, in the body. Serotonin has many functions in the body including regulation of circadian rhythms, neuroendocrine function, mental processes, mood, and cognition, and has an inhibitory effect on feeding behavior.1-4

All of these functions play crucial roles in supporting a healthy weight and promoting weight loss. Serotonin is a key brain chemical, and the signs of serotonin depletion can vary. They can include insomnia (or irregular circadian rhythms), cravings for sweets and other carbohydrates, frequent muscle aches and pains, impulsive behaviors, moodiness, especially sadness, anxiety, and irritability, feeling emotionally sensitive or vulnerable, feeling insecure, lacking self-confidence, and low-stress tolerance.

Why Supplement with Serotonin Precursors?

It is well known that we eat to live, but when the desire to eat is based on cravings, then obesity, eating disorders, and non-compliance with dietary restrictions can occur. Making it even more difficult is the inability to distinguish between nutritional needs and food cravings.5 Brain-derived serotonin (BDS) acts as a neurotransmitter, while gut-derived serotonin (GDS) acts as a hormone and regulates a wide variety of processes. While platelets, gastrointestinal cells, and other non-neurologic cells synthesize more than 98% of the body's total serotonin, that serotonin does not penetrate the blood–brain barrier.2 Supplementing with precursors such as L-tryptophan, 5-Hydroxytryptophan (5-HTP), and/or nutrients shown to boost brain levels of serotonin like saffron may be ideal for mitigating symptoms and losing weight.

Promoting Weight Loss with L-Tryptophan, 5-Hydroxytryptophan, and Saffron

When the main building blocks for serotonin synthesis, 5-HTP and L-tryptophan, are removed, serotonin levels may drop significantly lower than normal ranges.5 Since serotonin is involved in regulating appetite and food intake, it makes sense that low serotonin levels are linked to weight gain.6

Treatment with 5-HTP, as well as preferential 5-HT(2C) receptor agonist mCPP, has been shown to produce weight loss in obese adults .7 Furthermore, 5‐HTP supplementation was shown to activate brain areas associated with healthy weight and preference for protein-rich foods, as opposed to carb and calorie-rich foods. It is also associated with decreased appetite, early satiety symptoms, and weight loss.5 5-HTP is a calming supplement that boosts serotonin levels and can support sleep so that you feel less stressed, which can also help with weight loss. A typical dosage of 5-HTP used is 50-100 mg up to three times daily.

When L-tryptophan was administered to healthy subjects in a small randomized controlled trial (RCT), it regulated appetite and modified plasma insulin levels.8 During conditions of metabolic dysfunction, several hormones secreted from fat cells, such as leptin and adiponectin, can become dysfunctional. Insulin resistance can lead to uncontrolled blood glucose levels and can impair leptin from signaling the brain that you are full. Therefore, optimizing fat cell signaling by increasing insulin sensitivity is another important aspect of any comprehensive weight loss strategy.9 Many people prefer using tryptophan combined with its essential cofactors lysine and niacinamide instead of 5-HTP. If 5-HTP converts to serotonin in the blood, this serotonin will not cross the blood-brain barrier. Tryptophan remains stable in the blood and crosses the blood-brain barrier, where it is converted to serotonin. Dosages of 500-1500 mg daily are suggested to encourage healthy neurotransmission and hunger signal responsiveness.

Saffron is used traditionally to flavor food, but it is ideal for individuals who crave carbs. In clinical research, two active constituents of saffron (safranal and crocin) reduced the desire to snack and enhanced mood. Saffron reduced snacking frequency in mildly overweight women and contributed to weight loss by increasing feelings of satiety and improving emotional well-being .10 Reductions in snacking can assist with supporting a healthy weight. Data pooled from 10 studies (662 participants) showed a significant effect of saffron on diastolic blood pressure, body weight, and waist circumference. Furthermore, a subgroup analysis of several studies showed a significant reduction in fasting plasma glucose levels.11 It is proposed that saffron increases the time that serotonin remains in the brain.12,13 Dosages of 176 mg of saffron daily are suggested to promote healthy hunger signal responsiveness.

Nutrients shown in research to promote healthy insulin sensitivity, manage carbohydrate cravings, encourage a balanced mood, and support a healthy sleep cycle are highly useful for promoting weight loss and preventing weight regain. Depending on your biochemical needs, think about including 5-HTP or L-tryptophan and saffron in your weight loss regimen.

For more information, please visit the Life Extension Weight Loss Protocol.

About the author: Juanita Enogieru is a Registered Dietitian and Life Extension wellness specialist working with the community to build healthy and balanced nutritional habits. While pursuing an education in medicine and attempting to help her body heal, it became apparent that there was a gap in medical practices with regard to nutrition and an abundance of misinformation about balanced nutritional practices. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree in Health Education from the University of Florida, she worked with non-profit organizations to deliver nutrition education to community members. Wanting to learn more about nutrition and how herbs could be used to help the body heal, she pursued a master’s degree in Dietetics and Nutrition and shortly began working with Life Extension. With the understanding that everyone has a unique biochemical individuality, it is vital to address each individual based on their specific needs and biochemical make-up. Her mission now is to offer guidance, support and education to individuals based on balanced nutritional insights that address the mind, body and spirit.

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Lena Charles said...

Enough sleep is known to be a cure for many problems and it is also a solution to weight loss. A tired person tends to consume more food than a well-rested one.

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