Simon N. Young, PhD, the Editor-in-chief
of the Journal of
Psychiatry and Neuroscience, has written an editorial: How
Increase Serotonin In The Human Brain Without Drugs.
published in this month’s edition of the Journal of
Psychiatry and Neuroscience.
The Journal is an open-access journal, so anyone can read it.
The PDF is here.
I have to admit, I was both surprised and skeptical when I first saw
this. Although there are many converging lines of evidence
associating low serotonin levels or activity with psychiatric problems,
efforts to treat such problems without drugs or psychotherapy have been
disappointing. It has been demonstrated repeatedly that
simple interventions, such as exercise, can boost serotonin and mood.
However, in clinical practice with moderately or severely
depressed or anxious individuals, it is difficult to achieve anything
approaching a treatment response. Even so, I went ahead and
read the article.
To his credit, Dr. Young does a nice job of summarizing the
evidence linking low serotonin to subclinical and clinical depression.
He also reviews the nonpharmacological means of increasing
serotonin. These include positive thinking (as promoted by
some kinds of psychotherapy), diet, exercise, and bright light exposure.
Additionally, Dr. Young reviews historical trends in ethnobotany, with
regard to the supply of tryptophan (the dietary precursor to serotonin).
The agricultural angle is interesting, if you care about that kind of
thing. What is more interesting, though, is the sheer volume
of connections he documents between serotonin and nonclinical
negative emotional states. The main thrust of his essay is to
argue that these nonclinical, or preclinical, states are extremely
important with respect to public health.
Clinicians tend to focus on problems that clearly impact day-to-day
functioning. This focus may lead to a lack of attention on
areas were there is a potential for preventative or ameliorative
interventions that could have a substantial public health benefit.