Serotonin Supplements May Treat Depression, Anxiety, and Insomnia

Feeling pessimistic, sad, panicky, or irritable? Can’t sleep? Here's how to use four powerful, research-proven serotonin supplements for depression and anxiety.

serotonin supplements

A number of serotonin supplements and pills have now been shown to increase serotonin and effectively treat symptoms of serotonin deficiency.

© Lana Langlois |

Research shows that when you’re consistently sad, pessimistic, or moody you may have a serotonin deficiency that you can treat yourself by using serotonin supplements. The four natural serotonin supplements presented here have all been shown to help treat serotonin deficiency symptoms such as depression, insomnia, and more by increasing serotonin levels naturally.

What Is Serotonin?

Serotonin, the “happy neurotransmitter,” is a powerful brain chemical intricately linked with mental health and is one of the best supplements for depression. Sufficient serotonin in the brain allows you to feel calm and optimistic and provides a sense of well-being, while serotonin deficiency has the opposite effect. Low serotonin levels (or abnormal serotonin function) is the most recognized underlying cause of depression.

Studies show that serotonin imbalances may not only lead to classic depression symptoms like sadness and pessimism, but other symptoms such as food cravings, sleep disturbances, aggression, panic, obsessiveness, and more. (See also our post “What Does Serotonin Do?“)

Watch for Serotonin Deficiency in the Aging Brain

As the brain ages, deficiencies in neurotransmitters such as serotonin are more likely to occur. Low serotonin is not so much a specific risk factor for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s as it is a sign that overall brain health and function are compromised. Likewise, boosting serotonin production may not necessarily prevent mild cognitive impairment or Alzheimer’s. Instead, low serotonin and the symptoms it causes should be seen as red flags that brain health is suffering, which increases the risk for mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s.

Serotonin deficiency symptoms include:

  • Depression
  • Pessimism
  • Anxiety
  • Insomnia
  • Repetitive thoughts and obsessive thinking
  • Low self-esteem
  • Irritability
  • Shyness, fears, phobias or panic attacks
  • PMS
  • Cravings for sugar or carbohydrates
  • Seasonal Affective Disorder (depression that’s worse in the winter)
  • Feeling better after taking SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor antidepressant medications)

Many of the dietary and lifestyle pitfalls that increase the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s can also deplete serotonin levels. These include processed diets based on sweets and starchy foods, lack of exercise, and chronic stress. But, the upside to this equation is the same factors that lower the risk of mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s can also improve serotonin activity.

The aim is to lower inflammation in the body and brain, as inflammation blocks serotonin production. In fact, research increasingly shows depression to be a symptom of inflammation. Therefore, although diminished serotonin activity may be seen in patients with mild cognitive impairment and Alzheimer’s, it is most likely just one of many symptoms of a diet- and lifestyle-induced inflammatory process that has sabotaged and degenerated the brain to the point of memory loss and dementia.

How to Increase Serotonin Levels with Serotonin Supplements

The good news is that a number of serotonin supplements have been shown to increase serotonin and effectively treat symptoms of serotonin deficiency. SAM-e, 5-HTP, and L-tryptophan St. John’s Wort have each been shown in multiple human studies to affect serotonin imbalances and to treat depression. Let’s take a brief look at how to use each of these serotonin boosters to improve mood, treat insomnia, and ease other low serotonin symptoms.

5-HTP.  Your body makes 5-hydroxy tryptophan, or 5-HTP, from tryptophan, and then converts it into serotonin. When taken as a supplement, 5-HTP is well-absorbed and crosses the blood-brain barrier where it gets converted to serotonin. 5-HTP is believed to offer stronger serotonin support than L-tryptophan (see below). Clinical trials have confirmed the efficacy of 5-HTP supplements for depression, sleep disorders, binge eating and panic disorders.[1-3]

L-Tryptophan. L-Tryptophan is an essential amino acid required by the body to synthesize serotonin. As discussed above, the conversion of L-tryptophan to serotonin is a two-step process in which 5-HTP is synthesized as an intermediate step. Taking L-tryptophan as a serotonin supplement enhances the synthesis of serotonin and increases serotonin levels within the body.[4] Nevertheless, integrative practitioners report success with the use of L-tryptophan for insomnia, mild depression, and for people who do not tolerate 5-HTP since, compared to 5-HTP, L-tryptophan is generally considered more gentle. It has even been found to help non-depressed, healthy people process emotions in a more positive way.[5]

SAM-e. S-adenosyl methionine (SAM-e—pronounced Sammy), produced from the amino acid methionine, is present in all the body’s cells and is required for hundreds of reactions, including the synthesis of serotonin. As a supplement, SAM-e has been used extensively for treating depression in Europe for over 30 years, and a review of SAM-e studies published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition concluded that SAM-e supplementation was a safe and effective treatment for depression.[6] Drs. Richard Brown, M.D., of Columbia University and George Papakostas, M.D., of Harvard Medical School both advocate the use of SAM-e for clinical depression.[7,8]

Saint John’s Wort. Extracts of the flowering St. John’s wort plant exert their antidepressant actions by inhibiting the reuptake of serotonin as well as norepinephrine and dopamine, making more of these neurotransmitters available to the brain. For people suffering from mild to moderate depression, studies show that St. John’s wort extracts are significantly more effective than placebo.[9] They have been found to be better tolerated but to work just as well as standard antidepressant drugs.[9]

Safety First

Though having too little serotonin is not good for you, too much serotonin can cause harm. Do not take more than one serotonin booster at a time. Natural serotonin pills or other natural supplements for depression may not be appropriate for all types of depression and may not be compatible with certain types of depression medication. If you are taking an anti-depressant, vitamins for depression, or other natural supplements for anxiety and depression, consultation with a healthcare practitioner is strongly advised. A healthcare professional can also provide insight about the best supplements for anxiety treatment, or the best supplements for depression.

Other Natural Supplements for Anxiety and Depression

Depression, anxiety, and other mood disorders have other possible underlying causes in addition to serotonin deficiency. For example, read Could Your Depression Be Caused by a Sleep Disorder? Depression Can Be One of the Many Surprising Sleep Apnea Symptoms.

Other vitamins that help with depression include the neurotransmitter dopamine. Dopamine is also involved in mental-emotional health, and specific dopamine supplements may also be indicated. Learning more about all the potential underlying causes of depression and anxiety can help you target your natural treatment protocol.

For related reading, visit these posts:

Originally published in 2013, this post is regularly updated.

[1] Asian J Psychiatr. 2013 Feb;6(1):29-34.</a
Eat Weight Disord. 2012 Mar;17(1):e22-8.
Altern Med Rev. 1998 Aug;3(4):271-80.
Anal Bioanal Chem. 2012 Feb;402(4):1593-600.
Psychopharmacology (Berl). 2006 Jul;187(1):121-30.
Am J Clin Nutr. 2002 Nov;76(5):1158S-61S.
141st APHA Annual Meeting. Abstract 283939. To be presented Nov 6, 2013.
Can J Psychiatry. 2012 Jul;57(7):406-13.
J Clin Psychiatry. 2009;70 Suppl 5:23-7.


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Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

Jami Cooley is a Certified Nutrition and Wellness Consultant as well as a Registered Nurse, but her interest in integrative medicine grew out of her experience in conventional medicine. Cooley … Read More

View all posts by Jami Cooley, RN, CNWC

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  • I’ve used one of these serotonin supplements myself. 5-HTP helps ease my stress levels and I get a restful night’s sleep. It works great!

  • After carefully getting off of celexa and bupropion which I had been on for many years to the effect that I never wanted to go out or do anything, I replaced them several months ago with 200 mg 5 htp. I am amazed at the total difference this has made in my life. I feel like I have gone back 20 years and reclaimed my life. My only regret is that I did not do this long ago.

  • As this article aptly points out, “too much serotonin can cause harm.” An excess can cause what is called “serotonin syndrome,” the effects of which are ironically often similar to not having enough of it.

    Apparently the combination of my very nutrient-rich diet and just my basic personal physiology (I don’t take any medications at all) produces all the serotonin I need so even a slight increase in my serotonin level pushes me over the line into having too much. As an experiment I tried one 50 mg dose of 5-HTP at bedtime once, and had what I’m sure was the worst night’s sleep in my life, with my mind just spinning and spinning which is something it never, ever does naturally. So please, do take the advice wisely given here and be careful about starting with a very low dose to see how it affects you. “Your mileage may vary.”

  • depends on the type of depression, try curcumin, its really powerful and safe. instead of 5HTP(which can decrease other neurotransmitters over time), try L-Tryptophan and L-Tyrosine may help you since boots the levels of noradrenaline(norepinefrine) wich helps to cope with mental stress and Vitamin B12

    Personally I have had awesome results with:
    – Turmeric wich its the same as Curcumin but milder(it is known to be safe since its a type of food)
    – Vitamin B12(I advise you to Research first on this one)
    – L-Tyrosine(I advise you to Research first on this one)
    – Omega 3,6,9(I advise you to Research first on this one)

    I was able to stop taking psych meds completely with in a couple of months thanks to these, now I’m very happy living my life better than before

  • What is the best supplement for anxiety? I was on Celexa, and my anxiety went away. But I also gained 60 pounds, which I could not lose. Now I’m off the drug, beginning to lose the weight, but having problems with anxiety again. Help!

  • Be careful of anti-depressants you take. Before accepting a RX from a physician, ask or check yourself to see if it contains “FLUORIDEE”. Celexa, for one does contain fluoride. When I read that I quit taking celexa and told my doctor. I read an article explaining why fluoride is used… is a “carrier” to move the med into the blood stream faster, and they can use less of the actual medication, thus making more $$$$$$$ on it.
    So choose one that does not contain fluoride, the mind numb-er.

  • sometimes, i couldn’t give a crap what medication to use. it looks as if i will always haave a depression. i am sixty nine now and i honestly doubt there is a “cure” for it. so, come on, god or whoever, let’s end it now. what is the difference whether i die of natural causes or if i drown myself? who gives a shite anyway? all religions seems to worship mammon instead of allah.

  • I am going through grief issues due to my mother’s hospice situation with a brain tumor.
    I have this constant anxiety, stress, fatigue and overall depression symptoms.
    Not sure if taking a serotonin supplement could help, and of so, which kind?

  • I’ve been taking antidepressants for over 10years, I feel worse. Lost my mother no family help and have had rhematoid arthritis since 13, now I’m 52.Will this serotonin help me.They have me on,30mg.of cymbalta, help me please, any suggestions?

  • Turmeric as mentioned above is an anti-inflammatory it doesn’t really help with depression. I myself have taken 5-HTP with some positive results. I am currently taking omega-3 focusing on HDA with at least 600 milligrams. I also recommend L-tryptophan do due to it’s positive ability to increase dopamine receptivity. Good luck ?

  • I want to come off of prestiq 50mg. I felt better on 25mg. 50mg has increased my anxiety and OCD. What is the best combination for depression and anxiety with OCD?

  • 5-htp supplement is great with no side effects (just can’t be taken together with antidepressants)….Compare to that St. Johns Wort has been proven to be not as effective and REACTING BADLY with over 800 medications including the contraceptive pill!!

    For more info have a read here:

  • I need Serotonin for my supplement because the doctor put me on Paxil 30mg. and my weiht has gotten up over 200lbs. and never weighed this much in my life and I am 71yrs. old dealing with this weiht.

  • I do NOT recommend taking any of the psychotropic drugs offered. Recently I tried taking L-Tryptophan and am sleeping better than ever before. I’ve had problems with anxiety and this helps. It can also help with depression. The problem with drugs is that they all seem to INCREASE the condition, even if they seem to make your symptoms better. Personally I’ve heard to many horror stories of how people get WORSE on them in time, not better.

  • Hello everyone. So I stumbled across this forum probably like most of you out there. My issue is when it’s time to go to sleep, I get minor anxiety. Now I haven’t got diagnosed and I am not on any meds. But I believe that it is a combination of things that you have to incorporate into your everyday life that will make a significant change. I myself have taken supplements such as melatonin, kava root extract, L-theanine, 5-htp etc. I have also did yoga and try to meditate by performing breathing excercises in the middle of the day. That along with music and aroma therapy I believe gives us the best chance to control the anxiety and help with depression. This is just my opinion with hopes that it helps someone. Take care and it will all work itself out in the end.

  • I am currently taking 20mg of Lexapro, and I feel worse than when I wasn’t taking it. I have been taking this for a month and before this I was on Cymbalta. I had to be taken off of it because of my bp. I want and need to stop taking this medication. I have been reading all of your comments and I feel everything and understand what you all are going through. I am now looking for herbal and natural remedies to help me because the things my MD has prescribed has not helped. I want to know what is the best herbal treatment to take, I have read that the 5-HTP is and the L-Theanine is. Should I take both or just one of them? Please help. Thank you.

  • I suffer from constant constipation and take several meds for about 5 years to help me go like Linzess and mirlax together every day. I have gained around 40 pounds and not happy. I have trouble sleeping and never feel rested. What would be the best for me?

    • Hi Ginger, unfortunately, we’re able to give specific medical advice, so it’s best to contact your physician. Thanks for reading!

  • Anxiety and Depression is one of the hardest battles a person could have on their life. It is also very hard to treat it, hence a lot of us are spending money just to buy medications and see an expert to avoid and be treated.

    I believe a good supplement can take care of it, there is a lot of supplement which will help you treat your anxiety. You have to help yourself too.

    As my personal experience, I am taking advantage of a supplement which has many benefits not just treating your mind but also your body. My own psychiatrist advised me to take 5-HTP instead, cause it also fights the stress and will improve my sleep which I really like.

  • My son has ocd which has caused anxiety and depression but does not want to take prescription meds. Do any of these supplements mentioned like 5-HTP help or can anyone give me any ideas??

  • Can you take 5htp with Xanax? I need to get off this. Crying all the time and I don’t understand why. I just retired and I don’t know what’s happening. I’m 64.

    • Hi Connie, we’re unable to offer personalized advice, so it’s best to contact your doctor directly. Thank you for your comment and good luck!

  • I suffer from anxiety and depression ,I am going threw and divorce and my anxiety and depression has worsen due to that and a friend who I met is caring but also going threw alot ,is the any thing that can help beside prescription pills

  • I have taken Seroquel/Quetiapine for 19 3/4 years by my Psychiatrist of that long. Plus 5 mg of Alprazolam. The Quetiapine is a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor I think. and is really bad news IMHO. It was supposed to be temporary. Now that I’m almost off it, it has given me or a great deal of the symptoms and problems it is supposed to treat. I had no Psychotherapist help with my problems so I would recommend that. I will try a Serotonin supplement which I probably should have in the first place but didn’t know about as I take lots of supplements and am almost a vegetarian. Please continue to post comments as it helps all of us.

  • All disease starts in the gut. 95% of our serotonin is made in our gut. Following a typical diet including, most importantly, wheat (gluten), animal products (we eat what the animals eat – essentially GMO grains/seeds) GMO soy, and of course anything processed, we make it difficult to maintain a healthy gut. Has anyone had allergies, acid reflux, heartburn (generally an h.pylori infection) bloating, SIBO, dysbiosis, anemia, malnutrition, low stomach acid, intestinal permeability, malabsorption, diarrhea or constipation? All signs of an unhealthy gut that is so busy trying to upkeep itself, it isn’t producing what it needs to produce and isn’t absorbing what it needs to absorb to make serotonin (or gaba or dopamine). People should always look to their gut when there is disease. The best book on this is called “the mood cure” – order it, do the questionnaire and learn what you can do or NOT do to help yourself. All hormones are made of protein and the building blocks of protein are amino acids – if you are not eating enough or not absorbing enough of the proper amino acids your body doesn’t have the capability to make serotonin or any other hormone. Another great book is called “grain brain” by Dr. Perlmutter – a renowned neurosurgeon who figured the connection between certain grains – especially those containing gluten (the wrong type of protein) – and brain health. Our gut and our brain are connected by the largest nerve in our body and some even believe that our gut was and still is our “first” brain. Do some research people! Also find a naturopathic doctor like Cheryl – regular md’s truly know very little about the gut and nutrition and it’s impact on our mental health. Also, all petroleum based man made drugs HAVE side effects. They may be necessary temporarily until you are more rested and have a more settled mind but then seeing a different type of doctor may be in order – ie naturopathic doctor. I have personally waited 8 months each time to see two gastro “specialists” in 4 years and neither one helped determine the cause of my ongoing gut pain nor stomach polyps. As an aside, everyone should pick up a parasite cleanse from the store and do that once a year. Parasites are any little creature (seen with the naked eye or otherwise) that also drains your body of vital nutrients. If nothing else, you will have more energy when it is over. EVERYONE carries parasites. We de-worm our animals once a year – we are an animal….

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