Occasional anxiousness is a normal reaction to stress. However, in some cases it can be excessive and uncontrolled, negatively impacting daily activities and relationships. Anxiousness affects more than 40 million people in the United States, or about 18.1% of the population.  Practitioners have often turned to serotonin to promote calm. There are many options for targeting serotonin and the communication system of neurotransmitters by natural means.
The Original Multi-Tasker: Serotonin
Serotonin, found in the CNS, blood platelets, and most abundantly in the gut, is an inhibitory neurotransmitter. It synthesized from the amino acid tryptophan, and is also a precursor to melatonin.
Serotonin is involved in many body functions, including:
- Hormone secretion
- Pain perception
- Cognitive function
- Food intake
This inhibitory neurotransmitter helps to promote calm, relaxation, and a sense of well being. It also acts as a neuromodulator, able to stimulate the release of the main inhibitory neurotransmitter GABA and reduce the release of glutamate, the main excitatory neurotransmitter. 
If the level or function in the body is too low, serotonin will not be able to perform its activities in controlling excitation or increasing GABA activity. Without serotonin’s modulation and inhibitory effects, excitatory neurotransmission (glutamate, dopamine, norepinephrine, epinephrine) may be in excess. This can lead to over-excitation which may increase worry, as well as irritability, poor memory, lack of focus, and poor sleep. People with low serotonin levels and GABA activity may experience increased anxiousness, decreased mood, difficulty sleeping, carbohydrate cravings, and pain perception. Sufficient levels may help maintain balance between excitation/energy and inhibition/relaxation. 
5-HTP to the Rescue
Individuals with anxiousness and low serotonin may benefit from serotonin supplementation. 5-HTP is a popular supplement for this use, as it is the direct precursor to serotonin.* 5-HTP readily crosses the blood-brain barrier and increases CNS synthesis of serotonin.* Supplementation with 5-HTP has been shown to be effective in reducing anxiousness, increasing calmn, and promoting a sense of well-being.*  A 5-HTP supplement containing vitamin B6 may potentially be more effective, as vitamin B6 in the active form of pyridoxal-5-phosphate is a cofactor in the serotonergic pathway.* Additionally, some individuals may benefit from a supplement containing 5-HTP and myo-inositol, which helps increase serotonin receptor sensitivity, and is shown to reduce anxiousness and mood concerns.* [3, 6, 7]
The Importance of Neurotransmitter Testing
Before implementing supplemental support for serotonin, it is essential to first assess neurotransmitter levels to reveal any imbalances or deficiencies. The healthcare practitioner may then recommend an appropriate intervention. After introducing supplementation and allowing adequate time for levels to replenish, it is also important to retest neurotransmitter levels to determine the effectiveness of the supplement and make any necessary adjustments.
Overall, serotonin plays a major role in maintaining balance within the body and regulating a variety of functions. Individuals with anxiousness and other mood concerns should consider assessing neurotransmitter levels to reveal any underlying imbalances or deficiencies. If the serotonin level is suboptimal, it may be beneficial to introduce support such as 5-HTP to help increase function and potentially reduce anxiousness.* An informed approach of assessing, implementing safe and effective non-drug therapies, and retesting can help people with anxiousness get on the path towards healthful balance and living a life less burdened by worry.
- Alramadhan, E., Hanna, M. S., Hanna, M. S., Goldstein, T. G., Avila, S. M., & Weeks, B. S. (2012). Dietary and botanical anxiolytics. Medical Science Monitor,18(4), RA40-RA48.
- Ciranna, Á. (2006). Serotonin as a modulator of glutamate-and GABA-mediated neurotransmission: implications in physiological functions and in pathology.Current neuropharmacology,4(2), 101-114.
- Harvey, B. H., Brink, C. B., Seedat, S., & Stein, D. J. (2002). Defining the neuromolecular action of myo-inositol: application to obsessive–compulsive disorder. Progress in Neuro-Psychopharmacology and Biological Psychiatry,26(1), 21-32.
- Jenkins, T. A., Nguyen, J. C., Polglaze, K. E., & Bertrand, P. P. (2016). Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis.Nutrients,8(1), 56.
- Kessler, R. C., Chiu, W. T., Demler, O., & Walters, E. E. (2005). Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of 12-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication.Archives of general psychiatry,62(6), 617-627.
- Kimball, J. (2011, April 3). Second Messengers. Retrieved from http://www.biology-pages.info/S/Second_messengers.html
- Levine, J. (1997). Controlled trials of inositol in psychiatry. European neuropsychopharmacology, 7(2), 147-155.
Clinical Support Specialist at Sanesco International, Inc.
Emily Harrill is our newest Clinical Support Specialist, and a graduate of UNC Asheville with a Bachelor of Science in Health and Wellness Promotion. Improving quality of life for others is her ultimate goal. She enjoys being a part of the team at Sanesco, exploring wellness through the HPA-T Axis and encouraging others to use holistic, integrative means to achieve balanced health. She loves participating in challenging, empowering, and fun activities – especially Olympic weightlifting and belly dance.