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The Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome:
A Holiday Tale of Tryptophan, Serotonin and Melatonin

Most of us know, I believe, that it's the tryptophan in turkey that promotes the sense of well-being we associate with Thanksgiving. I began to wonder if this could have an effect on tinnitus and the anxiety and stress that often accompany it. I began to look into the effects of tryptophan. What I found out was very interesting and quite surprising. I believe there is a definite connection between tryptophan and the way many people experience tinnitus.

Tryptophan is an essential amino acid which means it is not produced by the body but rather must come strictly from the diet. There are eight essential amino acids and fourteen non-essential amino acids. The non-essential acids can be made inside the body from other components. Dietary sources of tryptophan include turkey and other meats, soy products, cottage cheese, milk, brown rice and peanuts.

In the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin, the neuro-transmitter responsible for feelings of well-being, calmness, personal security, relaxation, confidence and concentration. Decreased serotonin levels play a key role in the development of depression. The only source for serotonin in the brain is tryptophan. It cannot be converted from any other substance. If there is not enough tryptophan in the diet, it can lead to anxiety and depression.

Depleted serotonin levels are responsible for depression and other psychological disturbances, such as anxiety, insomnia, fatigue, low concentration and low self-esteem. This is what has increasingly become known as the Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome.

Some serotonin is converted in the pineal gland to melatonin, which regulates sleep patterns. Melatonin has been shown to be helpful in getting a good night's sleep and in some cases reducing tinnitus symptoms. A clinical study conducted at the Shea Ear Clinic in Sarasota, FL, tested 3 mg melatonin on tinnitus patients for one month. They found that those people who did not have trouble sleeping were not greatly benefited by the melatonin. However, of the people who had difficulty sleeping, 47% reported an overall improvement in their tinnitus.

My personal experience is that 3mg of melatonin will put me right to sleep, however I wake up in the middle of the night. I feel rested but I'm wide awake at 3:00 AM. I find that 3 to 6 mg of time-release melatonin will keep me asleep all night long.

There are basically two ways to rectify the Serotonin Deficiency Syndrome. One method is through the natural method of increasing tryptophan intake and the other through the use of anti-depressant medications such as Prozac. This is where the story gets very interesting.

There is a class of pharmaceutical medications called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitor (SSRI) anti-depressants. SSRI anti-depressants include Prozac, Paxil, Zoloft and others. Their method of treatment is to concentrate existing levels of tryptophan in the brain so they stay in the synapse between nerves and facilitate communication. They do not create serotonin, as many people believe, but simply collect the existing serotonin so it is used more effectively. Some studies suggest that long term use of SSRI anti-depressants actually reduce serotonin levels.