Reconsidering Serotonin: Is it Truly the 'Happy Hormone'?

Christopher Walker
June 23, 2023
8 min read
Share this post

The Dark Side Of Serotonin: Why Serotonin May Not Be As "Happy" As You Think

A healthy body requires balanced neurotransmitter production.

Modern marketing for antidepressant drugs has been so effective at co-opting not just the medical community, but also the alternative health circles (calling it the “happy hormone” even though it’s not a hormone at all), regulating bodies, and the popular media, that most people now believe that they’re serotonin deficient.

This could not be further from the truth, in fact most evidence points to population-wide excess of serotonin, and this serotonin overload is responsible for myriad devastating physical and psychological dysfunctions.

The easy shorthand narrative about serotonin deficiency causing depression is not just lazy, it is fraudulent: completely inaccurate. Excess serotonin leads to overproduction of stress hormones such as estrogen, cortisol, and prolactin and conditions the human body & mind to “learned helplessness,” a phenomenon that has been demonstrated in animal research to trigger disturbingly acute suicidal behaviors.

You don’t need more serotonin, you need less!

You must work to lower serotonin production while increasing natural production of vital neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA to restore balance to your gut and brain, which will give you the feelings of well-being, energy, and clarity you’re searching for.

“Prozac is incredibly easy to prescribe. You can teach a chimpanzee to prescribe it.”- Psychopharmacologist, New York Magazine article in 1989

Only ten years after Prozac, the blockbuster “antidepressant” drug, was approved for sale in the US by the FDA, the Boston Globe reported that an estimated 50,000 people had committed suicide because of using the drug.

Prozac acts in the brain as a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, meaning it blocks the reabsorption of serotonin that is sent out from the presynaptic neuron, leaving more serotonin to flood the space between the two communicating neurons, also known as the synaptic cleft. This mechanism of action allows for more serotonin to bind to the postsynaptic neuron’s receptor sites, propagating the action of serotonin further than it would normally go in a healthy brain.

The term antidepressant that drug companies are now using to market this class of SSRI pharmaceuticals, is a misnomer: it’s highly misleading. As I will explain in more depth, increasing the action and amount of circulating serotonin has the exact opposite of an antidepressant effect, which explains the rapid uptick in suicides following the introduction of SSRIs into the market in the 1990s.

In fact, the BGA, Germany’s food and drug administration, refused to approve Prozac in 1987, just a few years before Prozac’s manufacturer Lilly brought it to the US; German regulators were disturbed by the results of human trials where subjects who were previously non-suicidal experienced a 5-fold increase in suicide rates and suicide attempts, compared to when treated with older MAOI antidepressant drugs (which had expired patents at the time).

How did we get to this point? Why does everyone believe serotonin is the “happy hormone” that we all need more of, even in the face of so much damning evidence to the contrary? And why are serotonin agonists still being so widely prescribed by physicians?

Let’s wind the clocks back for a minute, because there is a lot more to this story than most people know...

The answer lies hidden deep in the history of lysergic acid diethylamide, yes… LSD.

LSD: The Antiserotonin Agent

On April 16th 1943, swiss scientist Albert Hofmann was re-synthesizing a stimulant chemical that he’d discovered years prior by adding a functional group to a compound he extracted from a fungus in 1938, but had temporarily abandoned.

Accidentally absorbing some of the chemical through his fingertips, he had to lay down, and quickly experienced what he described as an extremely stimulated imagination.

“In a dreamlike state, with eyes closed, I perceived an uninterrupted stream of fantastic pictures, extraordinary shapes with intense, kaleidoscopic play of colors. After some two hours this condition faded away.” - LSD: Mein Sorgenkind by Albert Hofmann

Hofmann, who was ranked in 2007 as the #1 living genius of our time by the UK’s The Daily Telegraph, had discovered LSD, and 3 days later, took the first full-dose acid trip.

The world was about to change.

Sandoz Laboratories, Hofmann’s employer, introduced LSD as a drug treatment for schizophrenia and alcoholism in 1947 in Europe.

Soon thereafter, in the 1950s, things started getting weird.

According to public disclosure by president Gerald Ford in 1975 through the Rockefeller Commission, a federal investigation into illegal CIA activities, the CIA had purchased the entire world’s supply of LSD from Sandoz Laboratories, and secretly introduced it into the US.

Their focus was on mind control experimentation, with the chief aim of finding drugs that could be used in clandestine operations in order to wipe a subject’s mind clean so it could be reprogrammed.

For nearly a decade the CIA experimented on mental patients, prisoners, sex workers, CIA employees, military personnel, and even members of the general public, almost always without the subjects’ consent or prior knowledge.  

According to now declassified CIA documents, the agency abandoned LSD experimentation in 1962 because it proved “too unpredictable” for achieving their mind control objective.

Less than a year later, Sandoz Laboratories’ patents on LSD expired.

By this point, writers such as Aldous Huxley, Alan Watts, and Timothy Leary had begun openly advocating for the therapeutic usage of LSD and psilocybin, both potent antiserotonin compounds, for the exact opposite purpose of the CIA’s programs - to expand an individual’s mental perception.

After Leary and his research partner Richard Alpert, also known as Ram Dass, were very publicly fired from Harvard University in 1963 for their experiments on LSD and psilocybin, the ‘60s counterculture movement in the US started to pick up steam, with widespread use of psychedelic compounds in the general population, until 1968 when possession of LSD was made illegal by the federal government, then subsequently listed as a schedule 1 controlled narcotic by the United Nations in 1971.

Nixon’s presidency from 1969 to 1974 marked an interesting time in the “War on Drugs,” with the official establishment of the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA), and a public declaration that “drug abuse” was public enemy number one in 1971.

Nixon is also quoted as saying that Timothy Leary is, “the most dangerous man in America.”

Leary, the inspiration for John Lennon’s song “Come Together,” was thrown in jail 36 times throughout his life, most often for marijuana possession and ultimately for escaping prison before being recaptured by federal agents. He eventually ended up in California’s maximum security Folsom Prison in the cell adjacent to Charles Manson.

The two men reportedly had a conversation about LSD where Charles Manson is quoted as telling Leary, “they took you off the streets, so I could continue the work,” where Manson expressed frustration and difficulty understanding why Leary had never used LSD for mind control purposes, rather he advocated for it to help people expand their minds, quite the opposite.

Manson, on the other hand, was well-known for performing methods similar to the CIA’s original experiments on his “Family” to psychologically program them before the infamous murder of Sharon Tate.

With such a huge focus on chemical-induced mind control by government agencies throughout this time, it may seem serendipitous that the 1950s and ‘60s also ushered in the first two generations of antidepressant pharmaceuticals, which could more accurately described as tranquilizers. Physicians began prescribing these drugs to patients across the US en masse.

It’s important to understand this: LSD is a powerful serotonin antagonist.

With disturbingly analogous similarities to the “Reefer Madness” tactics employed by the Federal Bureau of Narcotics in the 1930s, resulting in the federal ban of marijuana in 1937, the anti-LSD propaganda leading up to its prohibition in 1968 focused on claims that it induced homicidal violence.

“LSD is a psychedelic drug which occasionally causes psychotic behavior in people who have NOT taken it.” - Timothy Leary

The first 2 generations of antidepressant drugs weren’t the only thing that rose in popularity during this time, but also specific serotonin-precursor supplements, namely the amino acid L-tryptophan, 5-HTP (5-hydroxytryptophan), and the hormone melatonin*.  

*Dr. Richard Wurtmann, the MIT and Harvard doctor who discovered melatonin’s hormone action in 1994, is quoted as saying that nobody should use melatonin as a dietary supplement due to known health risks associated with it. Yet, it continues to be sold over the counter, widely used by millions of men, women, and children.

“Misconceptions about serotonin and melatonin and tryptophan, which are metabolically interrelated, have persisted, and it seems that the drug industry has exploited these mistakes to promote the “new generation” of psychoactive drugs as activators of serotonin responses. If LSD makes people go berserk, as the government claimed, then a product to amplify the effects of serotonin should make people sane.” - Dr. Raymond Peat, PhD

Serotonin itself wasn't officially discovered until 1935, when an Italian researcher named Vittorio Erspamer isolated a monoamine compound from enterochromaffin cells, which cause the intestinal walls to contract. He named this compound, “enteramine.”

13 years later, researchers at the Cleveland Clinic discovered an amine in blood serum that appeared to act as a vasoconstricting agent. They named it “serotonin” (serum + tone).

In 1952, scientists finally realized that enteramine and serotonin were the same chemical.

That same year, MAOIs (monoamine oxidase inhibitors) were introduced by drug companies into the marketplace, alongside the “monoamine theory of depression,” in an attempt to artificially raise circulating levels of monoamines like serotonin in the body.

90% of serotonin is produced in the gut, contrary to popular assumption that it is all in the brain. Your gut is called your “second brain,” the enteric nervous system, for a reason: it contains roughly 500 million neurons.

Your gut-based enteric nervous system communicates neuronally to your brain via the spinal cord, and bacterially via production of certain gases to catalyze reactions and cascades within the body.

Messing with gut function, especially neuronally, is risky business.

Curiously timed alongside the “War On Drugs,” the development of these serotonin-amplifying pharmaceuticals built unstoppable momentum in the public relations sector, and they were embraced by government regulators as the antidote to mind-opening drugs like LSD and psilocybin, the antiserotonin agents, which had already proven too unwieldy for them to control.  

In 1950, two years before MAOIs were introduced to the general public, sociology researchers out of UC Berkeley published a seminal book entitled, The Authoritarian Personality, the contents of which set forth their theory that, based on a Freudian developmental model, people developed either an “authoritarian” personality or “anti-authoritarian” personality, both of which have a biological basis.

Authoritarian personalities are characterized by harm avoidance behaviors, unquestioning submission to authority figures, passive-aggression, and extreme obedience, all behaviors shown in scientific research to correlate with high levels of serotonin.

Quite possibly the most extreme, and disturbing, examples of serotonin’s ability to induce authoritarian personality behaviors can be seen in studies demonstrating “learned helplessness” in animals.

When exposed to excess serotonin levels, researchers can quite literally create learned helplessness in animals, which creates the perception of inescapable stress, pure hopelessness. Common studies demonstrate this with swimming scenarios, where the serotonin-animal is placed in a water maze and forced to swim. The non-serotonin exposed control animals will continue swimming, potentially even for hours in order to survive.

But when the serotonin-group animals are placed in the water maze, they exhibit signs of extreme stress within minutes and subsequently give up trying, allowing themselves to drown. They have no capacity whatsoever to cope with the stress.

Researchers think this type of learned helplessness occurs for several reasons:

  1. High serotonin levels tend to trigger the production of a lot of lactic acid via glycolysis, which interferes directly with mitochondrial respiration, as I’ve discussed earlier in this book already. This slows the metabolic rate significantly, leaving the animal with diminished energy
  2. Panic reactions, extreme muscle pain, hypertension, and heart failure are all correlated with high serotonin levels

Anti-authoritarian personalities, on the other hand, are expressed through high dopamine levels and low serotonin, and are characterized in the individual through risk-taking behaviors, lack of obedience, and a disregard for authority figures.

It’s logical why, on a population level, intelligence agencies, drug companies, and governments would be interested in declaring a war on antiserotonin drugs. The 1960s were famously known as the “Counterculture Movement” after all, and Timothy Leary was the figurehead, “the most dangerous man in America.”

One interesting thing to note, is that after MAOIs were introduced in the 1950s, incidences of migraines spiked, especially in women. We now know why. Estrogen is an endogenous MAOI itself. The estrogen stimulates an increased rate of serotonin production. The excess serotonin, has a vasoconstrictive action, decreasing blood flow to the brain, while veins and capillaries on the surface of the brain swell with blood, causing intense migraines and cluster headaches.

MAOIs were eventually phased out of widespread use, mostly due to some pretty gnarly side effects in patients, but also likely due to patent expirations. Once a patent on a drug expires, it can no longer be controlled as a high priced “brand name” and generally becomes a generic, lower priced version of the same product.

With the serotonin-driven consumer beliefs deeply entrenched in our cultural psyche, drug companies developed a class of new drugs, with new patents, to work on amplifying serotonin: SSRIs.

SSRI drugs, such as Prozac, were released in the ‘90s alongside aggressive marketing about how your “depression is a deficiency in the happy hormone” and a lot of marketing around the idea of a “chemical imbalance” in your brain.

Branded as antidepressants, SSRIs commonly demonstrate the exact opposite effect in patients, triggering unnatural suicides at alarming rates, including in depressed patients who were not previously suicidal. This is indicative of learned helplessness.

SSRIs have been shown in ever-increasing mountains of research to cause serious side effects that mostly serve to make the patient’s condition worse, including:

Another disturbing thing to note, is that it’s been found that roughly 50% of studies done showing negative effects of SSRIs go completely unpublished, due to financial conflicts of interest between drug companies and the medical journals. (6, 20)

In cases of overdoses on SSRIs and 5-HTP supplements, people experience symptoms of “serotonin syndrome,” with tremors, seizures, and heart failure. The antidote is antiserotonin drugs, which will save the patient’s life.

Organs in the body, such as the liver and the lungs, actually have innate defense enzymes, such as indoleamine 2,3-dioxygenase, that are designed to destroy excess serotonin. However, in order for these enzymes to mobilize against serotonin properly, adequate carbon dioxide needs to be present, therefore the glucose metabolism is vital for lowering serotonin.

PUFA consumption encourages the conversion of L-tryptophan into serotonin, one of the many reasons I recommend avoiding dietary PUFAs.

The most common symptoms of excess serotonin are high blood pressure, gut problems & intestinal irritation, gynecomastia (in men), aggressiveness, insomnia, low testosterone, low thyroid hormones, liver dysfunction, high stress hormone levels, depression, anxiety, sore muscles or joints, behavioral passivity & harm avoidance, lack of creativity, hair loss, fat gain, low energy levels… all symptoms of hypothyroidism in general. Everything is connected in your body.

Patterns present themselves, and we need to pay close attention to them.

For lowering excess serotonin levels quickly and naturally, I recommend the following natural supplements:

  1. Vitamin B3 (as niacinamide)
  2. Theanine (24, 25)
  3. BCAAs
  4. Amino acids such as glycine and proline (rich in collagen and bone broth)
  5. Activated charcoal
  6. Mucuna Pruriens (standardized at 15% L-DOPA)

And for alleviating depression symptoms, I recommend also considering:

  1. Vitamin B9 (as folate)
  2. Magnesium (glycinate, citrate, or aspartate)

I also recommend that you get a full micronutrient analysis to identify deficiencies, since the deficiencies are actually what causes depression symptoms in the first place. Test for heavy metal levels in your blood as well, especially copper.

The Thermo Diet food guidelines, like eating raw carrots, are inherently designed to properly regulate excess serotonin in your body, so please refer to those resources for nutrition suggestions.

Conclusion: Is Serotonin Truly The Happy Hormone?

While pharmaceutical companies continue to pound false ideas into our collective psyche about how we should increase our serotonin levels using their drugs, we must work to lower serotonin production while increasing natural production of vital neurotransmitters such as dopamine and GABA to restore balance to the gut and brain, which will give you the feelings of well-being, energy, and clarity you’re searching for.

When it comes to serotonin, it’s time to Think Again.

Latest posts

From our blog

Check out my latest blog posts and subscribe to my newsletter for updates.
Notion is a versatile productivity tool that combines note-taking, project management, and collaboration features into a single platform. With customizable templates, powerful databases, and seamless organization, Notion empowers users to streamline workflows and enhance productivity, making it an ideal choice for individuals and teams seeking a unified and customizable workspace.
Shatter the misconception that age causes low testosterone. Say goodbye to low T and hello to a vibrant, energetic life.
True health in the human body is when you’re not deficient in any micronutrients, and therefore when you’re hormonally balanced. And with that in mind, you shouldn’t consume or expose yourself to anything that can reliably cause deficiencies in your body.