Treating Low Serotonin in Fibromyalgia and CFS

The serotonin dysregulation many of us with fibromyalgia or chronic fatigue syndrome (CFS) experience can cause myriad symptoms. Now, let's take a look at what might be able to help.

Woman in bathrobe taking vitamins

Hero Images / Getty Images

You can influence your serotonin levels in 4 ways:

  1. Drugs
  2. Supplements
  3. Food
  4. Sunlight

Drugs for Serotonin Dysregulation

You've probably heard of selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) or serotonin-norepinephrine reuptake inhibitors (SNRIs). These drugs don't add serotonin to your system. Instead, they're designed to slow down a clean-up process in your brain that keeps serotonin around longer, meaning more of it is available to your neurons (brain cells) at any given time.

SSRIs and SNRIs are primarily used as antidepressants, but in conditions involving low serotonin, studies show that they can be effective for some people who suffer from fibromyalgia and CFS . The big downside is that they create more available serotonin everywhere in your brain, and typically people will be deficient in some areas but not in others. That can lead to a host of side effects ranging from mild to life-threatening.

Some common SSRIs include Prozac (fluoxetine), Paxil (paroxetine) and Zoloft (sertraline).

We have stronger evidence for SNRIs for fibromyalgia, and two of the FDA-approved fibromyalgia drugs — Cymbalta (duloxetine) and Savella (milnacipran) — fall into this category. The other approved drug, Lyrica (pregabalin), and the similar drug Neurontin (gabapentin) are believed to influence serotonin levels as well.

Supplements for Serotonin Dysregulation

Supplements aren't likely to have as dramatic an effect as medications, but they're also less likely to have serious side effects. That's not to say they don't cause any side effects since they also do.

Some supplements shown to increase available serotonin for patients with fibromyalgia and CFS include:

SAM-e and 5-HTP both provide important building blocks of serotonin so your body can produce more. Rhodiola rosea is a natural SNRI. In the U.S., St. John's Wort is the best known of these supplements, but it's also the most dangerous. With any supplements, be sure you talk to your healthcare provider and pharmacist about possible problems and drug interactions and educate yourself about their side effects.

Food for Serotonin Dysregulation

There is not much research on serotonin dysregulation and foods, but some are commonly believed to help build and raise levels of it in your blood. This is especially true for food that contains tryptophan, an amino acid that synthesizes serotonin. For example, the following foods, many of which contain tryptophan, can increase serotonin, according to Medical News Today:

  • Salmon
  • Poultry, including chicken and turkey
  • Eggs
  • Spinach
  • Seeds
  • Soy
  • Milk
  • Nuts

Because of the blood-brain barrier, it's likely that very little serotonin actually reaches your brain from the noted foods. Blood levels of serotonin may influence blood-flow-related symptoms and serotonin-related conditions such as irritable bowel syndrome.

Sunlight for Serotonin Dysregulation

This is the most straight-forward way to raise serotonin in your brain: get more sunlight.

The reason for this is that serotonin is a crucial part of the wake-sleep cycle, which is strongly influenced by light. When light hits your eyes, especially natural sunlight, it tells your brain, "It's time to be awake," and your brain starts churning out serotonin to make you more alert.

However, it can be hard to get consistent levels of sunlight, especially when you're severely ill.

4 Sources
Verywell Health uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Foong A-L, Grindrod KA, Patel T, Kellar J. Demystifying serotonin syndrome (Or serotonin toxicity). Can Fam Physician. 2018;64(10):720-727. PMID. 30315014.

  2. Lekomtseva Y, Zhukova I, Wacker A. Rhodiola rosea in subjects with prolonged or chronic fatigue symptoms: results of an open-label clinical trial. Complement Medical Research. 2017;24(1):46-52. doi. 10.1159/000457918. Published 2017.

  3. Jenkins T, Nguyen J, Polglaze K, Bertrand P. Influence of tryptophan and serotonin on mood and cognition with a possible role of the gut-brain axis. Nutrients. 2016;8(1):56. doi.  10.3390/nu8010056. Published January, 2016.

  4. Sansone RA, Sansone LA. Sunshine, serotonin, and skin: a partial explanation for seasonal patterns in psychopathology? Innovations in Clinical Neuroscience. 2013;10(7-8):20-24. PMID. 24062970.

By Adrienne Dellwo
Adrienne Dellwo is an experienced journalist who was diagnosed with fibromyalgia and has written extensively on the topic.