Serotonin and Pain

~ By Patricia Kay Youngson RN, MA ~

Serotonin is a neurotransmitter that helps close the pain gates.  An imbalance of serotonin (calming) and norepinephrine (fight/flight) after an injury can start chronic pain.  When injured, preferably, these two neurotransmitters will be balanced, but if there is more norepinephrine at the site of the injury, the pain gates can be stuck open.

With chronic pain, serotonin goes to the pain site instead of closing the pain gates.  This results in more pain because there is less serotonin to close the pain gates, which results in more pain–a vicious cycle.

Women suffer more pain than men and actually have a lower pain threshold.  This is because estrogen destabalizes serotonin whereas testosterone stabilizes it.

A deficiency of serotonin can result in anxiety, depression, craving for sweets, and insomnia and more pain.  So, the question is, how can we increase the serotonin in our bodies?  To start with, sunlight increases serotonin, as well as using full spectrum lights.  In the winter, when sun exposure is down, serotonin levels drop.  Some people get seasonal affective disorder (SAD) and find light boxes for increase light exposure useful.

In the realm of essential oils, orange blossom and marjoram stimulate serotonin.

Eating the right foods can increase your serotonin.  Concentrate on green leafy vegetables, spinach, broccoli, radishes, spinach, squash, potatoes, chicken, turkey, figs bananas, legumes, soy milk, peanuts, cashews, walnuts, almonds, flax oil, walnut oil, and low fat dairy.  These foods contain the amino acid L-tryptophane which is a precurser to serotonin.  You can also take L-tryptophane or 5-htp supplements.

Other ways to increase your serotonin are exercise, massage, meditation, and sleep.  It may be that these stress reducing activities build your supply of serotonin by reducing the stress hormone cortisol.  Cortisol interferes with the process of turning L-tryptophane into serotonin.

Medications that help increase your supply of serotonin are the tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil, Pamelor, Norpramin, and Sinequan.  Then, there are the selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) such as Prozac, Zoloft, and Paxil.

Patricia Kay Youngson

Patricia Kay Youngson RN, MA has a Masters in Transpersonal Counseling Psychology from Naropa University.  She is a counselor specializing in chronic pain and sexuality.  Her website is and her e-mail

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