How Do Omega-3s and Vitamin D Affect Serotonin and Psychiatric Disorders?


Two researchers from UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland, writing in the Journal of the Federation of American Societies for Experimental Biology, reviewed the evidence linking serotonin regulation to various types of psychiatric disorders. They then proposed what the biological mechanisms might be for how Omega-3 fatty acids and Vitamin D influence “serotonin synthesis, release, and function in the brain.”

According to a press release, the study illustrated how vitamin D “regulates the conversion of the essential amino acid tryptophan into serotonin.” The study also identified how constituents of Omega-3s increase serotonin release from presynaptic neurons by reducing inflammatory signaling molecules in the brain that can inhibit serotonin release.

“This publication suggests that optimizing intakes of vitamin D, EPA, and DHA would optimize brain serotonin concentrations and function, possibly preventing and ameliorating some of the symptoms associated with these disorders without side effects,” stated the press release.

Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamin D may control brain serotonin, affecting behavior and psychiatric disorders (UCSF Benioff Children’s Hospital Oakland press release on ScienceDaily, February 25, 2015)

Patrick, Rhonda P., and Bruce N. Ames. “Vitamin D and the Omega-3 Fatty Acids Control Serotonin Synthesis and Action, Part 2: Relevance for ADHD, Bipolar, Schizophrenia, and Impulsive Behavior.” The FASEB Journal, February 24, 2015, fj.14–268342. doi:10.1096/fj.14-268342. (Abstract)


  1. The discussion of serotonin is somewhat misleading. Serotonin is involved in about 9 different circuits in the brain. (See work by Chris Lowry at U. of Colorado). One cluster of serotonergic neurons creates learned helplessness and anxiety. Another cluster tones down this circuit. Consequently, in order to determine the impact on behavior, one would have to specify where serotonin release is being amplified. If all serotonin release is amplified everywhere then the impact on behavior could not be predicted.

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    • Serotonin is also in many other areas of the body, especially the gut, which has more receptors than the brain. Your accurate observation certainly explains why there is such a high rate of emotional and behavioral “side effects” to SSRIs. It’s like trying to fix a fine watch with a hammer and a Phillips head screwdriver. You’ll have an effect, but it’s probably not going to make your watch work better.

      Still, probably better to provide the body with building blocks it can use as it sees fit rather than forcing it to engage in an unnatural increase in serotonin levels throughout the body.

      —- Steve

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  2. Nonsense. By their logic, I could argue that oxygen is even more important to the serotonergic system and in all the same and many more ways.

    “”This publication suggests that optimizing intakes of vitamin D, EPA, and DHA would optimize brain serotonin concentrations and function,”

    ….or that just being simply healthy and not malnourished. Sickens me that these people get paid.

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