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Is Long COVID Tied to Low Serotonin Levels?

A new study from Penn Medicine at the University of Pennsylvania found that long COVID is correlated with decreased serotonin levels in the gastrointestinal tract.

The study, which analyzed data collected from 1,540 patients who had been hospitalized with long COVID, found that the chemical levels in patients with long COVID were much different than those who had fully recovered from COVID-19. This was especially true when it came to the patients’ serotonin levels. Researchers concluded that lowered serotonin levels could be a contributing factor in not only the development but also the persistence of certain long COVID symptoms.

What Is Serotonin?

Often referred to as the “feel good” chemical, serotonin is a type of chemical known as a neurotransmitter. Its primary function is to help regulate mood by carrying messages from the nerve cells to other parts of the body. Additionally, serotonin aids in everything from digestion to blood clotting and wound healing, body temperature regulation, bone health, sleep, and libido. It also plays a significant role in things like memory, learning, and general happiness.

According to the Cleveland Clinic, the vast majority (about 90%) of serotonin is found in the digestive tract, specifically the cells that line the intestines. This means that only about 10% of the body’s serotonin is produced in the brain.

The Effects of Low Serotonin

Ideally, serotonin levels should be balanced; too much or too little can lead to a host of physical and mental health problems.

In fact, low serotonin levels are associated with the following:

  • Mood disorders, such as anxiety and depression
  • Insomnia and other sleep problems
  • Digestive issues, such as irritable bowel syndrome (IBS)
  • Suicidal thoughts or behaviors
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)
  • Schizophrenia
  • Panic disorders
  • Phobias

There are certain ways to help increase serotonin levels, including getting more tryptophan. Tryptophan is an essential amino acid that helps produce and maintain neurotransmitters, such as serotonin, as well as various proteins, enzymes, and muscles. Medical professionals recommend consuming foods that are high in tryptophan, including whole milk, turkey, chicken, canned tuna, cheese, oats, whole wheat bread, nuts, seeds, chocolate, and certain types of fruit, such as bananas and apples.

The Connection Between Long COVID and Low Serotonin

Researchers found that tiny remnants of the COVID virus left behind in the gut cause the body’s immune system to produce a type of protein known as “interferons.” While these interferons help fight infection, they also cause inflammation. This, in turn, lowers the body’s ability to absorb tryptophan, which causes the body to produce less serotonin. Additionally, the researchers found that COVID-related blood clots can also inhibit the body’s ability to circulate existing serotonin.

Because serotonin is responsible for short-term memory, among other functions, it is believed that the disruption of the body’s natural serotonin-producing and circulating processes could be one of the factors involved in the development of certain long COVID symptoms, like impaired memory and lowered cognitive functioning (often referred to as “brain fog”).

The study also found that, in patients with severe cases of long COVID, serotonin levels remained low, whereas enzymes that break down serotonin in the body were high. It is not uncommon for serotonin levels to drop immediately after an infection, but what was notable was the lack of serotonin recovery in patients with long COVID.

What This Means for Long COVID Research

While this study found a link between low serotonin levels in the gut and long COVID, researchers stressed that more data was needed to find a causal relationship between the two. The causes of long COVID are still being studied, but these findings could provide important information into specific biomarkers for long COVID. This, in turn, can allow for greater accuracy in long COVID diagnoses and better potential treatments for the condition.

By supplementing or inhibiting the degradation of serotonin in the gastrointestinal tract, it may be possible to improve cognitive functioning and memory in patients with long COVID. However, more research is needed, and numerous clinical trials examining the effectiveness of different long COVID treatments are already underway.

How Dabdoub Law Firm Can Help

If you or someone you love has been diagnosed with long COVID, you may be eligible for disability benefits. At Dabdoub Law Firm, we assist people who are unable to work due to serious medical conditions fight for the fair benefits they are owed. Our award-winning team is here to help you understand your options and protect your rights throughout the entire process.

We encourage you to reach out to our firm today to schedule a free consultation. You can reach us online or give us a call at (800) 969-0488.