How Neurotransmitters are Made: Dopamine, Serotonin, & GABA

Updated: Feb 26

Dopamine, serotonin, and GABA are all produced in the gut. 90% of your serotonin, 50% of your dopamine, and a percentage of GABA are all produced in your gut.

These neurotransmitters are derived, at least in part, from amino acids, B vitamins, and probiotic bacteria. Probiotic bacteria play a significant role in the creation of neurotransmitters. These “happy chemicals” B vitamins folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) in particular play a significant role in the creation of these neurotransmitters, though the whole complex of B vitamins are involved to one extent or another.

Serotonin is derived from the neurotransmitter Tryptophan. Tryptophan is probably the amino acid you have often heard comes from turkey. It makes you feel relaxed, satisfied, calm. That’s where that “Thanksgiving coma” may come in part from. Well this is in part due to the fact that our body uses tryptophan to produce serotonin. Tryptophan is converted into 5-HTP which is then converted into serotonin (I am seriously simplifying that process I am sure).

It is also interesting to note that melatonin is also derived from tryptophan. It just depends on how your body chooses to convert it based on how much melatonin vs. serotonin and other chemicals you already have present.

Where Does Serotonin Come From?

The B vitamins Folate (B9) and cobalamin (B12) are also used during this process. It is extremely important to get enough B vitamins. They all work together for thousands of processes in the body. B9 and B12 are especially important for methylation, which is a fancy, scientific word for the body’s production and use of energy.

If you are low on B vitamins, or your body has a hard time absorbing them, try taking Methyl-Folate or Methyl-B12. These can be absolute game changers. My sister has an MTHFR Gene Mutation which inhibits her body’s ability to properly absorb folate. This has affected her energy levels for most of her life. When she went on Methyl-Folate, it changed her life. She began to lose the weight she never could, her motivation levels went way up, and her energy has been far more stable.

A Methyl-Folate and Methyl-B12 supplement complex I recommend is Methyl Folate+ by One Elevated. I recommend this because the dose ranges are adequate (depending on the person), it is highly rated, and it contains other B vitamins, which I think is smart because B vitamins work in correlation with one another and cannot function without a full complex.

If you are low in serotonin, you can try taking a 5-HTP supplement. This is easily converted into serotonin and melatonin in the body. If you want to try this, be sure to get a 5-HTP supplement from a reputable company. But also bear in mind that depression does not necessarily indicate low serotonin levels. Some people with depression actually have too high of serotonin. Depression can also indicate a lack of dopamine. It is not as simple as low serotonin. There is also the issue of serotonin malabsorption. If your body and brain are not absorbing it correctly, this can create a state of depression.

This is why spirituality, mindfulness, and a clean, high quality diet that is filled with fresh, whole vegetables and anti-inflammatory foods is fundamental to improving symptoms of depression. It is not as simple as taking a medication - this often does not attend to the source of the issue, which can originate in many different places depending on the individual.

Where does Dopamine Come From?

Dopamine is derived from the neurotransmitter Tyrosine. Tyrosine converts into L-Dopa and then into dopamine. To do this effectively, it requires probiotic bacteria (specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria species) and B vitamins Folate and B12.

Fun fact, you can actually buy the natural form of L-Dopa, called Mucuna Pruriens, which is a bean that is native to Africa and tropical Asia. This is easily converted into dopamine in the body.

If you’d like to try this, I’d recommend Himalaya Organic Mucuna. It’s highly rated and the company has a very long track record (in business since 1930). On top of that, it is Certified Organic and Certified Non-GMO. This is good for obvious reasons, but it also shows that the company is reputable and established well enough to afford these certifications and hit the requirements to qualify - so they probably do a good job. Plus, I’ve been taking a Uricare supplement of theirs for years that I’ve been impressed with.

Where Does GABA Come From?

GABA is derived from the amino acid Glutamate. Much the same as serotonin and dopamine, glutamate requires probiotic bacteria (specifically Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria) and B vitamins folate and B12 to convert properly into GABA. I am sure there are ways the body can finagle this process if needed but this is generally true and well studied.

You can also take GABA straight in a supplement form. Though, I do not know enough about these supplements to make a recommendation.

Supplement with Lactobacillus and Bifidobacteria Strains

I keep a look out for high quality probiotic supplements from great sources. If you'd like to know more about what to look for in a probiotic supplement, click here. My favorite probiotic supplement for mental health is Mood+ by Garden of Life. It meets multiple qualifications of a quality probiotic and both my wife and I have had a great experience using it.

Read More About the Gut-Brain Connection

Check out these article if you’d like to know more about the gut-brain axis:

4 Ways the Gut & Brain are Connected

How to Heal the Gut to Improve Mental Health + Supplements I Recommend

Why Healing Your Gut Heals Your Brain

How Your Gut Health Influences Your Mental Health

What Kills Good Gut Bacteria: Gut Microbiome & Mental Health

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