I wanted to do an article on serotonin and diabetes, and I also wanted to do one on melatonin and diabetes, but these two go together so we’ll cover both in this article. These are not substances we often think about when looking at type 2 diabetes but both play a factor in the disease.
Serotonin is a neurotransmitter known as the feel good hormone, although it’s not a hormone. Melatonin is a hormone though, and is responsible for your feeling tired when it gets dark, as levels of this hormone rise in the absence of light, at least typically anyway.
I mentioned 5-HTP in the title as well, as this is a precursor to serotonin, and many people take 5-HTP to keep their serotonin levels up, including myself. I also take melatonin which is available in supplement form, and is well known as something that helps sleep quality and quantity.
Serotonin also converts to melatonin so the two are related in that way, although serotonin has several other important functions in the body as well.
So what do these two have to do with diabetes? Well let’s start with serotonin. Serotonin is found in the beta cells and is involved in proper insulin secretion, and it tends to be low in type 2 diabetics, so this has led some scientists to believe that this is involved in the pathology of type 2 diabetes by causing insufficient insulin secretion.
These folks don’t really understand the pathology of type 2 diabetes, and don’t seem to be aware that type 2 presents and is caused by excessive insulin secretion, not an insulin deficiency. So low serotonin causing lower insulin secretion would actually be protective here, and is indeed one of the protective adaptations that type 2 diabetics have in order to slow down the progression of the disease.
However, there is a form of diabetes known as MODY that seems to be affected in a negative way by this, in a form of MODY anyway, where there is an actual insulin deficiency and serotonin deficiency seems to play a role. If one has this, then raising serotonin would probably be a good thing to try.
There’s more to serotonin and type 2 diabetes than this though, although a lot of people do mistakenly believe that our disease is one of insulin deficiency even though that’s generally not the case at all. It is true though that in the very late stages, after one’s beta cells have been bashed for a period of decades, the pancreas ends up losing its ability to produce normal insulin secretion, even though this may not be an organic deficiency but instead a long term adaptation to the toxicity of excess insulin for all this time.
So seratonin does tend to lower blood sugar and raising insulin is likely the mechanism behind it, but under the circumstances we must be careful in using this because we don’t want to raise insulin too much, and we may not want to raise it at all if it is too high. However the effect here isn’t really that significant and as it turns out, serotonin benefits diabetics in other ways, most notably in balancing and controlling other hormones known as catacholamines, adrenaline for instance, which raises blood sugar.
So a simple way to put this is that if you are low in serotonin then this can cause a hormonal imbalance which not only makes you feel more tense but also causes higher blood sugar, and in a way we don’t really want to see, oversecretion of glucose by the liver. So normalizing serotonin, by for instance taking 5-HTP, can help control your blood sugar, in spite of it perhaps raising insulin a little in situations where normally this would be something we would want to steer clear of.
Seroninin also plays a role in the gut, and there’s a lot we don’t know about the role the gut plays in diabetes but it seems to be a pretty significant one.
We do know though that the blood sugar lowering effects of serotonin is likely mostly from increasing insulin secretion, and they did an experiment on mice and found that it lowered the blood sugar of mice with a normal pancreas, but not in those who had their beta cells destroyed. These weren’t diabetic mice though so this doesn’t mean that there isn’t other factors involved, but it’s likely mostly from the extra insulin.
Since we can monitor excessive insulin secretion pretty simply by just looking at our weight, this shouldn’t be a problem to manage, and if you are gaining weight by raising serotonin, this would indicate a problem, but the effect here is a pretty modest one and this wouldn’t be typical.
Low serotonion and low melatonin go together, and it’s not a coincidence, since once again, serotonin converts to melatonin, and if serotonin is low, melatonin will tend to be as well. One can take melatonin separately, but I’ve personally found the two to be synergistic, and I’ve found a lot more benefit in taking them both together rather than just taking one or the other.
I’ve only recently tried this and this combination seems to help my blood sugar like nothing else. Melatonin also helps manage blood sugar and we don’t have to look beyond what this does to enhance sleep quality to explain this, although it’s also involved in conversion of T4 to T3 and that’s a particular problem with me, and a lack of conversion and the resulting disturbance in thyroid hormone function at the cellular level, and the resulting increases in cortisol levels to compensate, which raises blood sugar, may be an even bigger deal here.
It’s also important to make sure that you get enough selenium as well for this conversion, and the relationship between thyroid hormone metabolism and diabetes isn’t one that comes up very much, but it’s a significant one.
So it starts with low melatonin, which ends up putting cortisol up, and cortisol is a huge culprit in hyperglycemia, as well as in thyroid disease. So cortisol goes up, this puts blood sugar up, and high cortisol also interferes with T4 to T3 conversion as well, leading to a need for even more adrenal hormones and we end up with a vicious circle, where metabolism is downregulated and blood glucose is elevated, the sort of thing to prepare us for survival.
So we feel tired, wired, and don’t sleep well, and if we’re diabetic, we have higher blood sugar as well. This is a lot of people. So to try to break this cycle, if we add things like serotonin and especially melatonin, as well as selenium, we can improve our thyroid hormone function, and end up helping our blood sugar and diabetes at the same time.
Serotonin itself is known to reduce excess cortisol directly and that’s the main reason why we want to make sure our serotonin levels are kept up if we have type 2 diabetes. If we are on a low carb diet to manage our blood sugar, this lowers serotonin and raises cortisol, and also inhibits thyroid function, so it’s important to look to compensate for this by taking something like 5-HTP.
When our melatonin levels decline in the morning, this is when we see what’s known as the dawn phenomenon, higher blood sugar upon waking. Melatonin and cortisol are inversely related and a deficiency of melatonin will tend to raise cortisol, and higher levels of cortisol will tend to lower melatonin.
So these two substances are well worth checking out and looking to balance if you suffer from either diabetes or stress, or both, and they do go together.