Vitamin D and DHA Needed for Serotonin, Mood, and Impulse Control

September 6, 2022 | Dr. Linda J. Dobberstein, DC, Board Certified in Clinical Nutrition

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 Vitamin D and DHA Needed for Serotonin, Mood, and Impulse Control
Do you ever have trouble making decisions? What about poor impulse control or frequently reaching for short-term gratification? How about feeling irritable and not wanting to be around your friends? These behaviors and feelings are affected by your vitamin D and omega-3 oil status as these nutrients are essential for neurotransmitter function like serotonin in your brain. Learn how critical these nutrients are for mood and behavioral actions.

Serotonin and Mood


Plentiful serotonin levels in healthy individuals are involved with pleasant, joyful, cooperative/helpful mood and attributes. Serotonin helps you focus on long-term plans and be able to delay immediate gratification impulses.

As serotonin levels drop there is a decline in positive mood and behaviors. This can lead you to be less sociable and feel irritable, angry or aggressive, quarrelsome, seek harmful behaviors, be impulsive, and have worsening of mood.

Serotonin levels in your brain are affected by several things, especially vitamin D and omega-3 fish oils. Dr. Bruce Ames and others detail these powerful effects and connections in their research entitled “Vitamin D and the omega-3 fatty acids control serotonin synthesis and action, part 2”. Continue reading to learn more!

Vitamin D


Vitamin D is a vitamin and hormone that controls over 900 genes, including TPH2 and TPH1. These genes are responsible for converting the amino acid tryptophan into the neurotransmitter serotonin. This action occurs at the site of a vitamin D response element (VDRE) in the brain and other tissues.

In order for gene activation and serotonin production to occur, it requires adequate vitamin D. If you have inadequate vitamin D levels, it hinders the natural production of serotonin in your brain as gene activation is impaired.

Low vitamin D status is common. Even with vitamin D fortified foods, many individuals simply do not consume enough vitamin D or obtain it from daily sunshine exposure. Indoor lifestyles, sunscreen use, darker skin tones, and living in the upper northern or lower southern latitudes further away from the equator affects your ability to make vitamin D. You must know if your vitamin D status is adequate.

More information about vitamin D may be found in the articles:

Vitamin D and Your Immune System – Are You Getting Enough?

New Discoveries Highlight the Importance of Vitamin D

Omega-3 Oils


Along with vitamin D, your brain needs significant amounts of omega-3 oils every day for function. The best food sources include cold-water fatty fish like salmon, tuna, herring, and sardines, etc. which provide omega-3 oils EPA and DHA. These essential fatty acids are required for how your brain can utilize serotonin as well as many other bodily functions.

Fish however often are contaminated with heavy metals, solvents, or other toxins because of pollution. To avoid these concerns, use a high quality DHA and EPA supplement that has undergone rigorous testing and toxin removal. Daily DHA and Leptinal are the natural triglyceride forms of fish oil. The oils are molecularly distilled which removes all harmful toxins without high heat and solvents. They are third-party tested for quality. If they do not meet our standards, we do not accept them.

Omega-3 DHA and Serotonin


Omega-3 DHA makes up 30% of the brain’s fatty acid content and is found in high concentration in nerve cell membranes and receptor sites. DHA makes cell membranes flexible which helps substances move in and out of cells.

DHA is required for receptor site structure and functionality. Adequate DHA directly impacts how serotonin binds to its receptor sites in your brain. When cell membranes are stiff from inadequate DHA, it is considerably harder for serotonin to bind onto its receptor sites. Insufficient DHA in the cell membranes and receptor sites leads to decreased levels of serotonin in your brain.

Other neurotransmitters like dopamine and neuro-compounds also require DHA to dock at the receptor sites. Their functionality also suffers when DHA is lacking.

Omega-3 EPA, Prostaglandins and Serotonin


Serotonin activation or lack thereof is also affected by omega-3 EPA levels in your brain and the balance of prostaglandins PGE1, PGE2, and PGE3. The compounds PGE1 and PGE3 provide anti-inflammatory effects, whereas PGE2 is pro-inflammatory. Prostaglandin production is directly related to your diet and nutritional status.

In your brain, PGE2 inhibits the release of serotonin and contributes to increased tissue inflammation. This negatively impacts mood and behavior. Omega-3 EPA blocks production of PGE2 in the brain.

Production of pro-inflammatory PGE2 occurs with intake of omega-6 vegetable oils like corn, soy, sunflower, safflower, etc. The Standard American Diet contains high amounts of PGE2 promoting oils, much more than it did even 50 years ago. These vegetable oils in excess relative to omega-3 oil intake results in inflammatory stress to your brain and other organs and affects hormone management.

Omega-3 fish oils EPA and DHA from cold-water fatty fish or supplemental sources support production of the anti-inflammatory PGE1 and PGE3 compounds. EPA and DHA essential fatty acids are the most effective fats at helping your brain manage serotonin compared to other types of oils.

What About Plant-Based Oils?


Plant-based oils like walnut, flaxseeds, hemp seeds, and chia seeds provide a different type of omega-3 oil called alpha-linoleic acid (ALA). This can be somewhat helpful for production of beneficial PGE1 and PGE3, however, the metabolic process to convert plant-based ALA oil into EPA and DHA is extremely inefficient.

This conversion of plant-based ALA into EPA and DHA also requires adequate levels of iron, zinc, magnesium, vitamins C and B6. Individuals on a restricted diet or a plant-based diet are likely to lack one or more of these nutrients and will likely have inadequate omega-3 EPA and DHA in their brain tissues and cell membranes. If your mood and behavior have changed for the worse after being on a restricted diet, you may need more support than you realize!

Other Factors


Stress, low protein intake, poor quality diet, low estrogen levels, high levels of inflammatory compounds (omega-6 oils), and other factors inhibit normal serotonin synthesis. These factors also provoke higher levels of other inflammatory compounds that negatively affect mood, behavioral control, and decision making.

Optimal Status


Vitamin D and omega-3 EPA and DHA levels play vital roles with serotonin function and critically affect your mood, thoughts, and social behaviors. Your diet must supply these nutrients in optimal amounts to allow serotonin production and activation. Serotonin production also needs several B vitamins, iron, and magnesium.

A glimpse of today’s behaviors with impulsivity, irritability, outbursts, etc. seems to be escalating. There is no doubt in my mind that the Standard American Diet and the lack of adequate exposure to sunshine have contributed to this decline.

Imagine the positive changes to mental health and wellbeing that would happen if adults and children alike consumed at least 1-2 grams of omega-3 fish oils with 1000 – 5000 IU of vitamin D per day with a high quality multiple vitamin formula like Daily Energy Multiple Vitamin or Super Mini Multi, a whole foods diet, and daily exercise.

These nutrients and serotonin mechanisms are absolutely critical during family planning stages and pregnancy and preschool years as a child’s neurodevelopment occurs. Support your family with these basic things everyday and share this information with a friend. The world is stressed, but you can support yourself and your children with vitamin D, omega-3 oils, and a multiple vitamin for serotonin function to help make the world a brighter place today and tomorrow.

More information about serotonin may be found in the articles:

Serotonin Linked with Mood, Sleep, Gut Health, Thyroid, and More

When SSRIs Fail: Causes of Depression

Antidepressants Increase Risk of Diabetes, Heart Attack, and Dementia

A Healthy Gut is Vital for a Happy Mood

Additional information about prostaglandins may be found in the articles:

Leptinal – Understanding the Vast Effect of this Unique Nutrient Blend

Injury Recovery and Soft Tissue Support

Natural Support for Menstrual Comfort

NSAIDs Injure Gut Lining and Mitochondria


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