Vertigo and serotonin deficiency

Written by patrick gleeson, ph. d., registered investment adv
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Vertigo and serotonin deficiency
Film depictions of vertigo typically feature high places, but vertigo can occur under any circumstance. (Vertigo image by Christian Tessmer from Fotolia.com)

Vertigo, the illusion of motion many sufferers experience as a kind of nauseating dizziness, has many causes. An abundance of popular medical literature describes a causal relationship between low serotonin levels and vertigo. No peer-reviewed medical studies, however, confirm such a direct causal relationship. An indirect link, not necessarily causal, does exist: serotonin deficiencies sometimes cause migraines; common migraine treatments will reduce vertigo.

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Popular Vertigo Remedies

Many popular online articles and blogs describe a connection between low serotonin levels and vertigo. They describe a wide variety of remedies: prescription medicines like Prozac and similar SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, a class of anti-depressants), and herbal medicines like poppy seeds, gooseberry powder and coriander, often in combination.

Do Folk Remedies Work?

Some of the popular online articles describing increased serotonin levels as a cure for vertigo seem founded on observation and personal experience. This differs from scientific evidence. However, many folk remedies formerly dismissed by the medical profession have subsequently found confirmation in clinical studies. One problem with folk remedies advising raised serotonin levels as a cure for vertigo is that most assume vertigo has a single cause. In fact, vertigo has many different causes.

One Symptom; Several Causes

Drs. Swartz and Longwell, writing on the "Treatment of Vertigo," in the March 15, 2005 edition of American Family Physician, a peer-reviewed journal, describe five quite different common causes of vertigo, among them Meniere's disease, migraines and anxiety disorders, and point to several less common causes without making any attempt to list them all. Several, like retrocochlear tumours, have no obvious link to serotonin levels.

SSRIs and Vertigo

Swartz and Longwell describe two studies that suggest an indirect link between serotonin levels and vertigo. For patients with both vertigo and anxiety disorders, selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) relieve vertigo along with anxiety. This doesn't quite mean that the serotonin deficiency caused vertigo--one could equally argue, for instance, that anxiety caused vertigo. But some link seems to exist. Discussing treatments for "vertiginous migraines," they suggest several remedies, among them tricyclic antidepressants. This also suggests a link.

Antidepressants Relieve Some Vertigo Symptoms

Both tricyclic antidepressants (TCAs) and SSRIs act on serotonin levels. A Mayo Clinic staff article, for instance, points to the ways in which TCAs "inhibit the reabsorption of serotonin and norepinephrine," thereby raising the level of available serotonin. Another Mayo Clinic article points to the ways in which SSRIs block serotonin reabsorption, again leaving more available serotonin. From such evidence we can conclude that we can relieve some forms of vertigo by medicines that increase available serotonin.

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