Natural MAO Inhibitors: Protecting Serotonin and Dopamine

Mihai Voinea
Medically reviewed by Mihai Voinea Doctor of Medicine (M.D.) — Research analysis by Alex Eriksson

Monoamine oxidase inhibitors (MAOI) are commonly used to treat depression, which has been linked to low testosterone. They are effective but come with serious side effects—and that’s why many people are opting for natural MAO inhibitors instead.



Both MAO-A and MAO-B inhibitors are useful in managing neurodegenerative diseases and psychiatric disorders. They do this by preventing monoamine oxidase (MAO enzymes) from breaking down neurotransmitters, particularly the ones that affect sleep, emotion, appetite, and heart rate.

By using pregnenolone cream or pregnenolone supplements, the levels of the compound in the body increases, and this brings about various benefits such as fatigue relief, and delay of the aging process.

How Do MAOIs Work?

This class of drugs was first introduced in 1950. MAOIs can be categorized into two major types, namely monoamine oxidase-A (MAO-A) inhibitors and monoamine oxidase-B (MAO-B) inhibitors.

MAO-A inhibitors are best known for preventing the breakdown of serotonin. MAO-B inhibitors such as Selegiline (L- deprenyl) and Rasagiline are used to treat Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s disease, since this enzyme degrades dopamine.

Due to food-drug interactions, those undergoing MAO treatment follow very strict diets. Specifically, they have to avoid foods with tyramine as its combination with MAOs can drastically increase blood pressure, up to the point of hypertensive crisis.


Synthetic vs. Natural MAO Inhibitors

There’s no denying that MAO inhibitors are effective in the treatment of severe neurological conditions. However, this therapy is becoming less and less popular over the years due to its potential side effects. Some of the most common of them are:

  • Hypertension (High Blood Pressure)
  • Insomnia
  • Weight Gain
  • Reduced Libido
  • Erectile Dysfunction

Since patients rely on the positive effects of MAO inhibition, there's a clear demand for better alternatives. Fortunately, there are quite a few natural MAO inhibitors, and they’re essentially safer forms of antidepressants.

As you’d expect, scientists and physicians focused mainly on herbal natural products to develop MAO inhibitors that are virtually as effective but without the nasty side effects.


Natural Sources of MAO Inhibitors

A variety of naturally grown plants actually contain MAO inhibitors that have been proven to be almost as effective as their synthetic counterparts. Some of these common natural sources of MAO inhibitors are:

St. John’s Wort

St. John’s wort contains such chemical compounds as Hypericin and Hyperforin. It also has Quercetin and Scopoletin, which are known to be effective even against alcoholism.

St. John’s wort helps alleviate common depression symptoms such as sadness, anxiety, panic, guilt, fatigue, and insomnia. The herb’s flowers and leaves are used to make teas, capsules, and powders.

coolimagecoolimagecoolimageSt.John Wort flowers
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Red Grapes

Grapes are more than just a tasty treat or something used to make wine. In fact, this fruit has quite a list of medicinal properties!

For instance, red grapes contain resveratrol, an antioxidant which shows promising anti-carcinogenic effects, according to studies. It also supports cardiovascular health.

Wild Green Oat

Wild green oat (Avena sativa) is loaded with minerals, alkaloids, saponins, and flavonoids which are all beneficial for our brain and immune system.

In a recent study, it was found that wild green oat extract helps enhance the brain’s dopamine levels. That means it’s capable of lessening the destructive effects of neurological aging.

coolimagecoolimagecoolimageOatmeal (Avena sativa) whole grains

Furthermore, green oats improve brain activity, including concentration and memory. This fabulous food also alleviates stress and regulates energy levels.

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Cocoa Beans

While not as extensively studied as the other entries in this list, cocoa still deserves to be mentioned. cocoa beans contain tetrahydro-beta-carbolines, a special kind of MAO inhibitors.

Aside from that, cocoa (and by extension, chocolate) contains phenylethylamine (PEA), which is a well-known natural anti-depressant.

Cocoa beans are roasted and turned into an ingredient for chocolates. The PEA component, according to scientists, has shown effectiveness in lessening depression.

PEA helps create a lighter mood. By eating chocolate, feelings similar to those associated with falling in love and a generally positive outlook can be achieved.

Turmeric

Commonly associated with Indian cuisine, this delicious spice comes with all sorts of health benefits. Reducing inflammation and fighting free radicals are just two examples of those perks.

As for MAO inhibition, turmeric is capable of inhibiting both MAO-A and MAO-B, meaning it can help in preventing both serotonin and dopamine degradation.

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Black Pepper

A much more common cooking ingredient (compared to turmeric), black pepper contains piperine. This compound improves and supports brain health, aside from reducing signs of depression.

That’s not all though. Piperine has also been discovered to have antioxidative, anti-inflammatory, and antimicrobial properties, making it arguably one of the healthiest spices available.


More on the Testosterone Link

For anyone who’s not worried about depression though, is there any advantage to consuming these natural sources of MAO inhibitors? Well, as mentioned, testosterone and depression are somewhat interconnected.

When your testosterone levels drop below the normal treshold, you face greater risks of developing depression and mood-related disorders. This can be explained by the fact that testosterone directly affects serotonin activity.

With enough testosterone, you’ll have enough serotonin transporters in the brain, which in turn makes sure that the happy chemical gets to do its job—which is to keep you in a positive mood.

If you’re running low on T, you’ll have a hard time getting the effects of serotonin. With the help of food-sourced MAO inhibitors though (in relation to the MAO-A gene), your serotonin levels shouldn’t drop as much.

The same goes for the effects of these natural substitutes on the MAO-B enzyme. Dopamine, the organic chemical that has become synonymous with pleasure, is to an extent dependent on testosterone.

When levels of the male hormone become insufficient, dopamine release is inhibited and so, various signs and symptoms associated with low dopamine begin to manifest.

Satisfaction, for example, becomes a distant feeling regardless of what you do—and that’s not a good thing if you’re trying to improve your physique. With natural MAO-B inhibitors, dopamine deactivation should be alleviated.


Solution to Male Hormone Woes?

If you’re facing minor yet recurrent mood issues or even battling full-blown depression, you might benefit from the natural alternatives we’ve listed. However, it’s a different thing if you’re mainly concerned with testosterone.

Don’t think that natural MAO inhibitors can solve all testosterone-related problems. Still, it’s safe to say that they can help you as you work towards regaining hormonal balance.


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Alex Eriksson (Research Analysis)

Alex Eriksson is the founder of Anabolic Health, a men’s health blog dedicated to providing honest and research-backed advice for optimal male hormonal health. Anabolic Health aspires to become a trusted resource where men can come and learn how to fix their hormonal problems naturally, without pharmaceuticals.

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Mihai Voinea (Editor)

Mihai is a medical doctor and entrepreneur with a burning obsession for performance and health. Mihai is also an IronMan, ultramarathon runner, and co-founder of Marsilian, which owns two e-learning platforms for future medical students and doctors.





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