What is serotonin?
Serotonin is a hormone and a neurotransmitter Also called 5HT (5-hydroxytryptamine). A chemical necessary for communication between nerve cells.This messenger in the brain affects emotions, behavior, mood and circadian rhythms.
Certain types of depression are sometimes referred to as Serotonin Depression because these mood disorders are typified by imbalances in the mood hormone, serotonin. Serotonin depression symptoms can affect depressive disorders, bipolar disorders, anxiety and eating disorders.
How Serotonin Depression is Caused
It’s important to understand how serotonin works in order to understand how serotonin depression is caused. Serotonin is a monoamine transporter; that is it carries important messages along the neural pathway in the brain. A monoamine is the brain’s way of using paper to write a letter or send a message. The monoamine transporter is the brain’s postal carrier or mailman. Sometimes the brain doesn’t have enough paper to write messages, other times the brain’s mailboxes, or receptor sites grab the message too quickly and don’t give the paper back like they are supposed to. When an imbalance occurs, a mood, energy or cognitive problem results. This is why serotonin is closely associated with depression.
Major Factors of Serotonin Depression
There are two major types of serotonin depression. The more common type of serotonin depression is caused by a genetic defect in the brain’s serotonin receptors (mailboxes), called 5HTT receptor sites. These receptor sites are too short and so are too quick to absorb the available serotonin. And because they are too short, they are unable to release serotonin back into the neural pathway again, causing a shortage of available serotonin.
Antidepressant Medications SSRI’s
Most antidepressant medications are designed to block these receptor sites from absorbing serotonin too quickly. That is why they are called Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRI’s), because they block the 5HTT receptor sites from reabsorbing serotonin. These medications are most widely prescribed for depressive disorders and work moderately well in many patients. However, new FDA evidence questions the effectiveness of SSRI’s in combating depression, and the FDA has issued an Advisory Letter cautioning against the assumption that SSRI’s will solve the depression problem. The FDA is especially concerned about SSRI’s and teenage suicide rate increases.
SSRI’s may not be effective in many cases because of the brain’s inability to produce enough serotonin to begin with. If existing levels of serotonin are too low, SSRI’s won’t be effective. Thus the second main cause of serotonin depression is the brain’s inability to produce sufficient quantities of serotonin. The difficulty here though is that one cannot simply take a serotonin supplement. The brain has a defense system called the brain barrier that is designed to protect it from most external chemicals. This is why serotonin supplements have not been found in scientific studies to be of any therapeutic effect.
Why Serotonin Depression causes Obesity and Eating Disorders
There is a way, however that the brain can temporarily get the extra serotonin it needs, and it does this through carbohydrates in sugars and starches. This is how it works: Carbohydrates also contain natural serotonin building blocks, and when they are ingested, the pancreas releases insulin to break down the sugars. Insulin also allows the brain barrier to temporarily open and absorb the serotonin type compounds. This creates a ‘serotonin high’ for a few minutes until the serotonin is depleted. Then the destructive cycle begins, causing one to crave more carbohydrates and even go into uncontrollable eating binges.
Breaking the Cycle
The best way to end this destructive cycle is to find way for the brain to naturally produce serotonin on its own without the need for carbohydrate binging. One of the most effective areas of research has been in studying how the brain creates serotonin on its own. Researchers have learned that serotonin production is closely tied to the brain’s regulation of the sleep/wake cycle, otherwise known as circadian rhythms.
Shedding Light on Serotonin Depression
One of the major discoveries in circadian rhythms is that the body needs different hormones at different times of day. For example, certain hormones such as melatonin are released by the control center in the brain to help us pull back, withdraw and go to sleep. Other hormones such as serotonin aren’t needed at night, and are released during the day.
The control center that regulates these hormones is called the Suprachaismatic Nucleus, or body clock, located in the hypothalamus in the back of the brain. The body clock uses signals like sunlight or specialized bright light to know when to produce the active energetic hormones, and it uses darkness to know when to produce the nighttime hormones. The body clock can easily malfunction from age, trauma, stress or not getting light signals at the right time of day.
Light Produces Serotonin
In 1984, the National Institute of Health (NIH) discovered that the body clock is regulated by bright light, and that they could use this light to produce serotonin. A new treatment evolved, called light therapy, using light to regulate hormones that caused depressive mood disorders. Light therapy was first applied to a special type of depression in the winter called Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), and has since been successfully applied to major depression, bipolar disorders anxiety disorders and eating disorders. In 2002, the medical journal The Lancet, reported that bright light produces serotonin while darkness and overcast days cause serotonin to be depleted.
Light Therapy for Serotonin Depression
Light is now considered to be the most effective way to naturally produce brain serotonin. Studies using light therapy alone for depression yielded similar results to antidepressants. However, when combined with medication, light was much more effective than either treatment alone. Since most depression sufferers have both low serotonin levels and defective 5HTT receptors, light and medication should be considered for any depressive mood disorder.
Light Produces Brain Serotonin
Low serotonin levels are associated with depression and seasonal affective disorder (SAD). Researchers provide evidence that brain serotonin levels increase when exposed to bright light. This suggests that daily light therapy has a sound basis in biology