Serotonin and depression are intimately related. With these 7 questions and answers we will investigate a little more in these two aspects:

What is serotonin?

Serotonin is a chemical that helps transmit signals from one area of the brain to another. Although serotonin is produced in the brain, 90% of our serotonin supply is found in the digestive tract and blood platelets. Keep reading: Resignation syndrome: symptoms, causes and treatment

What role does serotonin play in our health?

Most of the approximately 40 million brain cells are directly or indirectly influenced by serotonin. This includes brain cells related to mood, desire, appetite, sleep, memory and learning, temperature regulation and social behavior.

Serotonin can also affect the functioning of our cardiovascular system, muscles and various elements of the endocrine system. Researchers have also found evidence that serotonin may play a role in regulating milk production in the breast and that a defect in the serotonin network could be an underlying cause of sudden infant death syndrome.

What is the link between serotonin and depression?

There are many researchers who believe that an imbalance in serotonin levels can influence mood in a way that leads to depression. Possible problems include the low production of serotonin, the lack of receptors capable of receiving serotonin, the inability of serotonin to reach receptors, or a shortage of tryptophan, the amino acid that helps regulate serotonin.

If there are any of these biochemical failures, researchers believe it can lead to depression, as well as obsessive-compulsive disorder, anxiety, panic, and even excess anger.

A theory about the treatment of depression focuses on the regeneration of brain cells. According to neuroscientist Barry Jacobs, depression can occur when there is a suppression of new brain cells. He believes that common antidepressant medications are designed to increase serotonin levels and help start the production of new brain cells.

Although it is generally believed that serotonin deficiency plays an important role in depression, there is no way to measure its levels in the brains of living people. Therefore, there is no study that demonstrates that the brain levels of this neurotransmitter influence depression. Blood levels of serotonin can be measured and have been shown to be lower in people who suffer from depression, but researchers do not know if those blood levels reflect the brain’s levels of serotonin.

In addition, researchers do not know if low levels of serotonin cause depression or depression cause serotonin levels to decrease.

Can diet influence our serotonin supply?

It can but in an indirect way. Unlike calcium-rich foods, which can directly increase blood levels of this mineral, there are no foods that can directly increase the supply of serotonin in a person’s body. That said, there are some foods and nutrients that can increase tryptophan levels.

Foods high in protein, such as meat or chicken, contain high levels of tryptophan. They are also present in dairy products, nuts, and poultry. However, ironically, the levels of tryptophan and serotonin go down after a meal full of proteins. Why? According to the nutritionist Elizabeth Somer, when a person ingests a protein-rich meal, a deluge of tryptophan is produced, which causes the rest of the amino acids to enter into the competition by entering the brain. This means that only a small amount of tryptophan manages to enter and as a result, the serotonin levels do not rise.

However, eating a carbohydrate-rich meal causes a release of insulin. This, says Somer, causes the amino acids in the blood to be absorbed into the body, but not the brain. Except for … guess … the tryptophan! These remain in the blood at elevated levels after a meal of carbohydrates, which means they can freely enter the brain and cause an increase in serotonin.

An adequate supply of vitamin B-6 may also help, as it may influence the rate at which tryptophan is converted to serotonin.

Can exercise improve serotonin levels?

Exercise can do a lot to improve your mood. Studies have shown that regular exercise can be as effective for the treatment of depression as antidepressant medication or psychotherapy. An investigation conducted at the University of Texas, Austin, established that only a single 40-minute period of exercise can have an immediate effect on mood.

That said the exact mechanism by which exercise elevates mood is unclear. There are no definitive studies that show that exercise raises serotonin levels.

Do men and women have the same amount of serotonin and act in the same way in their brain and body?

Studies show that men have a little more serotonin than women, but the difference is thought to be negligible. Interestingly, however, a study published in September 2007 in the journal Biological Psychiatry showed that there could be a big difference in how men and women react to serotonin reduction and may be a reason why women suffer much more depression than men.

Using a technique called “tryptophan depletion,” which reduces serotonin levels in the brain, the researchers found that men became more impulsive but not necessarily depressed. Women, on the other hand, experienced a marked decline in mood and became more cautious, an emotional response commonly associated with depression.

There is also some evidence that female hormones can interact with serotonin inhibitors and cause some depressive symptoms during the premenstrual time, the ring the post-partum period or around the time of menopause.

What is serotonin syndrome?

SSRI antidepressants (serotonin reuptake inhibitors) are generally considered safe. However, they can have a rare side effect called serotonin syndrome.

It can occur when the levels of this neurochemical in the brain rise too high. It occurs most often when two or more medications that affect serotonin levels are taken simultaneously. For example, if the person is taking a category of migraine medications, called triptans, at the same time that they take an SSRI medication for depression, the end result may be an overload of serotonin. The same thing can happen when taking natural supplements of SSRIs, such as St. John’s Wort.

Problems are more likely to occur when a medication is started or the dose is increased. There may also be problems if you combine drugs for major depression (known as MAO inhibitors) with SSRIs.

Symptoms can last for minutes or hours and generally include restlessness, hallucinations, tachycardia, increased body temperature and sweating, loss of coordination, muscle spasms, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and rapid changes in blood pressure.

Although it is not a common syndrome, it can be dangerous and is considered a medical emergency. The treatment consists of the withdrawal of the drug, intravenous fluids, muscle relaxants and drugs to block the production of serotonin. You might also read:

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